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Taking ‘race’ out of the human race

Local race relations were put under the spotlight on Thursday, as 230 people gathered at the Clearwater Casino in Suquamish for the 13th Annual Kitsap County Human Rights conference.

The event was sponsored by the county and administered by its Council for Human Rights. Three individuals — Vicki Gambrell, Jerry Hebert and Natalie Bryson — and one organization, the Jewel Box Theatre in Poulsbo, were honored for their consistent support of human rights.

An afternoon of discussion was preceded by several lively speeches, including one from Portland State University professor Joy DeGruy-Leary.

“The concept of race has no scientific merit, or significance to mankind,” she said. “In the future, people will look back on us in the same way that we look at people who think the world was flat. We will be perceived as backward and barbaric for even having this discussion.”

We live in the present, however, and DeGruy-Leary feels some things can be accomplished today. After her address, she said education was important on an individual level, and that people should not tolerate “mildly” racist comments that may emerge in casual conversation.

Matt Kelley, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, has become a spokesman for mixed race issues through the Mavin Foundation, which he founded in 1998.

“One-fifth of all the babies born in Kitsap County are of mixed race,” Kelley said. “So this is something that has hit a critical mass and affects all of us. This is relevant to everybody.”

It’s easy, Kelley said, for these kids to develop an identity crisis.

“A stranger can walk up to you on the street and ask not how, not who, but what you are,” he said. “So on one hand you are invisible, but at the same time you are placed under scrutiny.”

One of the hardest aspects of growing up as a mixed race child was finally alleviated in the 2000 census, the first to allow checking more than one racial origin box. Prior to this, such boxes — a seemingly insignificant thing for most people — causes pain and confusion for those who are forced to pigeonhole themselves.

Kelley told a personal anecdote about when he was asked to fill in the form, where the choices were white, black, Hispanic, Asian or “unknown.” When he questioned the teacher he was told to check the last box, which he resisted. “I can’t do this,” he said. “I know who my parents are.

“I’m grown up now, so I can deal with this,” Kelley told the group. “But what does this say to kids who are just growing up? They must choose one parent over another. Kids should be allowed to identify with all of their parts.”

The conference opened with a presentation from Washington State Patrol deputy chief Lowell M. Porter, who presented a report assembled by WSP — including about two million traffic stops — and analyzed by Washington State University. The results portray WSP in a favorable light, determining that race was not a factor in the pulling over of motorists (in many cases race was not apparent when the violation was committed) or in the issuance of traffic citations.

As far as searches, Porter said that enough data did not exist to draw a conclusion.

While he lauded the data collection process and proudly accepted the conclusions, Porter admitted that conclusions based solely on data are incomplete.

“The data only represent the first half of the issue,” he said. “It cannot explain the individual experience. The data may tell you there is no problem, but if you know people who have been profiled or have been profiled yourself, you may have different perceptions.”

The presentation of this report, which has occurred across the state, is meant to open a dialogue, according to Porter.

“We need to talk about the individual experience,” he said. “That’s the only way that the police can build up trust with the citizens.”

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