RACE TALKS Features WHITE IN AMERICA Northwest Contributors in Portland, OR

TEREZA-BOTTMAN-PHOTO
WIA NW Contributor Tereza Bottman radio interview on
July 11, 2016 on KBOO (starts 3 minutes in).

The WIA Northwest Contributors of WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? Breaking the White Code of Silence: A Collection of Personal Narratives, was featured by RACE TALKS, a monthly series hosted by Donna Maxey at McMenamins Kennedy School on July 12, 2016, in Portland, Oregon. The contributors read excerpts of their narratives and copies of the book were sold by Wallace Books, a local bookstore in Portland.  WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? is the first book published under the press’ new series, 2LP EXPLORATIONS IN DIVERSITY.

The WIA Northwest Contributors consist of folks in Portland and surrounding areas who come together to from time-to-time promote the WHITE IN AMERICA book and the project. There first reading together was for “Whiteness Month” at Portland Community College. They may come from varied socioeconomic and career backgrounds, but what they do share is a common goal to talk and think together about internalized racial ideas to break the white code of silence.

WIA NORTHWEST CONTRIBUTORS

Tereza Topferova Bottman: PDX teacher, writer
Anne Mavor: Visual artist and writer
Patrik McDade: Founder and Program Director for
People-Places-Things Intercultural Communication Services
Leah Mueller: Author and featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival
Jan Priddy: College writing adjunct professor
Janie Starr: Environmental and social justice writer & activist
Carol Weliky: Poetry and short fiction writer

What is remarkable about the event is that while RACE TALKS (which meets the second Tuesday of each month) easily draws about 150 people, at the WHITE IN AMERICA event well over 300 people attended, with many others turned away from the door. As the seats filled up quickly, many attendees stood or sat on the floor. After Maxey introduced herself and her organization, attendees were treated to a video by Publisher and co-editor of the book, Gabrielle David, which was followed by a stirring presentation of the contributors’ works. Presented as a staged reading (Tereza Bottman is credited with being an integral part of the script development), the audience was spellbound by the WIA Northwest Contributors’ performance. Many believed that the recent shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas, was a key reason for the high attendance. While this idea holds some merit, given the ratcheting of racial tensions across the nation and much of the rest of the world in recent times, white people are interested in engaging in conversations about race, which is exactly the premise behind WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA?

Maxey, who is black, says RACE TALKS was inspired by her work helping to implement Courageous Conversations seven years ago at her school in North Portland, César Chávez K-8. It was one of PPS’ 11 schools to pilot the equity work. Since then, Courageous Conversations has been implemented at every school, to varying degrees. Maxey says the way she saw staff members change the way they spoke to kids of color — and to her — was enough to convince her that she needed to bring something similar to the general public.

She struck up a partnership with McMenamins Kennedy School, and “Race Talks: Uniting to Break the Chains of Racism” was born. The series, held 7 to 9 p.m. every second Tuesday of the month, regularly draws up to 150 attendees.

Maxey was as surprised at the turn out as were the WIA Northwest Contributors. The audience listened intently to the stories and at the end of the performance, were prompted to engage in conversations about the nitty gritty of race in America, the nature of whiteness and what it means. In fact, some of the people who were turned away at the door created their own groups in the adjoining space to talk about race. This confirmed what Debby Irving (who wrote the introduction of WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA?) recently stated, which is that communities across the U.S. are gathering to better understand the white experience, and that this book jump starts that process.

What’s next? WHITE IN AMERICA contributors across the country are planning additional events this fall. We’ll be sure to let you know as the dates roll in. In the meantime, we encourage you to look at the video. The seeds are being planted so ideas can grow. Stay tuned for more.

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