Tell us your story: Saying the Unsaid works for racial equality

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By Leslie Barnett
Special to The PREVIEW

A group of us from Pagosa started meeting last June on the high school track field after the death of George Floyd. We wanted to do something but we had no idea what. Many came with different ideas. Some left. Some stayed. Those of us who stayed started sharing things we were reading about racism, podcasts, documentaries.

Over time, we started to write about our own experiences with racism and privilege. Some stories were about embarrassing and painful mistakes made from ignorance. Others were about the privilege of growing up white and not thinking about doing things that would have put a person of color in jail. 

Telling these stories was risky. But it changed us to share these experiences. We were not debating, or arguing or lecturing, merely sharing personal experiences that had long remained unspoken. Sharing our stories helped us realize how much racism shapes all of our everyday lives. Not just acts of extreme racism, like the killings of George Floyd and others, but in the many ways we keep ourselves in separate groups, often afraid of each other and not seeking to understand one another. Now we are opening up that same journey to our community. One of the submitted stories is below. We invite you to join us and contribute your own story by visiting: sites.google.com/view/wrepagosa.

Last summer, I called the Ute organization to learn what I needed to do to attend their Sun Dance. The man on the phone walked me through appropriate attire. Then I asked for directions. He asked me if I was “native.” When I said no, he said, “Drive to Ignacio and look for signs.” 

In Ignacio there were no signs, but l found a native man who was willing to show me the way. At the campgrounds, I found a semicircular structure made of branches. In the center were the dancers, a drummer and a tall pole which they danced toward. It was very hot and they had been fasting for days. When it was time to leave, I waited until the drummer had stopped, crossed the dirt path and walked to the portable toilets to the right. The inside was scrupulously clean, the toilet paper rolls still with outside wrappers stacked in rows. I realized then that these were reserved just for the all-male, native dancers, that my entering and using them was a desecration of the Ute’s most sacred ritual. Shocked and upset, I jumped out and ran back to my spot. I was disoriented and hadn’t noticed the drumming had started again as I crossed the dirt path. An older native man signaled me to come to him. He said, “You crossed the path when they were drumming.” I apologized. I tried to talk to him, but he brushed me aside with disgust.

We look forward to reading your story.