Madison realtor Sara Alvarado wasn’t sure what to expect before attending the YWCA Madison’s Racial Justice Summit last fall. What she encountered, she says now, helped her develop an awareness of white privilege and the burdens of racial inequity and a commitment to start talking about both.
Alvarado acknowledged in a blog post she wrote before the summit that she was scared about what it might show her about racism and her own role in it.
“Really the fear is that I am part of the problem. This is when it feels too big for me,” wrote Alvarado, co-owner with her husband of Alvarado Real Estate Group in Madison.
After the Oct. 3 summit, where the Race to Equity report was released, Alvarado wrote about how the “mind-blowing statistics” of racial inequity in Dane County got her thinking about racism in her own back yard and the social system that props it up.
Her day-to-day awareness of racial issues has been transformed ever since, Alvarado said Thursday as she prepared to share her story at the upcoming YWCA’s Circle of Women fundraiser.
Continued attention to the disparities detailed in the Race to Equity, as well as a compelling call to action in “Justified Anger,” an essay by Rev. Alex Gee published in the Capital Times, have introduced the discussion of racial inequities – long a focus of the YWCA – into new settings, Alvarado says.
“I’m more comfortable having conversations about it with people,” she says. “You wonder how to bring up the subject of race at a party. But the ‘Race to Equity’ and the events that followed have created a way to do that.”
It’s not that the discussions are easy, either in speaking to one another or in doing the internal work that Alvarado found necessary, as a white person, to become aware of her own biases.
“I was raised to believe everyone was equal,” says Alvarado, a Madison native. “But what I didn’t grow up with was any idea of how privileged I am as a white person. That has been the biggest ‘aha’ for me.”
And that despite Alvarado’s marriage to Carlos, whom she calls in one blog post “a beautifully dark skinned Mexican.”
“We assume when we carry stereotypes that that correlates with being a bad person, but that’s not true,” Alvarado says. “People have biases. If we become aware of them, then we can change them.”
Alverado has challenged herself to talk about race in social settings and people in the Madison area generally are open to it, she says.
“They’re not surprised when I bring it up.”
The content of the conversations varies from information for those who have not heard about disparities like those calculated in “Race to Equity,” to meatier discussions, Alvarado says, “about what needs to happen next in the white community and the black community.” Many people familiar with the issues are looking for action items to bring change in schools, workplaces, governments and other institutions, she says.
Colleen Butler, racial justice director, says Alvarado’s story illustrates the goals of the YWCA Madison’s Racial Justice Program.
“We help people develop knowledge and skills to have conversations where race is front and center," Butler says. "We know that everyone has unconscious bias and our program helps people to notice these biases. We can’t change what we can’t see.”
Alvarado also is working to bring frank discussion of racial inequities to the business world. She is working with Dane Buy Local’s diversity committee on an event around the Race to Equity report that will focus on how racial inequity affects a business’ bottom line.
One national report, "America Healing,” by the Kellogg Foundation, talks about how racial inequities hamper critical economic growth.
In the real estate business, race-related questions come up frequently, Alvarado says. But not only is it potentially illegal to answer questions around race as they apply to “good” neighborhoods or schools, Alvarado says it is not productive to address issues in that way.
“For us to make a blanket statement about whether it is a ‘good school’ is a disservice to the community,” she says. “And it sets a community up for failure.” Instead, she refers potential clients to school staff who can answer questions about whether a school is a good fit for their children.
In addition to hearing enthusiasm over tackling race issues, Alvarado says she also hears fear that the momentum will be lost.
“The question is can we keep the conversation going so things can move beyond just another conversation. Let’s not worry – let’s ride it and keep going with it.”