What is racial inequality and how do we talk about it? This was a recurring question in speaker Lee Mun Wah’s workshop given to roughly 100 people in the Rogue River room on Wednesday morning as part of SOU’s Race Awareness week. Over the past 20 years he has worked as a writer, therapist, documentarian, and diversity trainer, striving to educate others of the impact race and inequality has on our nation.
Wah describes racial inequality as our inability or unwillingness to understand each other and where we come from, and talking about it doesn’t typically end well for those involved. Through various workshops and discussions, he is aiming to change that, transforming the way our country views race, and ultimately how it is handled in school, the workplace, and politics.
The presentation started with a simple lesson: learning how to say good morning in Cantonese, Wah’s own culture. “Having someone learn something, even the smallest thing, about your culture can make you feel like it matters,” said Wah. Later students paired up with one another and discussed the first time in their life when they discovered that they were different from their peers and how it affected them. “Everyone has a story,” stated Wah “learn that story, know that story, and you can figure out why that person is the way they are.”
His techniques are simple but they produce results, “I think what he’s doing is extremely healthy,” stated Collette Wilhelm a student at SOU who attended the workshop. “I always feel like an outcast because of my culture, because of my skin color. Being here I feel better already.”
The primary goal of the exercise was to get students to talk about their culture with those of different backgrounds from their own in order to gain another perspective on how society treats different races. “Promoting diversity shouldn’t just be informative, it is meant to move people, to be transformative.” Wuh emphasized his belief that our differences are the most important thing about this country and that we should never try to forget where we come from.
He has been educating individuals in race awareness and communication across cultures for the past two decades speaking to audiences of up to 14,000 people. “It doesn’t matter how many people I can talk to it’s how deep I bring them” said Wuh. He has devoted his career to spreading awareness of differences among cultures and how to embrace those differences as a blessing rather than a curse.
Race Awareness week has been an important SOU campus event for 5 years now due to the work and planning of the Diversity and Inclusion department and the Multicultural Resource Center. This year the event was moved up to the fall term instead of it’s usual time around Martin Luther King day due to recent controversies surrounding race throughout the nation including the unrest in Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement in Cleveland.