Are we living in a post-racial society? Ishea Brown of Curiosity Club says no
Ten strangers had one night to become a community. Here's what happened when their dinner conversation turned to race.
This year KUOW is trying a new experiment called Curiosity Club. The question at the heart of this project: Can great food and surprising stories transform groups of strangers into communities? On February 28, 2019 ten Curiosity Club members from very different walks of life were brought together with KUOW reporter Patricia Murphy and producer Kristin Leong to find out if it's possible to thaw the infamous Seattle Freeze over a one-night Pop-Up dinner. They gathered at The Cloud Room on Capitol Hill and That Brown Girl Cooks! provided the fare.
Curiosity Club member Ishea Brown reflects on the evening.
“Do you think we’re living in a post-racial society?”
As soon as the question left his mouth, my head instinctively swerved around and I chuckled while letting out a resounding “No!”
When I applied to be part of KUOW Curiosity Club last fall, I jumped at the chance to be part of a diverse group of thinkers. In my desire to be part of the Club community, I overlooked the idea that space would truly be made for all perspectives. I didn’t expect a question like this to be asked. I couldn’t figure out if my cohort member was asking this to be provocative or if he actually thought the answer could be yes. I didn’t hide my shock and surprise at this being asked in a non-rhetorical way.
As a black woman working in media/tech in Seattle (and living in this country), conversations about race are ever present in my life and not something I shy away from. Exploring race during a dinner party with strangers was inside my wheelhouse, yet I didn’t expect to have this question posed to the group, and definitely not from a fellow person of color (PoC).
This was one of the key moments that stood out during the inaugural Curiosity Club Pop-Up dinner and sparked curiosity within me--I couldn’t help but wonder if he actually believed we lived in a post-racial society. And if he didn’t believe this, why ask what could be considered such an unproductive question?
This question made me realize I live in a bubble. Despite having friends from various racial and cultural backgrounds, the majority of our beliefs are homogeneous. I’d entered the dinner thinking highly of just how open-minded and opinionated I was, but quickly realized I found the “post-racial” question so jarring because it represented an opinion drastically different than that which I typically surround myself with.
Our conversation on race didn't stop there.
Later in the evening, our conversation shifted to Patricia Murphy's story My name is Millionaire Lavish. I'm 18 and this is why I carry a gun. This story was one of the five KUOW stories that our cohort was assigned to listen to before our Pop-Up dinner. Patricia attended our dinner and participated in the conversation.
I was delighted to hear Patricia share that she’d handed over portions of the interviewing to Will Jimerson, a PoC man whom she felt would be able to better connect with Millionaire in a way she couldn’t and provide him comfort while sharing his story.
Despite the piece not being one of my favorites of the night (I think there is a disproportionate amount of stories detailing the struggles of black youth, and not enough highlighting their resilience and accomplishments), sitting next to Patricia and hearing how she used her self-awareness, empathy and compassion to share Millionaire’s story warmed my heart. I especially took note of the fact that she remains to be in touch with Millionaire and she is interested in him beyond just using him for a story. Compassion is where empathy meets action, and we need more reporters like Patricia.
And then we had brunch.
Ten cohort members arrived as curious strangers with open minds ready to be vulnerable and share our stories, but would we leave as friends? I'm happy to report back that not only did I hit off with a few cohort members and exchanged info, but Dy and I got together a few days later for brunch!
It wasn’t the biggest surprise for me that I hit it off with the only other black cohort member (which really shines a light on the necessity of connection and community for PoCs in Seattle). Dy and I realized we shared similar interests and knew mutual people, so it was a bit of a surprise we hadn’t met already.
Our Pop-Up dinner was a wonderful reminder that you can lead someone to water, but you can’t make them drink. Or more plainly, KUOW can create a great environment to meet new, diverse people, but it’s up to us to do the work to forge a deeper connection.
As I venture back into the streets of Seattle, forever changed by my Curiosity Club Pop-Up experience, I carry the stories of my fellow cohort members and feel inspired to expand the circle of people I’m around, diversify the perspectives I expose myself to, and continue stepping outside of my comfort zone with the events I attend.
Curious about channeling the energy of Curiosity Club? I challenge you to do the following:
1) Make eye contact with and say hello to everyone you encounter in a day. What did you notice? How did it feel?
2) When is the last time you went to an event or class outside of comfort zone? In the next week, pick a class or event to attend and set the intention to connect with and exchange info with at least one person there. The next step? Make (and keep) plans to hangout!
3) Create your own curiosity club! Invite three people to dinner and ask them to each bring a curious friend! Put a variety of topics and questions into a bowl and have everyone pick a question during dinner to get the conversation going.
Ishea Brown is a Seattle-based blogger and digital media producer. She is the host of Revive or Archive, the first web series from Allrecipes.com. A Chicago native and always up for an adventure, Ishea moved to Seattle sight unseen in 2013. Ishea can be found on social media at @sixtwentyseven. She is passionate about storytelling,creating community for women of color and advocating for mental health awareness.
Reporter Patricia Murphy responds. Patricia produced the story on Millionaire Lavish that sparked conversation on this night. Patricia participated in this Curiosity Club dinner as our KUOW journalist guest.
"I’ve always considered feedback from listeners and readers an important part of my job. I consider all of it. Ishea’s comments about the media narrative around black men are important and stuck with me. Her candor was refreshing! This is the kind of feedback I love, because it challenges me as a human and a reporter. It was a great, meaningful evening."