August 20, 2019 Dena Jensen
Last night’s Bellingham City Council meeting provided a pretty good lesson in what white fragility does – and doesn’t – look like. To the majority of the Council Member’s credit that night, most of them did not seem to exhibit “discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a white person when confronted by information about racial inequality and injustice,” which is the definition of white fragility offered by Oxford’s Lexico dictionary. But a couple of them did.
I was not able to attend the 10:00 a.m. Bellingham City Council Justice Committee meeting and it just, in the last hour or so, showed up on the City of Bellingham website.
During the meeting, according to the agenda bills and City Council Member and Justice Committee Chair Hannah Stone’s report at the evening Council Meeting, Council and Committee Members had received presentations that included information presented by WWU faculty members Larry Estrada, Vernon Damani Johnson, and Victor Nolet, who, along with Karen Dade, had published a commentary entitled, “No Community is Safe from Racism, Hatred and Divisive Politics.” They proposed a project to Join Hands Against Hate.
Moving forward in response, the Justice Committee is looking to review ways to take actions in line with resolutions that have been passed in support of different protected classes of community members. One of the proposals is a potential ombudsman’s office. There will be a report to Council Members on August 26, 2019 from the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center and City Administration on the Safe Spaces pilot program, trying to identify what gaps there may be in regard to fielding complaints – about discrimination, for example – from the public.
Other things the Join Hands Against Hate project might include are: an anti-hate campaign; a long-term commitment to the community rather that something short-term or reactive; anti-racism training for the employees, as well as leadership in the City.
The goals are to address the local racial climate and things that may fall short of hate crimes (that are able to be prosecuted) where community members, including people of color, experience or are targeted with discrimination, racism, or hate. A community relations committee was suggested that would meet quarterly throughout the year that could keep a finger on the pulse of the community with respect to race relations in particular.
Council Member Stone also mentioned that the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force has a Declaration Against Threats of Violence and Hate Speech in Whatcom County that community members can sign onto online.
After discussing those proposals that encompassed anti-racist trainings, and could include ways to dispel white fragility, the Justice Committee had moved on to receiving presentations related to creating a draft resolution to form a workgroup and/or lay out the scope of work for the Justice Committee moving forward related to complying with the Keep Washington Working Act and reviewing the Council’s February 2017 ordinance related to immigration. The workgroup could evolve into a broader commission or task force.
Ruby Canstañeda and Liz Darrow presented for Raid Relief to Reunite Families. Rosalinda Guillen and Brenda Bentley presented for Community to Community Development. From the accounts of Monday Dignity Vigils attendees, who had previously attended the meeting, and some of the presenters who joined the vigil after the meeting, the presentations were emotional as they reflected on the persecution of and threats to immigrants in Bellingham over the last couple years and the obstacles posed by local government agencies to providing better protections from those.
Ruby Castañeda’s husband was one of the workers of Granite Precast that was apprehended in August 2018 raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Bellingham. Luckily her husband was one of the workers released, rather than deported, as some of the apprehended workers were. However he has not been able to return to work pending resolving issues with his green card and there is no resolution imminently in sight.
Rosalinda Guillen from Community to Community Development has made no secret of her frustrations with the City Council abruptly abandoning the efforts of working with C2C and WWU’s Blue Group to create a sanctuary ordinance back in February 2017. Members of C2C and their allies have been gathering at Dignity Vigils every week since that time for 130 Mondays, to raise awareness of the need of the City Council and County Councils to provide better protections for immigrants and people of color in Bellingham due to persecution of and threats to immigrants by the federal administration, but nothing had moved forward to do so, until this offer of a workgroup.
Guillen had voiced those frustrations directly to Council Members at the Justice Committee meeting on Monday morning, and reportedly met with apologies from two of the Council and Justice Committee Members, but with discomfort and defensiveness on the part of Council and Justice Committee Member Pinky Vargas.
This discomfort and defensiveness also manifested itself at the Council’s evening meeting, this time coming from Council Member Knutson, which was augmented Council Member Vargas, and Mayor Linville. It seemed as if Council Member’s Knutson and Vargas felt fine offering objections to portions of what some community members said who presented at the morning meeting. Conversely, they did not seem want to hear criticisms from those community members (or “these people” as Council Member Knutson referred to them) of Council Members’ actions or inactions that are felt to have contributed to a failure of increased protection being provided for immigrants and people of color for the last two and a half years.
Council Member Lilliquist spoke at the Council meeting, but only to offer his support of various outcomes of the committee meeting. Council Members Hammill and Bornemann were silent.
Council Member Stone and Barker both spoke out about the need for negatively impacted community members – in this case immigrants who have suffered such things as the loss of family members or financial support due to federal persecution, or the fear of leaving their homes due to increased potential for them to be harassed, incarcerated, or deported – to be able to share their feelings and experiences with Council Members candidly.
Note: Links to Council Member’s name in this blog post go to the part of the video where each one made their comments.