Kitsap Residents Respond to Obama’s Speech

Following on the heels of Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech in Philadelphia Tuesday, the Kitsap County Youth Rally for Human Rights, held Friday at Olympic College, appeared to affirm the hunger for racial unity to which Obama refers. But according to at least one participant at the rally, Kitsap still has a long ways to go.

At a workshop on the “Culture of Kitsap” that was part of the rally, Shatara Tiller, 17, talked about the unwritten rules of the lunchroom at South Kitsap High School.
There’s the senior section and the anime table, she said, drawing a diagram on the board. “Over here is all the jocks and popular kids and the cool people.”
Then there’s “brown town … If you have a tint of color in your skin, even if there aren’t enough chairs, that’s where you’ll sit. I don’t know why,” said Shatara, who is black and who serves as president of the Bremerton NAACP youth council.

Shatara’s observations elicited strong reactions in Kyle Dye, 53, a teacher at South Kitsap’s Marcus Whitman Junior High School, who is white and remembers “the whites only signs.”
“We hear the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech every year, and we think it’s all done,” he said “Actually, what you’re presenting here … I just want to go home and cry.”

The rally is hosted annually by the Kitsap County Council on Human Rights to get students thinking and talking about biases they may have about others who aren’t like them, touching on the prickly issues of race, sexual orientation, suicide and other taboo topics.

Karen Vargas, advisor to the NAACP youth council, said events like the youth rally stimulate frank discussion that’s unlikely to take place elsewhere.
“It’s got to be an intentional dialog,” she said. “If it’s not intentional, I’ve found they dance around it. It’s difficult to talk about race and bias.”

Vargas, who is black, said the Obama speech has been a hot topic in Kitsap’s black community this week. I asked her how she feels about the presidential campaign becoming, as she called it, “a race race.”
“I think it’s a good thing,” Vargas said. “The reason I think it’s a good thing is because we’re being challenged about our character. … What I think is the whole world is looking at us right now.”

Vargas said she is excited to see Obama embrace the issue of race, to crack the delicate egg shell of decorum-through-denial and let the whole messy discussion ooze out (my analogy here, not hers).

“It’s exciting times. It’s scary times,” she said. “There’s real change happening in our nation and in our world.”

Vargas, who moved here in 1992 from the East Coast, said Kitsap will need to do some serious catching up in the area of frank discussion about race. She would like to see the county and city governments appoint a multi-cultural advisory council.
“I don’t think leadership has done a good enough job to outreach to (minority) community leaders,” she said, including in her comments Kitsap’s Japanese Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and Latinos.

Earlier this week I ran into my friend Mauris Emeka, riding his bike to a volunteer job at Cedar Heights Junior High. (I didn’t literally run into him, mind you.) I asked him what he thought of the Obama speech, and he said it moved him to tears. He had one point of contention with the speech, which you can read below in the letter he sent Obama:

Dear Senator Obama,

I am a 67 year old American of African decent, born and raised in the south. I am writing to thank you from the bottom of heart for ‘pouring out your soul’ in Philadelphia on yesterday — ‘telling it like it is‘. America has long needed to hear the words you uttered in that historic speech, because they can help bring a measure of healing to our country.
There is one point in the speech where I would recommend different wording. You stated that “segregated schools were and are inferior schools”. That statement misrepresents the work of many of the all-Black schools that I knew. In my view, it is more relevant to note that all-Black schools were nearly always under-funded as compared to White schools. And that sometimes resulted in unsatisfactory academic outcomes from Black schools, but certainly not always. The all-Black schools during my school years (i.e., the 1940s, 50s, and 60s) produced untold numbers of well prepared graduates, despite limited facilities at our disposal. I will never forget the compassion and dedication of many of my secondary school and college teachers. We were always encouraged to do our best with what we had; and I believe you will agree that that advice served us well.
Thanks again, Senator Obama, for the historic speech that you gave yesterday, sharing words that all Americans have long needed to hear.

…here’s wishing you The Best,

Bro. Mauris Emeka

2 thoughts on “Kitsap Residents Respond to Obama’s Speech

  1. What does “anime” mean in this context? I can only find definitions indicating it is a type of resin and a style of Japanese animations.

    Kyle Dye got the wake-up call I got in 1967. I watched three little white Mississippi boys on a newscast say the same things I had heard as a little boy in Tennessee 10 years earlier, and realized that we had a long way to go. I had thought we were far down the road by then. I haven’t made that mistake again.

    Now that Jeremiah Wright’s videotapes have shown us the kind of maliciously false statements that are being regularly said in some black churches, perhaps a few of us can acknowledge that the road is longer than we ever thought it would be — and is filled with people like Jeremiah Wright who work hard to keep us from ever getting where we wanted to go.

    I see Obama differently from the way your friend saw him. Obama was no little guy who had no ability to say anything to counter the false and hateful talk from his preacher, but he shied away from doing anything. His speech in Philadelphia may have been nice for some to hear, but his silence in the past years indicates he isn’t who I thought he might be.

    I had not wanted Obama as President, since I don’t agree with his political positions. So I don’t claim that Wright’s hateful preaching and Obama’s decision to do nothing to confront the problem changed my mind. It’s just that I now think less of his character.

  2. Bob – Want to know what “anime” means in this context? Just ask a teenager. Fortunately, I have a household full at the moment – my 13-year-old son and his buddies.
    Anime is a Japanese style of animation, based on comic books of the same genre, called manga. According to my son’s friend Tyler, some kids get into anime big time, dressing up as characters and generally immersing themselves in the art form, sometimes to what seems like an obsessive degree.
    Here’s more on manga from good old Wikipedia.
    “Since the 1950s, manga have steadily become a major part of the Japanese publishing industry,[4][8] representing a 481 billion yen market in Japan in 2006[9] (approximately $4.4 billion dollars).[10] Manga have also become increasingly popular worldwide.[11][12] In 2006, the United States manga market was $175–200 million.[
    and
    Manga as a term outside of Japan refers specifically to comics originally published in Japan.[19] However, manga and manga-influenced comics, among original works, exist in other parts of the world, particularly in South Korea (“manhwa”)[20][21] and in the People’s Republic of China, including Hong Kong (“manhua”).[22] … In the U.S., manga-like comics are called Amerimanga, world manga, or original English-language manga (OEL manga).[24]

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