Columbia residents continued debate at City Council Monday over how City Manager Mike Matthes handled a conversation on race in Columbia.
Matthes’ 2018 Columbia Values Diversity Celebration speech sparked controversy when he delved into racial biases while talking about reducing unemployment among African-Americans. He displayed different photos of young African-American people, dressed casually and professionally, and made his initial judgments about their character and intent.
Mary Ratliff is the president of Columbia’s NAACP chapter and former Missouri NAACP president. She said during last night’s City Council meeting that the pictures Matthes showed didn’t offend her because they were similar to visuals the FBI used during bias training that she attended. “We support the speech that you gave. You did exactly what we asked you to do when we scheduled those community meetings,” said Ratliff. “We said we were going to have these meetings and we were going to lay it raw on the table. And the only way that we could resolve racism is to talk about it in its totality.” While some critics, like Sarah Senff, agree that conversations are necessary, she views Matthes’ tactics as “deeply offensive” and reinforcing biases instead of combating them. “Some of that has to do with the execution and if it's handled properly and whether one is just reinforcing the stereotypes that one thinks one is working against,” Senff said. “I don’t think City Manager Matthes did that effectively. I think he did it deeply offensively.” Matthes released an apology in January in response to public criticism.