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Race: Are we so different

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

November 27, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Race project | UW alum hopes to spark conversations about race

Kimberly Harden, a moderator for the RACE: Are we so different? exhibit. (Photo by Rebecca Gourley)

Kimberly Harden, a moderator for the “RACE: Are we so different?” exhibit. (Photo by Rebecca Gourley)

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.

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