A blog looking at the changing face of race around our region, created in cooperation with Pacific Science Center, the University of Washington Department of Communication and the City of Seattle Race and Justice Initiative
December 2, 2013 at 6:10 AM
Before emigrating from China to Seattle nine years ago, Suqin Zhang didn’t think too much about race. In China, her family is 100 percent Chinese, and concepts of race didn’t exist.
Now as a member of the Racial and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) team, Zhang says the topic has been on her mind more often.
“What is race? And how are we going to define it?” Zhang says. “It’s a man-made concept, definitely. But what’s the definition of that? …We might need to change it because right now skin color doesn’t really tell the whole story.”
When I asked Zhang about the “RACE: Are we so different?” exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, she said she was drawn to a section that discussed accents. Zhang unfolded a piece of paper and read aloud a statement she had written down. It said that people shouldn’t feel like they need to mask their linguistic background, and instead should be free to speak in whatever way they feel comfortable.
Zhang said she always felt that way until she began working in customer service.
Since her position requires communication with the public, Zhang began to feel people shutting her off when she would speak because of her accent. She became stressed from these kinds of interactions and felt pressure to disguise her linguistic background. Zhang says this was a bit of a burden, but it’s also a reality depending on the type of work you’re pursuing.
Another part of exhibit that Zhang was intrigued with was a photo series by Kip Fulbeck called “The Hapa Project.” She remembered one woman’s quote under her picture that said, “I’m a person of color. I’m not half-white; I’m not half-black. I am 100 percent others.”
“So maybe ‘others’ is the way to define everyone, and if it’s the only way to define everyone then there’s no difference,” said Zhang.
Zhang hopes that this exhibition will spark conversations on race and plans on participating in upcoming workshops that will be held by the Racial and Social Justice Initiative at Seattle Center.
“The more we talk about it, the more we think about it, I think the better it will benefit the society.”
November 28, 2013 at 9:10 AM
The teenage years are about finding out who you are. This journey comes with pimples, the first crush, driving, first job, dances, homework and the stress of dealing with it all.
When students need help with these challenges, Erica Mallin is available. Currently a school counselor at Tyee Middle School in Bellevue, Mallin has worked with students for about 20 years with the goal of helping teenagers through “challenging parts in their lives. ” According to Mallin, part of these challenges includes trying to figure out the students’ identities and how those identities fit into the world.
Even with decades of experience in the subject, Mallin understands that the concepts of race and identity are rapidly changing. In 2006, Mallin began a diversity dialogue at Sammamish High School. In the dialogue, she discovered that more students were identifying as multiple races. While that opened up unique identity options for the students, it also posed problems as students began to contemplate what it meant to be “multiracial.”
This kind of description wasn’t something Mallin heard often when she was young.
“When I was growing up, [being multiracial] wasn’t really so much something we focused on,” Mallin said. “I’ve noticed when I’ve worked with students… that’s a harder thing to get at. Like what does [multiracial] even mean? Who are you? What is your identity?”
This feeling of confusion has led some students to be uncomfortable with their identities.
“I’ve heard [students] say, ‘I don’t feel like anything…I don’t feel as comfortable because I have this other thing,’ ” Mallin said.
She finds as the community has become more diverse, people do become more comfortable with themselves and their different identities. But when they are ready, Mallin recommends exploring different avenues of identity.
“It’s good to dig in if someone is ready to do that…and find a comfort with those [identities],” Mallin said. “And the more they are comfortable in their own skin, whatever their own skin is, then they will find that the struggle is diminished as they’re more comfortable with who they are.”
November 27, 2013 at 5:26 PM
As part of Whitman Middle School’s professional training sessions for their teachers in November, the school decided that the staff should attend the Pacific Science Center’s current exhibit on race.
Paula Peterson, a special-education teacher, felt the exhibit gave her a new perspective on how racial differences are treated in an educational setting.
“As a teacher, I’m always more and more conscious of my perception of students through their racial identity and any biases I may be having that I wasn’t aware of,” said Peterson.
Looking at the statistics of student suspension rates in schools for different racial groups surprised Peterson. Had she considered what kinds of students were getting suspended at the schools where she’s taught? The data made her wonder about the things she needs to think about as a teacher.
Peterson’s niece, 27-year-old Molly Anderson, joined her aunt in viewing the exhibition. She recalled taking a class on racial differences when she attended The Center School several years ago and was interested in learning more.
“I have a difference too,” said Anderson. Though it’s not a racial or ethnic difference, Anderson’s learning challenge has set her apart from others. Yet, Anderson still goes by the motto she’s always known: “Treat others how you want to be treated.”
In one video shown at the exhibit, teens from different backgrounds discuss the complexities in deciding what “group” they belonged with at school, with race being a factor. Since people have become more mixed in race and less black and white, the teens said they felt confused about their personal identity and questioned if it’s really necessary for them to identify with one group. Peterson and Anderson were both struck by the video and the conversations taking place among the teens.
One girl in the video explained how much easier it was to be friends with people when she was in elementary school because you decided who would be your friend by who was simply nice to you, not by their race. Anderson agreed with the girl.
Peterson thought about how this discussion among the teens might go differently for future generations. As the population continues to blend races and diversify, what then will determine how these “groups” are formed? Maybe, like the girl in the video described, it will all go back to the basics of humanity.
November 27, 2013 at 11:15 AM
She never thought attending an undergraduate class would change her life, but it did.
Kimberly Harden of Kent, who is pursuing her doctorate at Gonzaga University and holds a bachelor’s in communication from the University of Washington, says that a class on race, ethnicity and gender at UW fueled her passion for race and social justice.
Harden is a moderator for group discussions at the RACE exhibit. She is looking forward to her first group. Prior to seeing the exhibit, the groups discuss current assumptions about race, and then they have another conversation after going through the exhibit.
The City of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) is organizing the group discussions by providing local and regional groups with trained moderators like Harden to help lead discussions about race and racism. The RSJI chose volunteers based on their comfort level talking about race and racism.
Diana Falchuk, RSJI outreach specialist, says the facilitators’ professions vary, but most work with nonprofits and community organizations and all facilitators have experience with race and racism discussions. Groups can also be any organization, employer or agency that wants to share the exhibit experience with their colleagues.
As a doctoral student, Harden piloted an eight-week media-literacy course at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood in January. She is putting together a proposal to keep the class as a part of the social-science curriculum at the school.
“My first day of class, I walked in, and I had on a hoodie and jeans and was kind of looking rough,” said Harden. She said she asked the class, “Based on what you see, what are your assumptions about me?” They had a theory about where she lived, what kind of car she drove, and even how many kids she had.
The result of that experiment was that it made the students more aware of their own biases. Harden says that her class focused on race, gender and social injustices in media and tried to break down the stereotypes that media has created.
Claire Beach, a media-arts teacher at Meadowdale High School, got Harden involved with the RSJI. Two facilitators are chosen for each workshop discussion, a Caucasian and a person of color. Whenever there is a conversation about anti-racism, there needs to be voices from all walks of life, Falchuk says. They don’t just want one perspective.
Beach hopes that she and Harden will be assigned to a group together because of their similar backgrounds. Beach grew up in Mississippi and remembers segregation in the South, including separate water fountains for people of color and whites. She says that people never talk about white privilege, but she hopes that the exhibit will start that conversation.
Harden’s experience with race has never taken a back seat in her life, either. Her parents are from the South. To an outsider, she may be described as “African-American,” but she identifies herself as “American.”
“I do not like the term “African-American,” Harden said. “That’s just a label that I’m not comfortable with. I have been to Africa, but I don’t really relate to that culture.”
Being comfortable, Harden says, is something that has to be present in talks about race. “People are uncomfortable talking about race,” she said. But, as a moderator for groups going through the exhibit, she hopes that she will be able to fuel the conversation and get people talking.
November 27, 2013 at 6:15 AM
I have been reading about ethnic confrontations in Russian between Russians and Caucasians (people from countries in the Caucasus, a region located in the south of Russia). I didn’t really understand the conflict and how it affected me until I went back to Moscow last summer.
I was walking in the subway when I heard some people began to fight. Two were Russian and their opposing partners were Caucasians; all four no older than 20 years of age. Suddenly, one of the migrants slapped a Russian boy’s face and insulted his mother. Tears rolled down his face from anger and despair of not being able to fight back as the police approached and the foreigners escaped into the passing train.
Being ethnically Russian, I found myself siding with the Russians and an absolute dislike toward the fleeing two. After this incident and reading about the recent nationalist movement in Russia, I started thinking about what could be fueling it.
The Caucasus region includes republics and countries such as the Republic of Chechnya, Azerbaijan, the Republic of Dagestan, and others. With over 11 million immigrants, Russia is second after the U.S. with the largest immigrant population. The continued increase in these numbers spurs ethnic tensions in the country. Ethnic Russians complain that migrants take their jobs, get federal benefits, commit crimes and don’t assimilate into their culture. Many feel that the government should address these problems or the conflict will escalate.
I’ve noticed a similar trend in the U.S. The number of undocumented immigrants is rising and American citizens demand a solution from the government. While the situation has not reached the extremes it has in Russia, negative stereotypes against Latinos and Muslims exist on a large scale.
Last month, Moscow experienced a burst of nationalism in the streets. It was sparked by the murder of an ethnic Russian man allegedly committed by an immigrant from Azerbaijan, who is in custody. This was far from being the first incident where a crime committed by a migrant against a Russian resulted in riots. In addition, an annual march of nationalists has become a tradition on November 4, with thousands of people proclaiming “Russia is for Russians.”
“Sometimes walking on the street it’s hard to tell whether I’m in Russia or in the Caucasus,” said Nikita Korolev, 21, from the Moscow region. “If only they respected the country they are coming to but they scare our teenagers, fire guns on the streets, and act like they are the owners here. If the law enforcement can’t protect us, we have no choice but strike back ourselves.”
Researching the problem in Russia and talking to my peers made me realize that ethnicity is not only the problem. Nationalistic feelings are intensified by feelings of injustice. Many Russians feel like law enforcement treats foreigners better than ethnic Russians and this creates a divide.
The U.S. is already dealing with similar immigration-related problems. A country that’s been built on welcoming immigrants for a better life is now looking at the issue through a different lens. There already exists a day called the National Remembrance Day for Americans Killed by Illegal Aliens. It’s worrisome. Can we find a peaceful solution?
November 26, 2013 at 9:08 AM
Jennifer Kelly remembers, as a half-Korean and half-American 6-year-old girl in Korea, the unmistakable scowling of onlookers as she and her mother walked down the street. Kelly would ask her mother why people stared with such anger.
She would respond: “They’ve never seen a little girl so beautiful,” Kelly remembers.
This was her mother’s way of transforming a horrible situation into an endurable one.
Today, Kelly has two children of her own: a 12-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. Her youngest attends Matheia School in Ballard, an independent K-5 school that launches into fresh curriculum every few months. The last was a focus on American Indian studies.
This November, classes began a unit on race — including a fieldtrip to the Pacific Science Center’s exhibit, “RACE: Are We So Different?”
Kelly is strongly in support of this scholastic focus. She acknowledges that race is a difficult topic to address, an issue easily swept aside. “But to actually pull it out of the drawer and look at it and analyze it, that’s great,” she said. “I like that it incites dialogue at home. If kids start talking about it now, they’ll be that much further along as they grow into junior high, high school. They’ll just have a better foundation.”
Children are arguably colorblind, Kelly said. Instead of noticing differences, most children seek commonalities with their peers. Kelly’s daughter returns home from school with a list of traits she shares with new friends: Are they funny, are they fun?
“Colorblindness,” however, is not one that Kelly hopes to instill in her children. Denying others their identified race is, Kelly said, “denying something of who they are.” Instead, she will teach her children to embrace others, race and all, as they grow into their own respective identity.
With light hair, blue eyes and fair skin, her son and daughter — whose father is Australian — have a Caucasian phenotype.
“But I don’t want to just pass them off as white,” Kelly explained. “I want them to choose their own identity.”
This could include exploring their Australian roots or embracing their Korean heritage. Korean food is occasionally cooked at home, and Kelly’s son has begun pestering his mother to study the language. Kelly’s daughter, meanwhile, is learning people come in all shapes and sizes and colors.
As her children grow, Kelly continues her search for a positive role model in the media. The male Asian stereotype: the Jackie Chan martial-artist type or the studious, A+ scholar.
“The stereotype of the Asian female, it’s overtly sexualized, demure and cute,” Kelly said. She added that some mistake this stereotype as flattering, but she said that it is far from the truth.
“You just become a caricature,” she said. Many wrongly view Asian women through a filter constructed by society’s stereotypes.
After Kelly moved to the United States at the age of 10, she faced racism once again. Racial discrimination is not solely perpetuated by one race. “It’s a human affliction,” she said.
Remembering words Kelly loved her mother for saying, the assurances meant to mask the ugliness of discrimination — “they’re just really jealous, honey” — Kelly shakes her head.
“But was it the truth? It wasn’t the truth. It was beyond her control. It was endemic, insurmountable at the time,” she said.
This month Kelly’s young daughter prepares to continue her exploration of the topic of race at school with a generation whose parents await at home, ready to tackle the issue of race.
“I get to define me,” Kelly said. “My identity is my own.”
November 25, 2013 at 12:15 PM
Jillian Stampher, Special to The Seattle Times
Just 10 months after the University of Washington opened a newly remodeled Ethnic Cultural Center, the Seattle campus broke ground on a long-anticipated Native American longhouse.
The longhouse, named Wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (wah-sheb-altuh), or Intellectual House, is just one of many efforts the university has made over the past decade to become a more appealing campus to diverse students.
Washington universities have not been allowed to consider race or ethnicity in admissions since 1998, when voters passed Initiative 200 (I-200), which prohibits racial and gender preferences by state and local government in employment, education and contracting. Since then, the UW has had to experiment with innovative recruitment methods to attempt to keep pace with national standards for diversity.
“We don’t use it to make decisions, but we do have race-based outreach,” said Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange, vice provost for diversity at the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity.
This outreach has seen mixed results. While the UW excels in certain areas of diversity — according to a report by the UW Office of Admissions, 22.5 percent of students enrolled this fall were Asian and 14.3 percent were international students — the school still struggles with more widespread diversity. This fall, African Americans made up only 3.2 percent of the UW student population; only 6.4 percent of students are Hispanic or Latino.
Lange acknowledged that the UW has made progress over the past decade in diversity, but said it hasn’t reached her ideal.
“Although we’ve been able to increase the numbers, we haven’t reached what people refer to as ‘critical mass.’ That is where you’re not the only one, or not seen as the token in your department,” she said.
One goal of projects like the longhouse and the Ethnic Cultural Center remodel, which cost $6 million and $15.5 million, respectively, is to demonstrate to students who were offered admission that the UW encourages diversity, according to Lange.
“It shows people that there is a place for them on campus, that the university actually welcomes students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds,” she said. “It’s a symbol of the university’s commitment to inclusion.”
On Oct. 15, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments against state voters banning the use of race as a criterion in college admissions. A 2006 constitutional amendment in Michigan blocked the state from considering race or ethnicity in public education and employment. The ban closely mirrors Washington’s I-200.
The Michigan case comes four months after the Supreme Court decided to refer the highly watched Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case to a lower court.
While those two affirmative-action cases gained traction in the U.S. courts, Lange began preparing a report on the effects of diversity in universities.
“If we don’t do a better job of being more inclusive and providing equitable opportunities to those populations, we’re going to be even more of a nation of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and polarized racial divides and economic divides, which does not bode well for our democracy,” she said.
November 22, 2013 at 12:06 PM
Racial and ethnic minority groups are continually elbowed out of policy discussions at the local level due to an unfair elections system, at least according to supporters of a bill intended to change that.
Introduced in 2012, the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA) aims to address the allegedly unfair system by providing legal remedy to citizens who feel that the community they live in is underrepresented in local government. Technically, the bill targets “polarized voting,” where there is a disparity between the losing candidate that minority groups voted for and the winning candidate voted for by the rest of the electorate.
A citizen who feels that their community is underrepresented by their current representative submits a grievance to their local government and if polarized voting is found to be present, then the district must make changes to their district make-up for future elections. The remedy for at-large districts would be to switch to district-based voting, which would create smaller voting blocs gerrymandered around smaller communities. If that change is not made within 45 days of the complaint, then the plaintiff may sue.
The bill is not all about race. Any group deemed a “protected class” – any social group protected from discrimination under federal law – could sue under this bill. Racial subgroups are just one significant protected class that applies under this legislation.
Toby Guevin, senior policy and civic-engagement manager at immigrants’ advocacy group OneAmerica, said the intent of the bill is not to go against majority rule but to allow more voices to be heard in a majority-rule system. The bill would foster civic engagement among minority populations whose participation is imperative for a representative democracy.
“When people are disenfranchised and when people feel like they don’t have [access to fair elections], it’s very easy to become disengaged,” said Guevin.
Others, including Rep. Maureen Walsh (R- Walla Walla), have called the legislation “reverse discrimination.”
“All Americans have equal opportunity and that’s what this country is all about,” she contended during a House floor debate on March 7. “We perpetuate the prejudice when we continue to drive issues like this.”
The questions this bill raises include: does gerrymandering districts into racial subdivisions push racism further into the twenty-first century?; Or is the Washington Voting Rights Act simply corroborating evidence that polarized voting exists and negatively affects minorities during elections?
Sponsor of the bill, Rep. Luis Moscoso (D-Mountlake Terrace), a first-generation Peruvian American raised in what he calls “white privilege” Iowa, said that skeptics should not just focus on the “race-aspect” of the bill.
“It’s important not only because we want people to be able to vote for folks that can represent their community … but it’s also just about neighborhoods,” he said.
The bill is ready for a House floor vote when the Legislature convenes Jan. 13, 2014.
Information in this article, originally published November 22, 2013, was corrected November 27, 2013. A previous version of this story misstated who was protected by the bill.
November 22, 2013 at 6:04 AM
The room was awash in khakis and black jackets, brass blinking in the morning light, as “Good Morning, Sir” rose in unison from the chairs. The class is as diverse as many classes on University of Washington, Seattle campus, a large and multiethnic student body. This class, however, had a common bond that others did not. This was a Naval Sciences class at the UW Naval Reserve Officers Training Center (NROTC).
Even though decades have passed since minorities and women were allowed to enter the United States military, many of the services have yet to catch up to the demographics of the nation. At the University of Washington Campus’ Navy ROTC unit, the diversity is good. However the unit’s commanding officer, Capt. David Melin, active duty, said that it could get better.
“Ours must be a navy family that recognizes no artificial barriers of race, color, or religion. There is no black Navy, no white Navy – just one Navy – The United States Navy,” said Adm. Elmo Zumwalt in the 1970s, a major proponent for sailors’ rights.
And that rings true for this class of cadets, this sea of khaki, whether Caucasian, Hispanic, Filipino, or something else, the commonality among them is that they are there to serve the military, and that’s all that counts to embrace newcomers into the fold.
Justin Luk, who enrolled in NROTC as a freshman in pre-statistics this fall, is half Chinese and half Filipino, though all American. He attended a high school in San Francisco where 80 percent were children of Chinese descent.
“Here in the battalion [the ethnic] majority [is] Caucasian,” said Midshipman Luk. “I don’t feel any different. I may be half Chinese/half Filipino, but I’m 100 percent American just like all the rest of them.”
Today’s armed forces, while still investigating issues of racial discrimination, is also highly concerned with stopping sexual assaults and ensuring recently unrepresented military homosexuals are treated with respect and dignity.
For Midshipman Jordyn Marxen, who is one-quarter Mexican and a sophomore in astronomy and comprehensive physics, her heritage hasn’t given her the unease about military service that gender equality has.
“I know the last few years [the Husky Battalion has] been working on a Future Female Officer Group,” Marxen said. “To hear from a female’s perspective of what obstacles she faces just by being female – it’s nice that the battalion has taken an interest in giving us that guidance.”
While ethnic diversity in the military is up from several decades ago, there is still more to do – not just in getting more ethnic diversity among higher-ranking officers (according to a PBS publication in 2010), but also in equality for all genders and non-traditional relationships.
Just as the views and attitudes in the military have changed over the years, it is still evolving to create, not a Navy of unequal social standings, but One Navy – The United States Navy.
November 21, 2013 at 11:40 AM
Angela Tucker doesn’t look like her parents.
She’s still deciding what that means to her.
“My identity is really confusing and mixed and changes over the years,” the 28-year-old African-American woman said.
“As a child, I wanted to be white; I wanted my hair to blow in the wind. In college, I remember trying to be more black; trying to find clothes that seemed more cultural or ethnic.”
Tucker, who lives in Fremont, grew up with white parents.
She was a baby when she was adopted out of Tennessee foster care and into the Bellingham home where she would grow up.
And she was 26 when she started to look for her birth parents.
Tucker’s husband Bryan, 29, followed her two year search from Seattle to Chattanooga in the documentary “Closure.”
She found them, but faced cultural barriers.
“I felt like I didn’t fit in,” Tucker said.
Tucker’s birth relatives joked about how she grew up, that she married a white man and received “white people’s education.”
“They said things like ‘you have material things, but we have family,” Tucker said.
It can take years before a child is adopted out of foster care.
To reduce that time, Congress in 1994 passed the Multiethnic Placement Act, keeping agencies from refusing or delaying adoption placement based on race.
It can be difficult for adoptive parents to understand what race will mean to a child, and the act doesn’t offer much for the transition.
Amara Parenting and Adoption Services tries to help.
“For the most part, people involved in adoption reflect the community they are in, where it doesn’t [occur] is in the foster care arena,” said Carol Mikkelsen, director of programs and administration at the agency.
“The number of African American or Native American kids in foster care is disproportionate to that [of the community], so you will find more trans-racial adoptions.”
Amara requires all adoptive parents to take trans-racial adoption workshops to understand how race will shape the identity of the child and their families through.
“An adopted child’s identity is heightened from childhood through death and it’s something they will return to again and again because they’re not with their birth parents,” Mikkelsen said.
Race is just one aspect of that identity, Mikkelsen said, but it’s the visible aspect.
“It’s a part of a child’s identity and it will become part of the parent’s identity,” she said. “Each experience affects who they are; each piece of information they have and each piece that’s missing about who they are supposed to be.”
Tucker’s parents helped guide her through these questions by allowing her to ask them.
“Knowing that I have these questions, fears and sadness and that I can’t make sense of my own story, even though they didn’t have the answers, they would recognize how hard it is to not know who you are,” she said.
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