Sioux Falls woman’s experience with racism

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sioux Falls is 85 percent white. It took long-time community leader, Harriet Yocum, years to get used to being one of the few black women in town.

Harriet Yocum talks about racial biases and discrimination as a long-time Sioux Falls resident and volunteer

Harriet Yocum has been a powerhouse in this community for more than 30 years. But it took a while for her to grow into that role.

“It was definitely a culture shock when I moved here because I did not see anyone who looked like me at all I moved to a small town, Madison, South Dakota, where I was the second black woman that was in the town,” Yocum said.

She learned to expect strangers staring at her, along with rude comments.

“Things that people would say: ‘Oh where are you from?” I’m from here. I’m from the the United States’. ‘No, where are you from; where did you originate from? Are you from Africa?’ And yes, I still get that question today because of the color of my skin and maybe my hair.”

Sioux Falls Community Leader Harriet Yocum

She says some racial biases are more subtle.

“I can certainly go back to when I first moved here and still today, Angela, when I walk into a store I still get the looks from people. I feel like I’m being monitored.”

Yocum was the first black member and then president of the Sioux Falls Junior League and the first black board president of the Ronald McDonald House in Sioux Falls. Those are just a few of the causes she’s been involved with, yet her contributions aren’t common knowledge.

Kennecke: Do you think if you were a white woman doing these things, do you feel you’d get recognized more?
Yokum: Absolutely, absolutely.

Yocum says over the decades she’s seen more black-owned businesses in town, but still little representation in government or corporate leadership. She says now is the time for change.

Yocum: And it’s okay for you to feel uncomfortable. We need to have uncomfortable conversations in order for us to get it right.

Kennecke: What do they need to know in the community, maybe that they don’t already know?
Yocum: I want you to recognize that there are differences between you and I and I want you to embrace those differences. That is my message. We can all be kinder and nicer to each other–but embrace my difference. Acknowledge it.
Kennecke: I appreciate it actually.
Yocum: Mmm hmm.

Yocum says she was elated by the turnout for Sunday’s peaceful protest downtown but then sickened by the violence that erupted out by the mall.

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