Why Karen Rutherford chose to participate in the Living Into Inclusivity dialogues
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a nigger by the toe;
If he hollers let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.Wikipedia
Such a simple rhyme, it rolls off the tongue easily. I cringe when I hear it now, but it was my 1950’s childhood rhyme for choosing who was “it” at tag or who received the last cookie on the plate. I never gave it a second thought. Last year I attended a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training and the question was raised to give an example about how racism was a part of our white upbringing. I remember smiling and thinking that this didn’t apply to me, I wasn’t a racist. And then I remember the rhyme and the flood gates opened.
My name is Karen Rutherford. Our family has lived in Wenatchee for 30 years. It has been a wonderful, privileged life as a stay at home wife and mom, raising two fun boys. We spent summers at Lake Chelan swimming in the clear water and hiking in the surrounding hills. When school started in the fall, I spent my time volunteering at school and carpooling kids to music lessons, science camps and math club. I served on the Wenatchee City Council for 8 years, during the recession and the Town Toyota Center default. My life has been devoted to community service: helping to provide affordable housing for those in need, mentoring and providing opportunities for low income students. Surely, I am not a racist.
Born in the 1950’s, I came of age in the chaos and confusion of the 60’ and 70’s. My family was white, christian and conservative. My father’s family is from Prosser. My mother’s family is from Yakima and North Dakota. We are fourth generation Eastern Washingtonians. My father was career military, a Lt Colonel in the Army. TV shows like Leave to Beaver, Mayberry RFD and Lassie (my favorite), all looked like my family. From kindergarten to college, I never had a person of color as a teacher and very few as classmates. Hopefully this all white world didn’t make me a racist?
George Floyd’s death, amidst the turmoil of COVID, social distancing and political unrest, stopped me in my tracks. It forced me to recognize and confront my racist upbringing and beliefs. Beliefs built into me through the generations. When the Wenatchee armed militia showed up at the Black Lives Matter march in Wenatchee, I knew I needed to be more than “not a racist”, I needed to learn to be antiracist. I needed to find my voice and call out racism wherever I encountered it in my life.
This need to learn to be bolder and braver, led me to join this group: Living into Inclusivity. I want to explore ways to make our community more inclusive, to ensure equity for all and to welcome all to our valley. But first I need to start with me, to learn how my life and background has been shaped and how I can move forward as a voice for change and kindness. First, I’ll change my counting rhyme:
Eenie, Meenie, Tipsy, Toe;
Olla bolla Domino,
Okka, Pokka dominocha,
Hy! Pon! Tush!