Dumbing Down Racism

"[T]he dice have always been loaded in this country, and...people who pass as white live different lives because of it."

Death With Dignity

As a former mortician, I should note that the advent of funeral home conglomerates such as Service Corporation International (Dignity Memorial), Alderwoods Group, and Stewart Enterprises are lowering, in my opinion, the quality of service provided families choosing those firms over locally and/or family-run operations.

Case in point is the article in which Butterworth–Arthur Wright Chapel employees forced family members to uncrate and dispose of the shipping container on a casket purchased outside the funeral home ["Six-Feet Underhanded," May 31]. This being done in the mostly windowless basement area of the funeral home with at least one of their two crematories blasting away.

I am a former employee of Butterworth-Manning-Ashmore and Arthur A. Wright Funeral Homes and was employed there when the firms were owned and operated by the Butterworth family, which sold the companies to Louisiana-based Stewart Enterprises a number of years ago. I can state unequivocally that if the firm was still owned by the Butterworth family, the trauma delivered to that family by the Stewart group would never have happened. We had pride in what we were doing, as well as in being locally owned, and were never pressed for the "bottom line," as are employees of funeral homes owned by conglomerates.

Those in need should ask questions of their funeral providers and, if at all possible, stay with a locally owned and operated funeral home, of which there are fewer and fewer in the Seattle area.

Tom Anderson


White, Glib & Ignorant

Knute Berger's editorial on the school district's "equity and race" work makes the district look foolish by quoting liberally from a 10-year-old sourcebook—neither written nor published by the district —with a lot of clunky definitions [Mossback, "Dumbing Down Racism," May 31]. Sure, some of the folks in the antiracism movement can't write a simple sentence. But they're right about the U.S. and our race-based system of privilege. No, Knute, we are not personal oppressors. We are not supposed to feel guilty that we're white. That's not what institutional racism is talking about.

But I think Berger knows that. I think he is a decent person who knows deep down that the dice have always been loaded in this country, and that people who pass as white live different lives because of it. That, however, is a complex, lengthy, and difficult conversation—unlike Berger's column, which was simplistic and, frankly, ignorant. It was beneath him.

Noam Chomsky is mighty tedious, but that doesn't stop us from discussing American imperialism. When I'm old and gray (and white), I'd like to be able to say I worked to end institutional racism in the United States. What will Berger's claim be for posterity? "I wrote glib columns dismissing the most important struggle in American history"?

Elliott Bronstein


It's the Language

I wholeheartedly agree with Knute Berger's column, "Dumbing Down Racism" [Mossback, May 31], discussing the Seattle Public Schools' (now vanquished) Web page on defining racism. Being a white, female non-Christian, I have two victim points, which likely does not offset my oppressor quotient.

On a more serious note, I sat down with a member of the district's committee on equity and race relations and we discussed the "racism" Web page, why she supported the language, and why I found it offensive. The irony in it was that we did not have any substantive disagreements on the state of race relations and the difficulties encountered by minority kids in trying to obtain a good education. Our disagreement centered almost entirely on the language used in that Web page, and the arbitrary selection of Teaching for Diversity as the source of those definitions, which I think highlights why the choice of words is so important.

Karen Deyerle


Racism Is Real

It is easy to find fault with language. A little jargon can go a long way toward confusing people—and sometimes alienating them. But Knute Berger's Mossback column, "Dumbing Down Racism" [May 31], managed to obfuscate some very real issues. Institutional racism does exist, and racism is a factor in our school system's disproportionality. Unfortunately, addressing institutionalized racism is a complex matter. Rather than criticize, I would like to applaud the work some people within the school district are undertaking to eliminate institutionalized racism.

Do they have their work perfectly figured out? No. Is it good they are trying? Yes.

I have to wonder why Berger devoted a full column to arguing about definitions, rather than writing about the far more real problem of racism itself.

Julie Nelson


Fisken Clarifies

The region deserves more coverage of Port activities, and so it was good to see George Howland's effort to cover last fall's commission campaigns ["A Waterfront Brawl," May 24]. But I'd like to correct one statement attributed to me: that Mic Dinsmore should be fired. I don't advocate that position, haven't in the past, and don't expect to in the future. I believe Mr. Howland misunderstood my response to a question about what recourse the commission would have if it were confronted with irrefutable illegality.

The issues that concern me at the Port are broad policy questions—our seaport performance versus our West Coast peers and our unfortunately large tax subsidy—that have to be addressed by the commission independent of whoever is managing the Port's operations.

Alec Fisken

Commissioner, Port of Seattle

I Like Maria

I respectfully disagree with Mike Seely's assessment of Maria Cantwell as a boss [Guest Mossback, "Doing the Flip-Flop Flip-Flop," May 24]. Like him, I worked for Sen. Cantwell on the 2000 campaign. I thought she was honest, decent, hardworking, ethical, and brilliant. I was far from the most important person on that campaign, but Sen. Cantwell went out of her way several times to thank me for my contribution and—long after the campaign ended—interrupted her Senate schedule to take me over to the House and introduce me to Rep. John Lewis so I could interview him for a book. As Mr. Seely recognizes, Sen. Cantwell has obvious strengths as a public servant. She was also a great person to work with.

Drew D. Hansen

Bainbridge Island

Dead-Squirrel Vote

I feel compelled to reply to Mike Seely's Guest Mossback column ["Doing the Flip-Flop Flip-Flop," May 24]. Re-evaluating one's position on an issue when new information becomes available is decidedly not "flip-flopping." It is, in fact, called "thinking." It is something that should be encouraged, acknowledged, and rewarded in a politician. Maria Cantwell's initial vote to give George Bush a blank check to wage war against anyone he chooses exposes her very dubious judgment. Her unwillingness to repudiate that choice demonstrates, at a minimum, arrogance and rigidity. It implies that she would make the same choice now, which would be indefensible.

As Seely points out, Cantwell has performed admirably in other areas. There are certainly a handful of activists that will sit out the election or find a third-party candidate. However, I, like most, will simply hold my nose and vote for the dead squirrel.

John Ross


No Flip-Flopping Here

Please do not add Sen. John Kerry to our watery traffic [Guest Mossback, "Doing the Flip-Flop Flip-Flop," May 24]. He summers and windsurfs on Nantucket.

Nelson Sigelman

News Editor, The Martha's Vineyard Times

Martha's Vineyard, MA

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