James Whitfield paused his presentation for the audience to conduct emotional self-checks. Hannah Saunders/staff photo

James Whitfield paused his presentation for the audience to conduct emotional self-checks. Hannah Saunders/staff photo

Kirkland talks racism: Driving While Black

The event was held at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology.

On Feb. 19 Leadership Eastside (LE) and the city of Kirkland hosted the second portion of a three-part community learning series. The goal of these community conversations are to create a more welcoming, safe, and inclusive environment for every Kirkland resident but specifically, for people of color.

The topic of discussion for the most recent event was Driving While Black.

Those in attendance included two members of the Kirkland Police Department who were there as citizens, as well as R.J. Sammons who was spotted wearing a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt.

“I’m an educator, I’m a parent in the Kirkland community and I just care deeply about social justice issues in our community,” he said.

The event took place at Lake Washington Institute of Technology and began with attendees introducing themselves in small groups of three.

LE president James Whitfield kicked off the event with a presentation on the history of being a person of color in the Pacific Northwest, which he defined as a “white space.”

He discussed how it was illegal in Oregon for black people to work, live in, or own property in the state until 1926. As a result, this exclusion law diverted people of color from entering Washington since they were restricted from passing through Oregon.

“We are going to, for all, assume that people of color are experts in their own experiences,” said Whitfield, who later went on to explain that white people see things in the past and present, while black people view things in the present and how they want things to be.

Whitfield delved into some statistics of being a person of color while operating a motor vehicle, such as how black individuals are 20 percent more likely to get pulled over than their white counterparts — a large portion of which has to do with racial profiling.

“Black males in particular are perceived to be more threatening,” stated Whitfield. He further explained how this racial bias can create a stress response in the responding law enforcement officer, which the person of color involved in the traffic stop may mirror.

In addition, based on the research study “Exploring Black and White Accounts of 21st Century Racial Profiling: Riding and Driving While Black,” people of color are more fearful of being pulled over (even when no traffic violations have taken place), and place an emphasis on surviving the encounter with law enforcement. These are two factors that white passengers have witnessed, according to the study.

“We can see the same thing, but we can have different experiences,” Whitfield said — something he refers to as multiple realities.

After the presentation portion of the event, attendees were placed in separate rooms based on the division of two groups: people of color and white people. The purpose of these groups were to hold conversations with those of the same race, to include personal experiences and actions that can be taken to create a more welcoming community.

In the white group, Kirkland parents expressed their concerns about the lack of education for Black History Month in classrooms. One couple brought attention to how not only can they educate their grandchildren, but they can also learn from them. Attention was also placed on books about white privilege such as “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving.

The two groups were then brought back together in the lecture hall. Whitfield mentioned that in order for systemic change to take place, change in people, relationships and structures must also occur.

“I’m happy people came out. I’m optimistic that they had good things to take away and work on going forward. That’s all I could hope for,” he said.

The final Kirkland Talks About Racism event will take place on March 18. This time, the focus will be on shopping while black. To learn more visit tinyurl.com/tnuel6j.

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