Sound Off: Addressing white silence on Whidbey Island

I have had the immense privilege of being born and raised on Whidbey Island. Although this is, in many ways, a blessing, I have been deeply disturbed by the community’s relative silence to the ongoing uprisings in support of black lives happening across the United States.

Each day, peaceful protests, thousands of kneeling youth, adults and business owners are met with escalating violence from police officers who are using tear gas, rubber bullets, sound cannons, and brutal force. Is there a civil way to combat this violence? Can we vote ourselves out of this increasingly authoritarian style of governance? How many elections will it take to prevent politicians on both sides of the aisle from permitting, encouraging, and enforcing state-sanctioned human rights abuses against American citizens? How can the community of Whidbey Island truly build solidarity with the protesters when our own privilege remains unaddressed?

Rather than centering on feelings of shame, guilt, or righteousness during this time, we need to educate ourselves. We need to educate ourselves about the histories of black and indigenous oppression. We need to use the current moment as an opportunity to check and correct learned and embedded bigoted behavior. This is our opportunity to call out racist language among friends, family, and co-workers. It is our opportunity to practice, not just perform, allyship and solidarity.

This is a practice of care. A practice of radical, unattenuated compassion. This is the way to dismantle white supremacy and the social and governmental hierarchies that enable it.

Finally, this is a call to action. Donate to the bail funds that help to release protesters from unlawful incarceration during a pandemic. Donate to Black Lives Matter. Donate to the ACLU. Donate to Readiness to Learn. Donate to Good Cheer and Ryan’s House. Give back to support systems, locally and nationally.

Here on Whidbey, we have the opportunity to hold ourselves accountable, stand up against injustice, and provide for those less fortunate than ourselves. We must seek restorative, rather than punitive justice. We must come together as a community and lead by example. We must seek higher virtues and values in our own elected officials, demanding accountability for how our tax dollars are spent.

We know which candidate we support nationally. Now, direct attention locally. We must build a community that participates as an act of radical care. You do care, don’t you? Whidbey Island is a sacred place. We should acknowledge how wonderful it is to be here and realize that we cannot sit in comfort as our fellow citizens put their lives on the line against systemic racism.

Now is the time to listen, to learn, and to act.

Now is not the time for normal.

• Freeland resident Preston Ossman is a lifetime resident of Whidbey Island and self-described “proud anti-facist.”