Gary Vis, executive director of the Lynden Chamber of Commerce in Whatcom County, says Under Our Skin makes him want to talk about race, but he fears doing so.

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Editor’s note: When we were putting together Under Our Skin, we knew we wouldn’t be able to include many important perspectives in the original set of videos. That’s why we’re also offering the chance for more people to write guest essays to be featured alongside the project.  After we received this e-mail from Gary Vis, executive director of the Lynden Chamber of Commerce in Whatcom County, we asked if he would be willing to share it, and he was.  

I am a 48-year-old white, Christian male from Lynden, Washington and the director of the Chamber of Commerce in the Lynden community. I was unable to attend college, so my formal education is limited to a high-school diploma. I have found the videos and stories within The Seattle Times project “Under Your Skin” fascinating and insightful, and applaud The Seattle Times staff for your effort in addressing conversations about and around race. I have hoped that someone would do something like this here for a long, long time.

I must admit, while I find the presentation wonderful, I am fearful of posting my responses or questions. I fear attaching my name. I fear my words will be taken out of context. I fear I will be labeled a racist, or ignorant, or a “redneck.” I fear for my employment, in that if something is taken out of context, will it be used to have me fired? I fear a heated discussion will take place, making a bad problem even worse. I fear someone reading the Internet in the future will use my words against me, or think of me as evil.

My fear paralyzes me, keeping me from participating in a very, very important conversation.
 Because of the demographic I fill and the boxes that will be checked next to my name, I feel like I am only allowed to listen, not to converse, and that my questions, concerns and thoughts will be dismissed as irrelevant. I’ve had many conversations with my two college-educated daughters on many of the topics you raise. They have told me my life experiences, my level of education, where I live and my ability to “understand” does not allow me to comprehend the problems. It is as if I am disqualified because of who I am and what I am, instead of being included for what I can bring to the conversation.

I want to express my appreciation to The Seattle Times for its willingness to open a forum to discuss the issues and including the thoughts and opinions of a tremendous group of well-spoken individuals from a variety of walks of life.

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I have so many questions that I need to be answered — so many feelings and emotions that well up inside. I hope this informative dialogue continues, and I pray that it will facilitate a greater understanding within and between the people of our area, our country, our community.

A city, a county, and a state are simply lines drawn around a geographic area. A community is a group of people, working together, to make life better for all. It is my hope that I can set aside my fears, and contribute to the dialogue that will make our communities better so that all of us may enjoy a wonderful future.