Governor part of forum tackling issue of racial equality

LYNNWOOD — Talking about race in America is not comfortable or easy, but it must happen.

“Lean in” to those conversations when they come up, Caprice Hollins, a professor and race consultant, told a packed room at the Lynnwood Convention Center on Friday. Several hundred people were on hand for Step Up: Understanding and Implementing Racial Equity, which was hosted by Leadership Snohomish County.

During a brief address, Gov. Jay Inslee highlighted how his budget proposals, such as more money for early education, will help kids from poor communities.

While white people make up most of those struggling to get by in Snohomish County, other races experience higher rates of poverty. In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau found that 9.1 percent of white people in Snohomish County live below the poverty line, compared to 17.8 percent of black people and 15 percent of people who identified as having more than one race.

More than 20 percent of people living in the county do not identify as solely white, according to the Census Bureau.

While America has torn down many of its intentionally racist institutions, “we still have a long way to go,” Inslee said. “It’s a challenge my administration is willing to accept.”

Hard work remains to be done across society, said Hollins, an affiliate professor at Seattle University and co-founder of Cultures Connecting, a consulting firm focused on racial issues.

Claiming to be colorblind is not the way to get rid of discrimination, she said. “Why do you have to not see my race in order for you to do those good things?”

She pointed to mountains of empirical research showing how unconscious bias affects everyday interactions that can have huge consequences. For example, a 2003 paper published by the National Bureau of Economics Research found that job applicants with names considered to sound black receive far fewer calls from potential employers.

White people often struggle talking about race in America, and often personalize the conversation, Hollins said. “They’ll say things like ‘I’m not like that,’ ‘Why are you trying to make me feel guilty?’”

But that misses the point of the conversation — and hampers any positive outcome, she said.

“What I want you to know is this isn’t necessarily about who you are as an individual,” she said. “This is about our collective experience of whiteness.”

People should slow down and ask questions about their assumptions in the moment, she said.

Sometimes the answers and issues will be discomforting and upsetting.

“Having a little bit of anger is OK,” said Colleen Echohawk, who runs the Chief Seattle Club, which assists low-income and homeless Native Americans in Seattle. “What matters is how you use it.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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