Black Voices

'Un-Fair' Campaign Defended By University Of Wisconsin-Superior

The University Of Wisconsin-Superior has announced that, despite criticism, the school intends to continue its support for the "Un-Fair" campaign, a local advertising effort to raise awareness of and fight misconceptions about racism.

Conservative blogs have been criticizing what they call "racially charged" advertisements that show Caucasian people with statements like "is white skin really a fair skin?” written on their faces.

UW-Superior said in a statement released last week that the school is "proud to host the diversity dialogues" as a partner in the Un-Fair campaign, and will work to "reshape the message" to avoid alienating anyone in the community.

"We have an obligation to engage in difficult conversations about complex, even controversial social issues, with a goal of finding workable solutions," the UW-Superior statement reads.

UW-Superior added that media reports have mischaracterized the university as the sole sponsor of the campaign.

"In fact, the campus is part of a coalition of 16 third-party community sponsors," the statement reads. "That coalition includes a wide range of education, civic, religious, and service organizations."

According to the Un-Fair campaign's website, it was conceived in 2011 by a committee of the Duluth YWCA and a local ad agency. Since then, it's added local churches, the NAACP, community groups and Lake Superior College as campaign partners.

The campaign's stated mission is to "raise awareness about white privilege in our community," and the tagline reads "It's hard to see racism when you're White."

"We swim in a sea of whiteness -- it's the norm," Ellen O'Neill, one of the campaign organizers, told Minnesota Public Radio in January of last year. "If we're white, we don't have to think about it, we don't see it. So the first step is getting white people to see it."

Last summer, the University of Minnesota-Duluth dropped its support of the campaign, calling the ads "divisive" in a statement.

The same conservative blogs now criticizing UW-Superior declared victory when UMD dropped out, saying that pressure from sites like Campus Reform, which claims to have broken the story, helped to prompt the decision. However, the Duluth News Tribune and MPR both had reported on local backlash in January 2012, shortly after the university announced its involvement in the campaign.

The News Tribune reported at the time that Mayor Don Ness had received complaints about the ads from "fair number of people in the community," and quoted area resident Ann Reyelts as saying the ads were "poorly conceived."

"To assume that it's hard for whites to understand racism is insulting to my intelligence," Reyelts told the paper. "I get what they're trying to say, but I don't think that's the way to go about it."

The Duluth-Superior metro area is overwhelmingly Caucasian: 91.9 percent classified themselves as non-Hispanic white in the 2010 census, down from 97.5 percent white in 1980, according to data tracked by the Harvard School of Public Health.

MPR reports that a 2010 survey of local residents "found Duluth residents viewed the city as less hospitable to racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, young adults without children, and talented college graduates looking for work than other comparable cities."

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