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These are the notes from a workshop "Racism: a poison inside and outside the peace movement", which took place September 18, 1990 as part of the PeaceWorks Park vigil.

PeaceWorks Park

Notes on:

Tuesday, Sept 18

8pmWORKSHOP:
 "Racism: a poison inside and outside the peace movement"

Advance publicity: posters, inclusion in our calendar, announcement at teach-in.

Attendance: Approximately 25

Facilitator: Joules Graves

External Follow-up: Delegation to African-American History Museum [which in those days effectively meant Amari Tahir - JM 2007] this Saturday. Other outreach possibilities discussed but there is no resolution.

Internal Follow-up: Continue raising this issue. Call people on any overt racism within our vigil.

Notes:

These are highly subjective notes by one participant. Notes taken by Joe Mabel.

For a racism workshop, it was rather too heavily a white group. There were a smattering of mixed-race participants. As a result, no small part of the discussion focused on anti-Semitism or on the experiences of those Whites in the group who had grown up in places where Whites were a minority.

Nonetheless, a large number of direct experiences of racism, both overt and subtle, were described. In most, the person giving the description was an observer, in a few cases a victim, in some a perpetrator. Some examples:

  • police jubilantly arresting a Black man, gratuitously violent toward him.
  • "I just find myself at a loss for words when I try to talk to a black person."
  • white man reported being better paid than Mexican co-workers
  • One participant was a "friend" of the man on crutches in the Gas Works parking lot last week who didn't like the rap music someone was playing on a car stereo. That man harassed the person with the stereo to the point where a gun was fired in self-defense. The harasser was winged, someone else was hurt. "What he did was utter and complete bullshit and he still doesn't admit it."
  • A White described being beaten by Blacks, apparently for his activities working for a predominantly Black political group. "Why are you working for those folks?" he was asked during the beating. Later he found himself ostracized for "inciting a racial attack."
  • Some in the group claimed never to have encountered racism. Someone responded, "There are so many instances of racism. Just walk down the Ave and you can see it," and went on to describe racial slurs in a political campaign and the current fight over an Ethnic Studies requirement at the U.W. Another participant added "If you don't see it, you're not looking."
  • "Even people in this vigil say very racist things" including remarks about the uncleanliness of other races.
  • "I am Hawaiian. We are a dying race. In 18 years in Hawaii I only met two true Hawaiians." Went on to express resentment of Captain Cook. "My father is very racist and sexist," but "I've never experienced racism in a really aggressive way."
  • "Racism is not right. You're just you."
  • A white man described the slow process of gaining acceptance by neighboring Blacks and Samoans. Once he got it, "white peoplestarted acting different towards me. 'Why do you hang around with them?" Constant fights with racists in his family.
  • One participant remarked "I throw myself into the middle of [a situation where blatant racism is occurring whenever I see it." Described an incident where a Black and a White were using nasty epithets towards two Vietnamese girls in a high school classroom.
  • "There are little racial cliques," on the street. "I saw old men beat with canes." Described a man cut with a Thunderbird bottle bleeding to death in his arms. Added, "My prejudice has saved my life more than once," but pointed out that this is more a matter of where he "wave[s] his wallet" rather than anything about how he treats someone.
  • "The only racism I've ever seen was in myself a while back." Learned from his mother not to trust Blacks. Unlearning came slowly.
  • "Dad has Jewish friends but always says bad things about Jews."
  • "Racism is ignorance, fear."
  • Racist language, many examples given, I don't see any point to repeating the epithets here.

More along similar lines. If anyone wants to see my original handwritten notes, I'll run off a copy. I think the examples given are about typical. [original handwritten notes are presumably long lost - JM 2007]

There was some disagreement over what besides prejudice as such constitutes racism. I offered the definition that racism is prejudice plus power, constituting a system of oppression. Another participant talked a bit about such subtle racism as appropriation without due credit.

There was some discussion of the racial environments in which we had grown up. Some of us came from racially mixed households and neighborhoods, others from lily-white backgrounds. One Jew was the son of Holocaust survivors whose parents were afraid to speak their native Yiddish in public.

There was some talk about what to do about racism within the vigil. The most obvious conclusion was that if you hear someone making racial slurs, don't just ignore them. Stand up to them.

It was pointed out that our most effective outreach comes when we actually sit down with people at their meetings or church services, etc. before asking them to come visit us. This has tended not to cross racial lines as much as it ought to. This ought to be remedied.

There was some discussion of how racism figures into America's cavalier attitude towards going to war in Arabia.

There was also discussion of how the "culture" of this event is basically a white youth culture and that if we wish to reach out more beyond that element, we must try to open that up. This should be further discussed in the workshop on the future of the vigil, Wednesday September 26. "Few people stay aware of the political context of anything they do as much as [we do] this vigil."

"If you're falling over a cliff and a hand is reaching out to you, you're not going to care what color it is."

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