Orcas Island: When Paradise Isn’t, But Could Be

Orcas Island: When Paradise Isn’t, But Could Be

by Kevin Carter, Gregory Kramer, and Jari Andrea Brenner

Orcas Island may be a perfect place, but for some, there is an undercurrent of intolerance and racism. What can be done?

While most of the articles about Orcas Island extoll its charms and beauty, we are concerned with the culture of inclusion and care of our full-time community.

We consider its people of color, and request your comments and suggestions for next steps. Our purpose is to elevate our community’s values by initiating a conversation about empathy.

Last year, a guest column condemned bigotry. The column sparked a debate, both in print and in digital media, about an individual’s right to engage in a private conversation, versus the importance of speaking up against bias, stereotypes and racism.

Since then, more Orcas residents have reported acts of racial or ethnic intolerance on the island. This article is our effort to speak out and to invite an essential conversation in our community.

In July, Kevin Carter, an African American resident, was reminded of how people of color are still novelties on the island. He also saw how a person’s privilege could make them oblivious to their prejudice.

Carter was having breakfast one morning, when he overheard a white male say to the waitress, “Where is your accent from?” Carter could not hear her response. The man continued, “It sounds Hispanic. I guess I will not need to call the INS,” chuckling as if his remark was a harmless joke.

For another African American female, it was the experience of having coffee near a group of men having a loud conversation about the Black and Hispanic population in America.

One said, “I should just move to Iowa or Idaho where there are no black people, so that I won’t get mugged,” while his friend spoke about how to build “the wall effectively.”

Woman in the Woods Productions, whose mission is to promote an appreciation and understanding of racial and cultural differences through artistic expression, was founded by the owner of The Office Cupboard, Michell Marshall, as a result of her own experiences as an African American woman here.

What can you do? What are the shared values, beliefs and norms that create our community? Do you care enough to speak up, and foster a welcoming community?

Given these cultural incidents, we have developed a free workshop for the community. It will discuss what community means, further interpersonal awareness, teach cultural competence and confirm the individual and collective action to foster a diverse and inclusive community on Orcas Island.

A preview of the workshop will take place from 6:00 to 7:15 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the Orcas Island Library at 340 Madrona Street in Eastsound.

We are actively seeking feedback from you. Are such workshops something you would be interested in attending? What topics or situations would you like incorporated in the workshop? Email your ideas to orcasislanddei@gmail.com.