Guest Opinions

Racism in the Tri-Cities is worse than you think

When I was growing up in Kitsap County, one of my best friends was a kid named Lecharn. We played sports together, went to the same school and generally hung out a lot.

During those formative years, I don’t ever recall thinking, “Lecharn is black.” I remember Lecharn being a fun, supportive friend.

Back in the ’70s, Bremerton was not the most culturally diverse town, and a browse through my yearbook confirms this. Yet I don’t recall ever thinking about race, at least not until I entered high school.

Lecharn and I remained good friends through junior high, but by high school, we drifted apart. He began to hang out with more black kids, and I gravitated a little more to the white kids. I think that’s when I noticed Lecharn was black.

I’ve thought about that a lot through the years, and I’ve regretted that we didn’t remain good friends. It hurts that the color of our skin subliminally got in the way of our relationship.

These days, one of my best friends is a guy named Jordan Chaney. He’s one of the kindest and most creative and funny people I’ve ever met. He’s a poet and a youth counselor.

He’s also black, not that either of us minds.

Jordan and I have a lot of interesting conversations about color, in no small part because my daughter is brown, so I live in a mixed-race family.

One day, Jordanand I were out for a walk and were chatting about race. He happened to mention that he feels safer when he walks with me around the Tri-Cities than if he’s walking alone or with another black person. This stunned me — why would he feel unsafe?

In part, white people who don’t know Jordan will subliminally view him as “OK” if he happens to be walking with someone who is white and, therefore, safe. It’s also less likely that someone will roll down their window and shout the “N-word” at him.

Yes, that happens to Jordan on an alarmingly regular basis.

In my mind, the N-word is something straight out of the ’50s in the rural South. It’s something out of a history book or a Ken Burns documentary. It’s a shameful part of our past, not something that occurs in 2015, not in the West, not in a time and place in which we should be more enlightened on how to treat our fellow humans.

I’m white. I can’t possibly understand racism. I don’t realize what it can do to a person’s psyche, how it can mold somebody’s personality or alter the course of their everyday life and actions. Jordan is black, and he’s painfully aware of his surroundings, of the penetrating veil of racism — overt and subtle — that shrouds his everyday life. Jordan changes how he lives his life because he doesn’t want to cause fear in others, particularly white people. It deeply hurts when a white person sees him coming and crosses the street or notices him in the grocery store and suddenly decides to go down a different aisle.

As a community and as a society, we need to have an honest and open discussion about racism. That’s what the Columbia Basin Badger Club will do Sept. 25.

Jordan will share his experiences as a black person who grew up here and elsewhere, as someone who moves in various social circles, as someone who is treated differently because of the color of his skin.

I hope you will join us in the critical conversation.

Andy Perdue is the program committee chairman for the Columbia Basin Badger Club. He is a wine journalist and lives in Richland.

If you go

▪ What: Columbia Basin Badger Club.

▪ When: 11:30 a.m. Sept. 25.

▪ Where: Shilo Inn, 50 Comstock St., Richland.

▪ Cost: Advance registration is $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers. Day of the event is $30. Lunch is included with the forum.

▪ Register: Go to columbiabasinbadgers.com or call 628-6011

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