Participants in a forum Tuesday night said subtle forms of discrimination exist in Lawrence and other communities, and white people in the community need to be aware that minorities often feel like foreigners.
"I think I can understand what some of the minorities in the community feel when they talk about alienation," said Sean Williams, a local property manager.
Williams said most whites in the community have never been in a situation where they are in the cultural or racial minority. Williams, who is white, said he experienced that situation when he was in Japan a few years ago.
"I know what it feels like," he said. "It makes a difference when every other person you see walking down the street looks at you funny or utters something like `there's another one of those dirty foreigners.'"
Williams made the comments during the fourth in a series of eight community forums sponsored by the Task Force on Racism, Discrimination and Human Diversity. About 18 people attended the forum, which was held in the South Park Recreation Center, 1141 Mass.
PARTICIPANTS said they again were disappointed at the low turnout that has characterized the forum series.
However, criticism of the way in which the forums have been conducted did not prevent the discussion from becoming lively at times.
"I think Sean hit it right on the head when he mentioned foreigners in a foreign land," said J.R. Demby, a Lawrence realtor and 20-year resident.
"That's what we have to deal with every day, whether it's an overt form of discrimination or subtle acts."
"It is these types of subtle forms of discrimination that we have to deal with every day," he said.
The topic of Tuesday's forum was scheduled to be business-related discrimination issues, but discussion also focused on secondary education.
Sherwin Springer, a manager in the local Hallmark Cards Inc. plant, 101 McDonald Dr., said cultural differences at home inhibit many minorities from doing well in school because teaching methods and books were designed for the majority.
"I don't think teachers look at students in terms of black and white," responded Pam Peck, a former eighth-grade teacher at South Junior High School.
"MANY TEACHERS go out of their way to help minorities," said Peck, who disagreed with other participants in the forum when they accused the Lawrence school system as being discriminatory.
"I think most minority parents have the perception that the schools are discriminatory," said Hank Booth, owner of KLWN/KLZR radio.
"Whether or not that is the truth is one thing, but people do have that perception," he said.
The series of forums continues at 7 p.m. Thursday at South Park Center, when the task force will take comments on issues of discrimination related to primary and secondary schools in Lawrence.
On Monday, the task force shifts its attention to areas of concern at the two higher education institutions in the city. A forum for Haskell Indian Junior College students and staff is set for 7 p.m. Monday at Navarre Hall conference room. A separate forum for Kansas University students and staff is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday at Alderson Auditorium in the Kansas Union.
The topic of the final forum, 7 p.m. Nov. 27 at South Park Center, will be discrimination in public and community services.
In addition to the public forums, the task force is sponsoring a "Talk to Your Task Force" community call-in show on Nov. 28, to be broadcast live over Sunflower Cable Channel 6 and the KANU-FM and KLWN-AM radio stations.