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Does Race Matter In Wyoming?

The Wyoming Community Foundation's report: "Does Race Matter in Wyoming?" found that the growth of Wyoming's minority groups, across all races and ethnicities, has outpaced the White population.

Wyoming is majority White, but the state is more diverse than people think. The Wyoming Community Foundation says that misconception allows for racism and racial disparities to go unchecked. It's a problem the foundation explored in a report titled: "Does Race Matter In Wyoming?"

Wyoming Public Radio's Tennessee Watson sat down with the foundation's chief operating officer Samin Dadelahi to learn more.

Tennessee Watson: Before we get into the findings of that report, I wanted to ask you why the foundation felt like that was even a question that needed to be asked.

Samin Dadelahi: Thank you, I think we started asking ourselves that question because of the noticeable gap in data available in Wyoming that has been disaggregated by race and ethnicity. So every single time we tried to go and find some information, whether it was juvenile justice, or health or anything like that, and we tried to look at it through a race, ethnicity lens, it became incredibly difficult to get that information in any consistent way. And so we wanted to know whether or not that was a reporting issue.

So we looked into actually trying to disaggregate data sets ourselves, and it became increasingly complicated, part of it driven because of our low population density. And so there were privacy issues with some of the data that was available. And the other part of it was the fact that people just didn't think it was important to collect this information. So that was a huge driving force for us, recognizing that if people don't think something is important, they're not going to collect information related to it.

So that made us really ask the question of, well, does race matter in Wyoming? Why do people think it doesn't? Right? Of course, to us, it matters. But in general, what is going on that makes people think that this is not an issue that we have to dig into?

TW: And so what did you find out about that? Because the findings are really interesting and important, but what I'm more interested in is what you discovered about why people don't think it matters,

SD: What we discovered is, is probably what you would expect: is that most people in Wyoming believe that this is a white state, with a very low minority population, which is true, we do have a very low number of people of color, but it's still 15% of the population. And when you discussed that number with people, they were inordinately surprised. The number of people who believe that Wyoming is 97%, white, for example, is high. Now, I don't have a survey that can prove that but just based on anecdotal evidence from the people that we spoke with, that was definitely true.

So we decided we had to take a step back and really look at, do people in Wyoming actually understand that we have people of color here? And do they understand issues of equality, and equity and race and ethnicity? And, and what all of that means when you combine it together? So our goal in creating the "Does Race Matter in Wyoming?" publication was really for it to be a basic, like a primer on race and ethnicity and Wyoming and what that should mean to people.

TW: What were you hoping that it would do for the state?

SD: Well, it was a baby step. So first, we wanted to get the information out there so that people would have time to digest it, and think about it and consider it. And also understand what racial makeup looks like for the state. Because the Wind River Reservation is so big in Wyoming and big, I mean, big in idea, big in voice, big in thought, and probably our highest area of racial tension. That is what people tend to focus on is that our Native American population, and our Native American population in comparison to our Hispanic/Latino population is so small. It's not the majority of the people of color that we have in Wyoming. So also trying to broaden people's horizons in terms of what they think about race in Wyoming when they are thinking about it.

TW: And what in your view is the risk in not paying attention? Not just in terms of the harm that it causes people of color, but thinking in terms of the well being of our state, like if we're not tuned into racial disparities, if we're not addressing racism, what are the consequences for all of us who live here?

SD: Well, number one, you can't ignore 15% of your population, right? So that's number one. If we're just discounting two people out of every 30, we're doing ourselves a disservice. And number two, I look at the Suffragette Movement, so the Women's Equality Movement, and the amount of anger and just total vitriol that was expressed towards women, when they were looking for more equality. And I think a lot of that has to do with this fear of power sharing, that when a group of people hold a certain level of power. And then they start thinking about equality and what equality means to those people. And to many people, not trying to other those people, to many people complicit in that is saying that for us to be more equal, I have to give something up and you're gonna take something from me. And so that idea of being so scared about power sharing, really underlines so many of the social justice issues that we have in the country and the state.

But in the end, if you do share that power, like we have with women, you become a better place not a worse place. Every industrial country in the world has equality for women, right? So those things, those resources like love and respect, caring and equality and freedom, those are not finite resources. You don't have a limited amount of love in your heart so that when you have one child, if you have a second, now it's going to be split because you only have this much love and a container and now they're only going to get half of each right. If those aren't finite, we don't have to think about it that way. And if we can get Wyoming to a place where people understand that now, we won't have to fight a 50 year battle later on. Because Wyoming is changing. The whole world is changing.


Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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