What’s a “racist”?
In “Under Our Skin,” a groundbreaking piece of community journalism, we invited 18 people of different backgrounds, ages and ethnicities to explore the meaning of that word plus 11 others related to race. We chose words that, as one participant put it, “are constantly used, but never really unpacked.”
“Racism is associated with being bad and evil, and so you’re never going to admit to yourself that you’re racist,” said one of the 18, an Asian-American high-school student.
“Well, I am a racist,” a white Episcopal bishop said right after, adding, “I’d say that I’m a recovering one.”
“Under Our Skin” – a series of videos, audience essays and comments – is full of such rich moments.
Together, the project’s 12 main videos (plus 18 biographical ones) illustrate how racial dialogue can sound and feel when we have the courage to speak truths that we normally keep to ourselves – or only share with those whose lives mirror our own.
We started this project in part because we sensed a shift in Seattle, a renewed desire to discuss race in a city where racism is often not even acknowledged. While we had covered local Black Lives Matter marches and other protests that brought people into the streets, we wanted to address race in a more direct way – one we hoped would make it easier for people to face issues that, even in liberal Seattle, many ignore.
Hours after the project went online June 20, the city was buzzing about it. We heard from teachers who abandoned their lesson plans to show the project to students, and from families and coworkers who were having conversations they’d never had before. Requests rolled in for a high-school and elementary-school curriculum, for closed captioning – and for more discussion. We were invited to bring the project to a daylong community festival in a neighborhood where The Times often is met with distrust.
“I’ve been reading The Seattle Times for years, and I’ve seen some wonderful reporting. ‘Under Our Skin’ is more than that,” wrote a University of Washington professor. “It’s an extraordinary look at a cross-section of this city, one that offers so many starting points for further conversation…”
To date, the videos have been viewed a total of 12,850 hours, and the project page was one of the most visited places on The Seattle Times website in 2016. “Under Our Skin” has already been used in classrooms, workplaces, churches and government agencies – and even with the University of Washington’s football team. Team members have spoken to high-school and college students, neighborhood groups and mental-health professionals, even the local FBI office.
“What you all have done is truly amazing…,” Cynthia Tee, one of the participants, wrote after the videos were published. “I had no idea what company I’d be in, but the people interviewed are truly amazing and honest, genuine, and I learned so much just watching these. I shared it with my friends, family, and everyone.”