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Racism discussion urges participants to understand their 'implicit biases'

Union Leader Correspondent

January 24. 2018 11:31PM
Kristin Forselius talks with participants during a forum on racism in Durham Wednesday. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DURHAM — About 25 people turned out for a New Hampshire Listens workshop on racism at Community Church of Durham Wednesday evening.

Those who attended represented a variety of backgrounds, including parents concerned about incidents of racism in the Oyster River school system; leaders of local advocacy groups for inclusion; UNH students, faculty members and retired professors; and elected officials.

According to Kristin Forselius, an organizer who is the chairman of Oyster River Community Read, the workshop and other planned activities are meant to provide a safe and compassionate way for people to talk about race.

“It’s hard to talk about race without being political, but you can talk about race and be respectful,” Forselius said.

Even though racism has been a hot topic in Durham for the past year, Forselius said this is an issue other towns and cities need to challenge themselves on.

“Understanding race and acknowledging race should be a priority for every community,” Forselius said.

At the beginning of the school year, an elementary school student riding from Mast Way School in Lee to his home in Durham was assaulted on a bus because of his race.

The 7-year-old biracial boy was attacked by a male student who sat next to him on the bus, school officials said.

Last academic year and during the fall semester, there were multiple incidents of racial tensions on the University of New Hampshire campus.

A Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate was formed to address issues on the primarily white campus.

UNH spokesman Erika Mantz said Wednesday morning the task force’s final report will be released on March 16. The January deadline was pushed back to ensure it could fully meet its charge, Mantz said.

The goals of Wednesday’s workshop at the community church were to reflect and examine how racism operates, to deepen the group’s understanding of systemic racism and identify actions for change.

“We do want you to lean into discomfort,” Michele Holt-Shannon of NH Listens told the crowd at the beginning of the workshop. “If you disagree with someone, consider asking a question.”

Holt-Shannon explained that in order to understand racism, individuals need to understand their own implicit biases and that our brains love categories.

Holt-Shannon said implicit biases are stronger when people are busy, distracted or scared. She said the first step is to bring these biases to consciousness.

Another workshop for interested people who could not attend Wednesday evening is scheduled for Jan. 30 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Madbury Town Hall.

For more information about the workshop and programs run by Oyster River Community Read, visit and

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