Nearly 75 percent of the people who currently live in the city of Fresno are not white, estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show.
Nearly half are Latino or Hispanic, and another 13 percent are are Asian. About 8 percent are black.
So it was disappointing that despite The Bee’s efforts to curate a diverse group of Fresnans to participate in a dialogue about the city’s divide, our meeting still turned out #SoWhite.
It was encouraging, however, that the 13 people who attended a meeting in mid-September were very honest about what they saw and in no uncertain terms expressed a willingness and and enthusiasm to try to fix it. The group suggested having another meeting before the forum, which is scheduled for this week at The Bee. We know it won’t be perfect, but we hope it will be better.
In case you’re unfamiliar with this project, The Fresno Bee is convening a dialogue about Fresno’s north-south divide with residents who live north and south of Shaw Avenue, the city’s historical dividing line. The dialogue is part of The Bee’s transparency work with Arizona State University’s New Co/Lab and a partnership with Spaceship Media.
So far, we’ve conducted two polls about Fresnans attitudes about the divide and safety in their neighborhood. We also asked readers to fill out a short survey if they were interested in participating in the dialogue process.
At the first meeting, participants introduced themselves and shared a bit about their neighborhood.
Then participants broke into two groups: Those who live north of Shaw Avenue and those who live south of Shaw. Both groups collaborated to come up with one question to ask the other group.
The people who live north of Shaw wanted to know “What assumptions do you think North Fresno has that you would like to correct?”
Some of the responses from those living south of Shaw included:
- That poor people, or people who don’t look like you, shouldn’t be considered “worthy.”
That where we live is unsafe; that we are all poor and live where we live because we have no other options; that south of Shaw has nothing to offer.
That north Fresno has paid its share of the cost of growth AND that money spent in central Fresno is a waste, but money spent by government in north Fresno is supplying necessary services.
People living south of Shaw asked their neighbors to the north “Why does location matter in perpetuating biases on individuals outside their area?”
Here’s how people living north of Shaw answered:
It’s not about location. Bias is learned behavior. People tend to stay in their own group. They learn from what they see around them.
People tend to settle with/among people with similar traits and experiences. Our country and city has a history of racism that neglected communities of color. That history and city policies have reinforced the disparity.
People fear what they don’t know.
A natural transition from this exercise was to begin discussing safety. Everyone at the meeting said they feel safe in their neighborhood, even if their neighborhood experiences property crime or they could often hear shootings. One north Fresno resident said crimes such as robberies and shootings are on the rise.
A poll of Bee readers conducted by Poll Town showed that 70 percent of respondents felt safe in their neighborhood, noting police response was quick, they knew their neighbors and because they live north of Shaw.
The 14 percent of respondents who said they feel unsafe cited gang activity and shootings.
The small group participating in the dialogue will move forward discussing health, education and financial security. The Bee will report back on the outcome of those conversations.
If you’d like to know how things go, the dialogue will culminate in a public forum scheduled for Oct. 20 at Fresno City College. The moderated meeting will include smaller conversations, a panel featuring Fresnans who participated in discussions this month, and other exercises meant to provide a dialogue around this important issue.