Racial Listening Sessions…or Tone Deaf?

Whatcom Human Rights Task Force has sent an open letter to Mayor Fleetwood and Executive Sidhu expressing their concerns about the planned four Listening Sessions.

Whatcom Human Rights Task Force has sent an open letter to Mayor Fleetwood and Executive Sidhu expressing their concerns about the planned four Listening Sessions.


The Whatcom Human Rights Task Force (WHRTF) has sent an open email letter to Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood and Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu. It is critical of the “Listening Sessions” on race and justice that Fleetwood and Sidhu jointly announced last week. The letter notes that the planning for the sessions is itself “... soaked in the very thing it wishes to conquer.” It then goes on to explain exactly what that means and how it needs to be corrected before any listening sessions should be held.

A surprise to me is that the sessions were apparently planned by government agencies and did not involve active participation by the very people they seek to involve. Our longest existing local and respected human rights group - Whatcom Human Rights Task Force - was not involved. There is no mention of the WHRTF which was founded in 1994 and has worked toward fair treatment for all in our community.

Indeed, a quick read of the news post on the city’s website lists many government agencies, including the prosecutor’s office, the police and the sheriff. Hmmm. How openly does an identified person want to participate with the police watching? The listening sessions appear to be a quickie action by government officials who are anxious to display sensitivity. The sort of meeting that fades and provides no positive results in the future. The Human Rights Task Force has just called out this rushed and haphazard process.

The following paragraph from the letter summarizes their concerns. BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

How can there be an honest and productive conversation when: 1. the conversation is being controlled by those holding power; and 2. there is a lack of transparency and honesty when promoting these sessions. How can we be sure BIPOC voices will be prioritized without being tokenized?

After the summary, there are suggestions on how such a series of listening sessions might be organized and what the goals should be. That is, how to find solutions for ending systemic racism in local governments and deal with white supremacy locally. The suggestions make very clear that they are talking about local governments needing to change.

In my experience, this letter is an important step by the WHRTF as they speak out with a constructive but critical voice. In the past, they have tried very hard to work with the city and county - especially with law enforcement agencies. Now, they are finally calling out these governments. This is a very real step up. The rest of us can support them and let the mayor and executive know that we actually really genuinely truly want change, that we all agree this letter is not something to quickly puff away or even ignore.

The letter is attached as a PDF and is a quick five minute or less read. It explains their concerns clearly. It can be downloaded and forwarded to ... whomever.

Attached Files

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Stoney Bird

Jul 27, 2020

Well done, Human Rights Task Force!


Dianne Foster

Jul 28, 2020

Thank-you John!


Forest Cat

Jul 29, 2020

Most certainly our local politicians are “anxious to display sensitivity”.

What a choice opportunity for classic pandering, and resultant boosting of one’s future campaign coffers!


Virginia Herrick

Aug 27, 2020

I hope the effort, thought, and care put into this letter are appreciated, and that outreach is forthcoming. Now is not the time for posturing or pandering—now is the time for sincere EFFORT! Listening is not enough.

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