Amy Spieker / by Michael Falco

Who is Amy Spieker?

Amy Spieker was raised in Washington State. She was born in Naples, Italy, as her father is in the Navy, but has no memories of this time or EU citizenship (to her disappointment). She moved to Cheyenne in 2011 for an epidemiology position with the Department of Health after finishing her masters in public health at the University of Washington. She and her partner (Ben Rowland) are active in local community organizations and politics. Ben was also interviewed for this project. 

Excerpt from interview with Amy Spieker by Whitney Dow, 2018

Spieker: [35:33] Yes. So, I think that white liberals might have a hard time with this conversation because, as I mentioned before, the first step of kind of doing something about this is acknowledging the problem. I think a lot of white liberals have decided that they’ve acknowledged the problem. But then the reality is that as a white liberal you’re still benefiting from the inequity is a lot harder to grapple with as opposed to the fact that there is inequity, and that to change inequity, by definition, something has to change. I think it’s about power. And I think power is a relatively finite thing. So, there has to be a redistribution of power. And since white people hold power, for things to be equal they would have to give power up. I think it’s uncomfortable to think about that as a white liberal.


[39:06] I heard an interview on NPR [National Public Radio] yesterday, and it was not about this at all. But the songwriter said, I asked myself all these really hard questions when I was in my twenties. Then I just kept living my life. I feel like that’s what I’m worried I’m going to do, is I keep asking all of these questions, and I’m thinking about it. I want to do something about it. But in reality, it’s way easy to live as a white person. So, I could just continue to live as a white person and not do anything about it. I guess I don’t really have an answer about how to grapple with the balance of living your life and taking advantage of some of the opportunities you have, like where you can afford to buy a house.

Yes, I guess the only thing I can think of is, when given the opportunity and creating opportunities, to hand the mic and hand the stage and step back instead of step up, and allow people that don’t look like you to be at the table. Make sure that there’s not a separate table that you’re not ignoring. I don’t know. I know that that’s a half-assed answer. But, I don’t really know what else to say.

Q2: Whitney and I worked on another project where my counterpart was a mixed-race black guy from New York who had suffered, or had experienced a lot of discrimination. He was thrown in jail during Hurricane Katrina when he was just down there trying to help. He and I have really different backgrounds. I said to him one time I feel like nothing’s going to really change until white men start talking about this shit in public.

Spieker: Yes.

Q2: How fucked up is that? That’s so ironic and fucked up. That’s such a white savior complex in its own respect. White people can only fix the problem that they started? Or is it black people or minority people’s responsibility to fix it? For people who actually want to see change, but then feel excluded from the conversation because we are kind of a part of the system, the structure.

Spieker: [41:49] To be fair, one of the things that this training that I went to that I really enjoyed, their advice for white people was your job, walking away from this, is to have this conversation with your white people friends that don’t believe you. If you are only with white people that believe you, you’ve got to start talking to other white people that don’t believe you, because they’re the way that this changes. Society changes based on these conversations. They’re not going to listen to, you know, me, this black person, say this. But they’re going to listen to you, this white person, say this.

So that’s your obligation is to go have those hard conversations. It’s not glamorous. It’s not in the spotlight. It’s not sexy. But, you’ve got to talk to that racist uncle of yours. You’ve got to talk to those people that don’t believe you or don’t believe that this is happening or that they haven’t gotten anything out of this, and convince them otherwise. That was the charge to the white people in the room that left this training. It feels crappy because it feels like you’re not doing anything. But I think I agree that having white men have this conversation is when we’ll start seeing change.

I think this is not quite the same example. It’s not the same example. But I think an example of this kind of changing culture or changing dynamics is the wage gap. There’s been some studies. I think the woman is from Harvard. And she shows that in liberal cities where the work-life balance is more equal, so where partners have started to share more of the child-rearing role or share more of the responsibilities of caring for elderly family, the wage gap goes down. The hypothesis there is that what women desire is flexibility in their work schedule so that they can accommodate all these other things that they have to do. When men start to demand the same flexibility, then pay equals out.

I think that that might be a little bit of similarity here, that as white people demand, and unfortunately in this case it was men had to demand this same thing that women needed to make it equal. I think that it might not be a dissimilar example to race where when white men demand that other people are treated the same as them, that we start to see an equaling out. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but just a thought.

Excerpt from interview with Amy Spieker by Kristin Murphy, 2017

Spieker: [00:36:35] We did have the Diversity Center, it was a hub of all kinds of different discussions around inclusion and exclusion, and Angie Hambrick is the director of the University Center, so a lot of the programs like Taste of Faith and Taste of Tacoma, they were run out of the Diversity Center. I guess one thing that I will say—as a white person, I didn’t feel like I could go to the Diversity Center. That was not a place that I would be comfortable, so I feel that that was maybe a dynamic too. It was just not a place that I identified as going or needing to go or like I belonged there.

Q: And why not?

Spieker: [00:37:33] I think it was primarily students of color, or LGBTQ students or—I think that’s primarily who was there. I guess, going back to my learning, what I knew about race and what I knew about gender, I think I was still really uncomfortable with understanding who I was and how I fit into that. I just didn’t know, and so I just didn’t feel like I—I felt like they were always having profound conversations that I was just like: "I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Q: How do you feel—what do you mean that you didn’t fit into one of these, that you didn’t understand your place in this?

Spieker: [00:38:27] Well, I think that that consciousness about it, like we’d talked about, I didn’t really realize. I can’t remember in Jacksonville, and I’ve only looked back on high school and elementary school and been able to look at those things later, I think that that consciousness was just starting to happen. I didn’t know how to interact with that newfound awareness that: “Oh, not everybody is like me.” I actually just recently had a conversation with my friend, by text, the other day. She sent me a question about being a white woman and interacting with—I don’t really remember what it was about, but being a white woman was the premise of the text and that we needed to have more conversation about it. I responded back to her that one of the things that I feel like I still did when I met her and my other friend Trinity, the two of them on my basketball team, I project my experience on other people. I just assume everybody’s had the same experience as me, and Trish identifies as white, for the most part. She told me that, but she’s part Makah, and her mom lives on the reservation and is a nurse on the reservation. That’s a huge part of her identity, but she looks very white. And then my other friend, Trinity, is Mexican, and I just always assumed that she’s just like me and I always forget that she’s had a whole different experience around race that I have, because, again, at the time that I met them, I didn’t think about that. And now, I even say stuff as we’re having these conversations about race, and I’m like “wait.” That’s not necessarily your experience or the way that you want to own something, the way that I need to own something, because I have a different interaction with race.

Q: It’s interesting also that they don’t necessarily bring up—because sometimes the onus is on the other, it feels like. Like talking to Mike, I think you mentioned that you didn’t realize part of his family was Mexican?

Spieker: I didn’t know at the beginning, but I do know now. I just assumed his experience was like mine, and Mike’s experience was nothing like mine. Mike has had almost the exact opposite experience of me in terms of education and opportunities, and he’s had to fight a lot harder than I’ve ever had to fight for getting into good schools and being given opportunities. I feel like I’ve been given way more opportunities, but I just assumed that everybody has had those opportunities, and it’s a conscious thing I have to think about, to be like “No!” I want everyone to have the experiences I’ve had—not the experiences I’ve had, but the opportunities I’ve had, because I’ve had a lot of things given to me, and a lot of things that I didn’t do—I feel like I made good on those opportunities a lot of times, but I feel like I didn’t work any harder than anybody else to get those opportunities.

Q: How, with that thought in mind, would that change your interactions with other people that haven’t had your opportunities? What does that dynamic look like, does it change based on how you’re thinking of your own privilege?

Spieker: [00:42:16] I guess it would depend on the context. For example, I think about the people that we serve in the health department, I try really hard not to think about—I try really actively to think about how we’re trying to provide education around prenatal care, or provide—how to raise a healthy child, how to get people the vaccinations that they need, or whatever the thing is that we’re trying to do, and that I remember that these individuals are working really hard and that they love their kids a lot and want to do everything that’s there for them, but that they don’t have the opportunity necessarily to take off work to go be at whatever, or to get their kid into this thing or they don’t have the dollars to buy a pool pass so that their kid can take swim lessons. It’s not that they’re choosing that, it’s that the choices presented to them are much more limited, and I feel like I do a much better job of that thinking when I’m at work than I do when I am just in my everyday. One of the things I took away from my training I did on race was about how people of color don’t ever get to stop thinking about race, and that is a thing that I think I think about race a lot, but I don’t obviously think about it near as much as people of color. I talk about race and often get excited about doing something, like working in the community, doing something, and then I still go skiing on the weekend. You know, how much money do I spend going skiing and how much time do I spend doing that that could be used to advance a cause or do something in my community that is more beneficial than me having a good time and enjoying the mountains, you know? I definitely know that I just have a lot of privilege. I’d say that was very circuitous.

Interview Transcript