Hate begins at home

Where does hate come from and how is it passed on? What does it mean to be white in America? What does it mean to be a person of color in America — or on Whidbey Island?

A diverse group of community members gathered Tuesday evening to discuss these questions, led by Larry Jarrett, former Marine and now Assistant United States Attorney General for the North District of Texas.

Jarrett began his talk with a sobering video of centuries of persecution of minorities in America, from Native Americans slaughtered and Chinese denied citizenship, to Japanese internment and lynchings of blacks in the South. But this was not a history lesson.

“I can tell you it’s happening today,” Jarrett said. “We haven’t learned the lessons of the past.”

Jarrett’s two-hour presentation, “Combating Our Prejudices Every Day,” was sponsored by a variety of community groups, including the Oak Harbor Police Department.

Jarrett’s talk Tuesday night was a condensed version of forums, held for local police and city workers Tuesday and Wednesday, to increase awareness of stereotyping and racially motivated hostility and to encourage intercultural understanding and appreciation.

Police Chief Steve Almon was instrumental in bringing Jarrett to Oak Harbor.

“It’s always a good thing to always be evaluating how we can relate to people,” he said. “We have to look at how we feel about prejudice and what we are going to do about it.”

Jarrett asked the group, which included caucasians and members of the African-American, Filipino and Latino communities on the island, to look inside themselves and see if there was any prejudice or hate hiding there.

After breaking into groups to explore their reactions to a set of questions Jarrett posed on hate and race, the large group had surprisingly similar answers: Hate stems from ignorance, or is learned at home and passed on in family values; we contribute to the atmosphere by remaining passive; and to be white in America is to be “lucky.” To be born a person of color is, as one participant put it, “to have two strikes against you from the start.”

Nida Paggao, president of the Filipino-American Association of Oak Harbor, shared that when she came to America she was determined to not be treated as second-class citizen.

“I took it as a challenge and I excelled,” she said.

With everyone seemingly in agreement, Jarrett asked why it was so hard to change the pattern of hatred, and he issued a challenge.

Adults in the community have a responsibility to be role models of racial tolerance for the children, he told them.

“We have to show kids how to do the right thing by modeling (that behavior),” he said.

While Oak Harbor may seem like a community in which racial harmony reigns, some participants said that can be a dangerous perception.

Lionel Peoples, long-time Oak Harbor resident and member of the Black Citizens Council, precursor to the multi-cultural council, said he has personally experienced prejudice in Oak Harbor.

“I’ve lived here since 1957 but I’ve never held a job here,” he said. “I’ve applied but always been turned down.”

Largely self-employed and now working as a private investigator, Peoples said he has been treated differently because he is an African-American.

“The community needs to be proactive,” Roosevelt Rumble, Boys and Girls Club Director, said. “Problems do exist here.”

Therapist and creative coach Diane Reardon agreed. She, Rumble and several others in attendance had been active in a community group called the Oak Harbor Multi-Cultural Awareness Council, which is now mostly disbanded. The group formed in the early 1990s in response to a racially-motivated cross burning in Oak Harbor.

Reardon said it shouldn’t take something as drastic as a cross-burning to get people to recognize that there could be an undercurrent of racism in the community.

“I think we have big problems here, but we keep it underground,” she said.

Other sponsors of Jarrett’s forum were the city of Oak Harbor; Oak Harbor Multi-Cultural Awareness Council; Greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce; Filipino-American Association of Oak Harbor; Oak Harbor High School PTA; Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Island County; Boys & Girls Club of Oak Harbor; Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse; and the Citizens’ Advisory Board of the Oak Harbor Police Department.

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