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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Talking Race, ID & Racism with Families of Color Seattle

with FOCS Board and Staff [Photo Credit: Amy Pak]

by Sharon H Chang

On Saturday October 10 I had the very distinct honor of being part of Families of Color Seattle (FOCS)'s first of five Community Dialogues on Race and Family: "Talking Race, Identity and Racism." FOCS is an emerging, young local nonprofit whose mission is to build strong communities of color by supporting families via parenting programs, resource sharing, and fostering meaningful connections. Their vision is children of color will be born into loving world that is racially and economically just. This is the first time the org has undertaken a community dialogue series. The other dialogues will include: "Multiracial Families," "Anti-Bias Education and Schools," "Anti-Racist Birthing," and "Transracial Adoption Experiences."

Technically I was the kickoff keynote at this first launch event but it didn't feel like that - which was actually kind of awesome.

Truth is I don't relish all eyes and ears on me endlessly. Call it modesty, personality, temperament, gender socialization or whatever - but I speak to represent the work, not myself. I got a good 20-25 minutes but I shared the floor with other greats:

  • Marquita Prinzing & Teddy McGlynn-Wright who gave parent testimonials speaking on, respectively, growing up mixed-race Black and cycles of intergenerational, intrafamilial gendered violence.
  • And Matika Wilbur, Native American photographer, speaker and activist, of the nationally (probably also internationally) acclaimed Project 562.

Carylnn Newhouse (top), Bana Aberra & Ardo Hersi (middle), Me (bottom) [Photo Credit: Amy Pak]

About 60-70 attendees turned out including filmmakers, teachers, midwives, community members, parents, activists, organizers, social workers, advocates, etc. I don't know that I've seen such effective trans/cross/interracial coalition work before. I mean at this point I've certainly been at plenty of events where there were lots of folks from diverse groups. But more often than not the talks and issues are either savvy while segregated from each other -- or -- occupy the same space in such thick tension with an undercurrent so flammable everyone knows we're on the brink of disastrous nuclear meltdown if a single spark gets lit.

Racism hurts our families 
and we need tools to
resist, become resilient,
and thrive.

So yes, deeply special gathering. But no, I'm not here to tell you all about everything. It would be ridiculous to try to encapsulate every detail of what happened Saturday morning in an 800 to 1000 blog post. I can't do that. Who could do that? Here's what I can do. I can tell you about our core message (which I helped write): racism hurts our families and we need tools to resist, become resilient, and thrive

I can tell you when I spoke to this message, I talked about how getting tools means getting real and getting active. That despite Seattle's 'progressive mystique' Black students here are suspended 3xs as often as white students from elementary through high school; Seattle schools have one of the largest equity learning gaps in the entire country; nationwide children of color have become a majority in public schools but 80% of teachers of white and the number of teachers of color is plummeting; the US has one of the highest child poverty rates in the developed world and while US wealth has grown 60% in the past 6 years at the same time the number of homeless children, disproportionately children of color, has also grown 60%.

I can also tell you while I'm an avid researcher with data stuffed into my neural circuitry and while I've certainly written many research-driven-critical-social analyses, for this event I deliberately did not pick any of those pieces to read. I read from personal posts I've written about the racial journey my son, husband and I have been on together. Because I believe as communities we learn the most from the stories of people's lived lives (when we listen) and we get so few chances to listen:

"Having a 'Different' Name" (Multiracial Asian Families), the very first blog post I EVER wrote and yet still so relevant.
"My 3-Year-Old Has Experienced Racism (and yours probably has too)" (Racism Review), the very first post I wrote that ever went viral.

"Talking Mixed-Race Identity With Young Children" (Hyphen Magazine), when my son showed me without a shadow of a doubt that he understood the racial order.

"A Simple Story About Children Being Brilliant Undoing Racism" (Multiracial Asian Families), one of the most recent posts I've written about where we're at with racial learning and resistance in our family.

And I can tell you after this event was over I was so tired the next day, hell, the next two days, I couldn't sleep enough when I was sleeping or drink enough coffee when I was awake. Not because I was exhausted from planning and organizing (though that's certainly part of it) but because racism hurts. Whether it hurts us, or hurts us because we're watching others get hurt - it just plain hurts so much. This everyday pain makes up our collective reality as people of color, the waters we ever swim through, and it was in sharp focus at this event not only speaking from my own experiences but also listening to Carlynn Newhouse, Ardo Hersi, Bana Aberra, Marquita Prinzing, Teddy McGlynn-Wright, Matika Wilbur, and to everyone in attendance.

I don't relay any of this to get you discouraged. Quite the opposite. Like I said, my talking points were getting real and getting active. I haven't seen that trying to tiptoe, sidestep, duck or avoid the pain has gotten us damn anywhere. Even if it feels crappy we're going to have to learn to lift our gaze and stampede the eye of the storm to get through. That is, we simply can't get active till we get real. So. I appreciated beyond words this chance to participate and learn from Families of Color Seattle and all those present this last weekend. I feel like my consciousness was raised a crucial bar. I was emotionally devastated. But I'm rested now. I feel raw but alive. Can't wait to learn more. And hope you'll join me next time if you can.

Until then...

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