What We Can Do

For an island that is a majority of white people, we may think there is not much we can do to support a healthy change in attitude around understanding race. The good news is that learning what the words white privilege refer to can open a fuller understanding of how even white lives have been shaped by that force.

This month Debby Irving author of Waking Up White, And Finding Myself in the Story of Race” joins with Vashon SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) hosted at United Methodist Church to help continue the conversation on Vashon. This event is an example of a community initiative that ‘grew legs’ and has kept on growing.

In spring 2015 Sustainable Vashon created the Vashon Reads initiative that offered book titles for all ages, live readings, and community conversations to help unpack the topic of “Racism, Culture and White Privilege.” As a white person, I felt very fortunate to discover the events right here at home, just as I was just beginning to really understand that I had been missing important pieces of the conversation.

Walking into that Vashon Reads event, I was impressed by the number of people who found interest in understanding whiteness. I felt deep joy that white people on Vashon could help me discover more about these words racism and white privilege. One of the books Vashon Reads introduced me to was “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving. This book, written by a self-proclaimed WASP woman straight from New England, reveals a journey that poignantly starts with her asking her mother, “where did all the Indians go?” This example recalled my own experience as a child trying to reconcile that mystery, like, what do you mean they left, or were moved…? Wasn’t this their home?

For me,the Vashon Reads event in 2015 was eye-opening, and simultaneously supportive and healing. I realized that even as we were mostly white people in the room, we were embarking on an important piece of work towards acknowledging and changing harmful attitudes. Out of that, a few of us convened an ongoing book group that eventually became sponsored by Vashon SURJ. We read, study and discuss a variety of books on the topics of whiteness and racism by authors of all identities.

Waking Up White remains an important book for our group. One of our members who was so moved by the book, wrote Debby to see if she was ever on the West Coast would she be available to visit Vashon? Miraculously, it turned out, Debby indeed had an up-coming visit to Burien and happily agreed to also give a presentation on Vashon. In conjunction with Vashon SURJ, the United Methodist Church offered to host the Feb 10th event in their space.

Following in the footsteps of Debby’s Vashon talk, our book group will start anew focusing on Waking Up White with our next meeting Feb 21; newcomers are welcome. Even here on Vashon we can do the work it takes to change systems of racism.  These opportunities to hear and learn from first-hand experiences of waking up to white privilege can be life changing, and in the long run, life saving.