YWCA program offers reminder that racism still exists

Many people believe racism is a thing of the past. Nora Karena Johnson knows that.

“They associate it with Jim Crow laws and slavery,” she said. “That’s really not a complete picture of what racism is.”

Johnson is a family advocate with YWCA Seattle-King-Snohomish, which operates a shelter and transitional housing for women and children in Lynnwood. She also is working on a master’s degree in cultural studies at UW Bothell.

Helping women attain housing is her “real job,” Johnson said. “Anti-racism work is my thing,” she added.

Johnson will take part in Friday’s Stand Against Racism program at 3:30 p.m. in the Lynnwood City Hall Council Chambers.

It’s one of two local events Friday to observe Stand Against Racism, a nationwide movement sponsored by the YWCA. An 11:30 a.m. gathering at the Snohomish County Courthouse plaza will bring together county officials, leaders of the Snohomish County Human Rights Coalition and the local NAACP, and the Communities of Color Coalition to speak about racism and diversity.

Johnson is pleased that an African-American has twice been elected to the nation’s highest office. President Barack Obama was in Snohomish County on Tuesday to see the devastation of the Oso mudslide, and to meet with victims’ families and first responders. Snohomish County Executive John Lovick, also African-American, was with Obama in Oso.

“I loved seeing that, be we’re a long way from being race-neutral,” Johnson said.

When she considers racism, Johnson thinks about entrenched social and political systems. “Even if people’s intentions might be good will to all,” Johnson said, she sees discrimination and unfairness rooted in structures that grew out of slavery and Jim Crow.

There are racial inequalities in incarceration rates, health care and education, Johnson said. “As long as structural inequalities exist, it doesn’t matter how kind your heart is. It’s painful, but it needs to be talked about,” she said.

Meg Winch is chairwoman of the Snohomish County Human Rights Coalition, an advisory group to the county executive, the County Council and other agencies. She sees racial and gender diversity as keys to the region’s economic health.

The county is obligated to be a leader in impartial hiring and contracting practices, said Winch, who will speak at Friday’s event at the courthouse plaza. The commission is talking with the Latino Civic Alliance about ways to win business leaders’ support for “fair access to both jobs and contracts,” she said.

Racism hurts any workplace, Winch said.

“We all need to take a stand against racism. This is the workforce of now and the future. The brightest and best are coming from across racial groups,” Winch said.

Luanne Kunz, the YWCA’s regional community affairs coordinator, said Stand Against Racism reminds us that racial bias still exists.

“People have a tendency to think, in this day and age, if it’s not blatant it’s not there. It is there,” Kunz said. “It’s kind of shoved underneath the rug.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Stand Against Racism

Stand Against Racism is a one-day observance sponsored by the YWCA to raise awareness of racism and encourage conversations about diversity. Two local programs are planned for Friday:

11:30 a.m., Everett: Includes YWCA Seattle-King-Snohomish, Snohomish County Human Services, Snohomish County Human Rights Commission, the NAACP, and the Communities of Color Coalition. Snohomish County Courthouse plaza, 3000 Rockefeller Ave.

3:30 p.m., Lynnwood: Includes Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith, YWCA senior regional director Mary Anne Dillon, the Lynnwood Diversity Commission and Tonya Drake of Edmonds Community College. Lynnwood City Hall, 19100 44th Ave. W.

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