Minnesota is the least integrated of all states, but we can help create social integration through simple invitations

 

By Luis Moreno
luismoreno@dotbin.net

Published by: Minnesota Business Magazine

Many people will agree that diversity, inclusion and integration are important and good for our communities. That is why it is sad to hear that in a recent state ranking of racial integration, Minnesota scored dead last.* And in a ranking of improvement in integration, Minnesota scored next-to-last.** The analysis by the personal finance website WalletHub.com looked at 10 criteria, grouped into two main categories, “Employment and Wealth” and “Education and Civic Engagement.” Minnesota had the worst cumulative score.

Obviously, Minnesota needs some help when it comes to integration. It may seem like an insurmountable problem, but I believe everyone can help at a personal level. That’s because I see integration as a social process by which members of the different communities actually engage and interact to the point where they can even navigate through their differences. It’s not just putting different people next to each other, it’s having them go through the exercise of sharing different opinions and ideas, problems, solutions, and wanting to work with somebody else’s idea.

Integration doesn’t mean you’re going to change my mind and I’m going to change yours. What it means is staying in the room, sitting at the table, staying in the conversation, sharing the different views so that at least I give you the option of having the opportunity to understand why I see something in a certain way.

Any business or community organization that holds events has an opportunity to promote social integration. The problem is that many don’t achieve this goal, and I think that is because they need to clarify the ideas of inclusion, diversity and integration.

Inclusion means inviting the folks; diversity is when these people attend the event, and integration is when they actually talk to each other and have authentic conversations.

 

Inclusion: The Invitation

When you set up your invitation list, inclusion is when you think, “Okay, where are my friends who are African American, my friends who are Latino, Asian, members of the LGBT community?” When I think of them and I invite them, that’s inclusion.

But sometimes the invitations themselves are not well thought out. If you are a Caucasian inviting a Latino, for example, do not send an email inviting them to a golf fundraising event you are helping with. What’s wrong with that? Well, let’s think about it. Golf is not a very popular sport for people in Latin America. So, generally speaking, there are many Latinos that won’t be so crazy about attending a golf event. Some other activities may be more popular than golf for many Latinos, including soccer, music, cooking or dancing.

You also need to think about the fact that Latinos, in general, are very personable and into relationship building, so an email may not be as warm and effective as a phone call or a face-to-face invitation during a conversation.

Yes, we can invite Latinos and people of color to fundraising events, but not when that’s the only kind of event we are thinking of inviting them to. That’s like when bad politicians only go to certain parts of town when they are looking for votes. Do you want people from a minority group to really feel included through an invitation? What about inviting them to your place? Lunch, dinner with the family, your birthday? What about inviting them to your cabin?

 

Diversity: Attendance

Let’s say that you successfully invited diverse people to your event, and they actually show up. That’s diversity, because you have a diverse crowd. But you should not stop there, because the natural tendency for people at an event is for people to hang out with others they know. Latinos will hang out with other Latinos, and African Americans will hang out with other African Americans. If it stops there then that’s not effective.

How will they get to speak to anybody else if they don’t know anybody else at the event? That may be diversity but that’s not integration, and it won’t help much. When you invite them to your own personal or family occasion and you make the time to walk with them and introduce them around, that’s a different kind of invitation that really promotes integration more than a golf fundraiser.

 

Integration: Exchanging Ideas

The events that I have attended that achieved integration were those that literally forced diverse people to gather around a table and spend time talking to each other, such as one I attended that was run by Greater MSP. To ensure that your event promotes this sort of dialogue takes an extra effort. It does not happen easily by itself.

Inviting someone different, someone from another community, someone that is different from you is an easy way to help your community. Consider inviting someone who may have been born and raised in a different part of town, socio-economic class or state or country; someone that does not look similar to the people you grew up with, someone that speaks a different language, with different perspectives, ideas, expressions or an accent.

So, it’s not about inviting minorities so that we can feel good that they are there. It’s about really integrating them into our own life and activities. Actually interacting with people that are different is a wonderful opportunity for us to expand our window into the world.

If you find yourself agreeing with most of the things people in your circle of friends tell you, you may be spending a lot of time with people who are very similar to you. And of course there is a lot of satisfaction and comfort in hanging out with people who are very similar to us, yet there is a wonderful opportunity to learn to have fun with people from other communities, people who are different than us. You will likely expand the kinds of places you visit, the kinds of food you eat, the kinds of music you hear or you may be able to see certain social situations or challenges differently, with different eyes, with a new wisdom that results from the union and the integration of different people.

And it all can start with a simple invitation.

 

*WalletHub.com crunched data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Education Statistics.

**The rankings use numbers from the earliest data that could be collected.