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How this Seattle community is talking about race

The first meeting in the DNDA's "Let's Talk About Race" series on Jan. 13, 2018. (Tanisha Frazier, Moments Captured Photography)

How do you get a community to talk about race? It’s a touchy subject, but one that Seattle’s Delridge neighborhood doesn’t have a problem discussing.

“I feel as if sometimes we are moving toward a more progressive understanding, and then we move back toward ‘this is your fault’ and the shaming and blaming arena,” Nafasi Ferrell with the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association told KIRO Radio about the general conversation around race in America. “It’s shifting in certain areas with certain groups, but overall we are trying. We are trying to work with each other to understand it better.”

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DNDA is hosting a series of discussions about race and related issues. Its first event was Jan. 13. Seven more will be held between now and November.

The first event went better than some may expect for a discussion about race. In fact, depending on how you look at it, it might have gone too well. Farrell doesn’t think there will be any problems with attendance at future discussions.

“Our biggest thing is to limit the number of white folks who actually do show up,” Ferrell said. “The last event we did on the topic of race, we had 75 folks attend, and only 10 people of color came. Everyone else was white, and mostly women. Most of the people we got that want to be a part of this work have been white. So it’s about expanding the voice.”

“We haven’t had an issue in Delridge of white folks not showing up,” she said. “It’s been about more white folks and fewer people of color showing up. We have the opposite of the problem. We know tons of white folks will attend the ‘creation of whiteness’ event, but it’s not just for white folks. It’s for people of color to understand how whiteness was created in the United States and what that means for the conversation around race.”

For example, Farrell points to a recent encounter with a woman in Seattle.

“I was talking to a community member from Somalia the other day,” she said. “She mentioned to me that this conversation around race is ‘between you Americans.’ She tried to separate herself from this larger community … just because the normal dialogue of race has been between blacks and whites, others feel like they can’t be a part of it. That was very alarming.”

For the Delridge discussions, there is an effort to make sure that the talks don’t focus on the black and white binary common to America’s civil rights history. Farrell said that the goal is to have a larger conversation, to include a range of voices.

“I think many people are like, ‘Where do we start?’ It starts with us,” Farrell said. “It really starts with us taking a step; of us taking initiative as community members to have the dialogue. It also is helpful when we have spaces made available for us to do that. That is what the purpose of this series really is. To provide a space for community members to come together … to really have these deep conversations around race and how race affects these specific topics that we are going to cover within the series.”

“And also how it relates to their stories, and their lived experiences …” she added. “When we talk about race we have to talk about it as if is something separate of ourselves, but we are living through the process of understanding it, of living the past history. If we don’t give validation to our own stories and our own history we can’t move forward as a collective then we can’t move forward on the discussion on race.”

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