Just like many other communities across the U.S., Vashon Island has been grappling with the issue of racism. This week, Swaneagle Fitzgerald wrote a brave and moving post about her personal experiences with racism on the island. In the post, she describes several racist incidents that have taken place in her community, ranging from dirty looks to violent threats. These occurrences have caused distress and frustration to those involved. Fitzgerald ends her post with a call to action, describing how she wants the community to step up and take action on this issue. She points out that bringing up the important and difficult questions is necessary if Vashon Island wants to be a place where people can live in true diversity and peace.
The majority of comments on this Facebook post are overwhelmingly positive. Many people are thanking Fitzgerald for speaking out passionately and truthfully, telling her they had also seen that racism was a problem for Vashon and stating that they look forward to change on the island. Some people are asking questions, reaching out for more knowledge about the issue, and asking about ways they can get involved. The comments include recommendations for further reading on racism, desires for training on the topic, and plans to create a Facebook page to continue this movement.
It is wonderful to see people working together to discuss the subject of racism, but it is also crucial to remember how deeply this problem is entrenched in American culture. An article from a few years ago in The Vashon Loop (that has been removed) is a reminder that racism exists beyond the obvious threats and racial crimes, making it difficult to combat. This article, by Stephanie Moore, talks about how white privilege is often invisible to those who have it because it is not always something that people are doing on purpose. Moore gives several examples of this, such as telling someone they are “acting white,” making stereotypical assumptions, or asking a person of color to speak for his or her entire race.
Some of the comments on Moore’s article seem to exhibit the blindness that she says white privilege often brings to these discussions. It is hard to admit to what Moore calls “accidental racism” because no one wants to believe they have been racist or unkind, even unintentionally. It is easier to deny the problem and push it aside. Moore and Fitzgerald both stress that any truly healing discussion will have to be honest, thoughtful, and emotional.
Discussions about race often bring up important and hard questions. Does racism exist here? If it does, what is my responsibility? As a person of color, how do I help my family deal with racism? As a white person, what can I do to help? As a white person, am I willing to consider what I might have done to make things more difficult for people of color? These types of open and truthful discussions can help communities, like Vashon Island, come together and work through their differences. It is exciting to see people wanting to make a more united community and beginning to talk about some of these issues in a civil and respectful manner.