This is in response to the Aug. 20 letter to the editor headlined “End Racism, and BLM” from Denny Martin.
I, too, grew up in Grays Harbor County, so there is a lot I have not seen as well. Like Mr. Martin, I haven’t seen plantations here and growing up as a kid in a predominantly white town, I was fairly certain I hadn’t witnessed racism. I didn’t have to be afraid of getting pulled over or driving by myself through the rural parts of the county. I didn’t have to have a serious conversation with my parents when my high school put on a Senior Slave Auction for a fundraiser each year. My whiteness shielded me from the pain and fear my Black neighbors, friends and classmates had to experience in towns like ours every day.
I will never know that pain. I will never know that fear. Mine is a white voice, which should hold much less weight than the Black voices leading this movement and our nation right now. But I cannot let Mr. Martin’s letter go without rebuttal, especially when it contains an implication that there is no racism or white supremacy alive and well in Grays Harbor County.
2020 has been a year of exposing our nation’s brokenness in a new way, where society has worked tirelessly in the past to keep it under wraps. Now that the wounds are exposed with everyone’s attention on them, it will be painful, and the truth will sting. We need to tend to what is broken. We cannot keep looking away.
On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery was chased down and murdered while jogging in Georgia. The footage of the lynching was widely shared on social media. I saw friends-of-friends from our community commenting on this video of a human being slaughtered in broad daylight with responses like, “There’s got to be more to the story … why would he react that way? … There has to be an explanation …” — grasping at any straw that would excuse the actions of white people killing an unarmed Black man in broad daylight.
On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor was murdered in her own home by officers executing a no-knock warrant for a drug investigation in the middle of the night. Breonna’s boyfriend, and surviving eyewitness to the murder, claims that police did not identify themselves during the raid. There has been no body cam footage produced. When demands for justice for Breonna Taylor circulated on social media, I again saw our neighbors in Grays Harbor scanning for any shred of justification for the officers who murdered her.
When George Floyd was executed on video, for the entire world to see, the world took action. We marched and held signs, even on Grays Harbor. Leading up to the demonstrations, there was again a significant group of Harborites on social media attempting to invalidate, divide and villainize our collective cries for justice and equality. The results of these attempts were clear. There were those who drove by shouting slurs and threats as we held signs in Hoquiam. There was the armed militia group in Aberdeen who live streamed their aggressive and antagonistic behavior on Facebook (under the guise of supporting police, while simultaneously making our police officers’ jobs much more dangerous for the afternoon). If you aren’t sure if racism exists on Grays Harbor, just follow one of the community pages on Facebook, where racist comments rear their ugly heads on a rather regular basis.
Invoking Dr. King as the ultimate nonviolent activist legend is accurate but let us not forget that the establishment responded to Dr. King and civil rights activists in the same way they are responding to BLM protesters. They looked for ways to shut them up, by any means necessary. The majority of violence comes from the side trying to maintain the status quo. And this is not new. I think sometimes we frame civil rights as though Dr. King came and gave some great speeches that moved the government to change its collective mind about the generations of oppression it had intentionally inflicted on Black people. In reality, the civil rights movement was painful, messy and rowdy.
All of this is to say that maybe you haven’t seen the racism because you have been blinded by your whiteness, just like I was when I was younger. But now is an excellent time to start looking around and seeing the full truth of our community and the work that needs to be done so that Black families feel safe settling down in our county. I don’t recall anyone asking us to apologize for anyone else’s atrocities. I do believe it is important we learn from them. Frankly, it is a little late for apologies. It is an excellent time for actions.
It is important to understand that my whiteness not only shielded me, but that I have also caused harm to my neighbors of color as I haphazardly moved through life in a society that favored me. It is now my responsibility to teach my kids a more complete history of our white ancestors and the trauma they caused, but also to teach them to celebrate, help, serve and love their neighbors. That includes listening to our neighbors of color and volunteering our bodies and voices to help them build a safer world for their children.
Katie Closter is a resident of Hoquiam