The elephant in the room

This week’s Stranger  has an outstanding piece on racism in Seattle that made me want to jump up and cheer. Finally, someone who is willing to address the elephant in the room on the Space Needle:

“Seattle people, we are really nice on the outside,” [says Ron Ruthruff], “The problem, I would argue, is that many of the things we struggle with regarding race in Seattle are covert. What do I see? I’ll be really honest. I see two school districts in Seattle, one in the north end, one in the south end. You know what kids in the community call Garfield? They call it the slave ship, because the white kids are on the top two floors and the black kids are on the bottom two floors. I see my [white] son walk into a classroom with his [African American] best friend, one receiving the benefit of the doubt, the other being questioned—same thing in a movie theater.”

Sean Johnson, False Identity 1 & 2, 2010

After the jump, why having black friends is just not enough. It’s time for white people to acknowledge that American history is 300 years of affirmative action for… white people. And that’s where we need to be doing the hard work.

 

Many victims, no perpetrators

Sean Johnson, Attention Span, 2010

White people in Seattle are more likely to own rather than rent. White people are more likely to have health insurance and a job. White people are more likely to live longer. White people are less likely to be homeless. White people are less likely to hit the poverty level. White people are less likely to be in jail. White kids are nine times less likely than African Americans to be suspended from elementary school (in high school, it’s four times higher; in middle school, it’s five times, according to the district’s data). Nonwhite high-school graduation rates in Seattle are significantly below white graduation rates—even if you’re Asian, regardless of income level.

Yet no one is racist.

If people of color are losing, who do you think is winning?

I’m not surprised if you don’t believe me, white people are raised to never see the advantages they are bestowed as a birthright. If you haven’t read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack then you need to read it now. I mean right now, I’ll wait.

Eddie Moore Jr., the Bush School’s outgoing director of diversity says, “It’s just that there’s really no real challenge to how the structure in Seattle continues to assist whiteness and white male dominance in particular. When you say ‘white supremacy’ or ‘white privilege’ in Seattle, people still think you’re talking about the Klan. There’s really no skills being developed to shift the conversation. How can we be acknowledged to be so progressive, yet be identified to be so white? I wish that’s the question more Seattleites were asking themselves.”

I’ve long been troubled by the fact that so few people in this town are willing to discuss race in a real way. I was shocked when I moved here and discovered that virtually all the black people in metro Seattle were confined to the Rainier Valley and the Central District. It looks like the 1950’s and no one talks about it. It’s shameful for a city that prides itself on being so forward-thinking. Seattle sculptor Sean Johnson articulates  a suspicion I’ve had for years. He says, “Seattle’s racism is unlike the racism anywhere else, because Seattleites act like they’re above it.”

Get off the defensive, whitey

Sean Johnson, Cautionary Tale, 2010

“I had to stop talking to white people about race, because I kept getting retraumatized,” said an African American diversity trainer. “They just wanted to talk about why they weren’t racist.”

Sean Johnson, the artist featured in this post says,”I’ve had a conversation [about privilege with someone] like once a week for a while now. It’s a denial that’s almost more offensive than somebody just coming out and saying a racist word to us. I’ve been arguing about this in a bar and been thrown against the coals like I don’t know what I’m talking about—that there’s no way Seattle’s racist, there’s no way Seattle’s segregated—yet I’m the only black person in the room. Yeah, it is.”

Time to unpack the invisible knapsack

Rich Benjamin spent a year in the growing, increasingly white neighborhoods that are cropping up all over the country and wrote about it in his book Searching for Whitopia:

“Rather than thoughtfully discussing race, Americans love to reduce racial politics to feelings and etiquette. It’s the personal and dramatic aspects of race that obsess us, not the deeply rooted and currently active political inequalities. That’s our predicament: Racial debate, in public and private, is trapped in the sinkhole of therapeutics.”

“There’s a riddle at the heart of our racial lives,” he writes, “It’s common to have racism without racists.” He means the redneck, Deliverance-style kind—easy to identify, easy to marginalize. How else to explain a generation of people who voted for Obama, and who cried tears of happiness at what his election meant, but are doing nothing to eliminate racial inequality where we live?

When is the last time you talked about race?

Jen Graves, the author of the piece, leaves us with this food for thought: The test of how racist you are is not how many people of color you can count as friends, it’s how many white people you’re willing to talk to about racism.

The pink elephant in our room

Related Posts by Bonita Applebum

Story of Stuff

The belly of the beast

I’m the middle class who is being squeezed out. And I am pissed.

Words to live by – Pop’s Reprise by Common

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jasmin
    Sep 02, 2011 @ 18:27:28

    I saw you linked this in the open thread on Jezebel; very nice post!

    Reply

  2. The Mayoress
    Sep 02, 2011 @ 21:59:39

    Love- just blogged this.

    Reply

  3. avih
    Aug 15, 2013 @ 00:04:39

    You,re amazing! Reading this took the words out of my mouth. I live in NYC, You would think racism would not be a problem but that,s a myth. I have heard so many sad stories and have experience one myself. I went to a bar, my date was white, the owner came up to me and said I needed to leave.He said he owns the bar and had the power to do so. I was a bit shocked because we had just gotten there and were on our first beer, talking, laughing, holding hands. My date confused and demanded a reason as to why I was being kicked out. He pulled my date on the side and whispered something in his ear and my date immediately told us to leave. Coming to find out he lied to my date I was a prostitute and I had been banned from that bar and he needs to be careful. It hit me pretty hard, especially the fact that I am a virgin. A few blacks in that neighborhood told me they avoid that bar because of the racism. One guy said “that,s why I stick to my own kind” I also read reviews online by blacks who complained the bartenders refused to serve them.
    My date made it worst because he even after seeing all the obvious signs he was in total denial and dismissed. Instead of comforting me he began asking why would anyone ever maliciously do something if they didn,t know me. Right. The white people unearned privileged. Must be nice. I could not believe what I was hearing. He acted so oblivious. I almost wanted to punch him in the face but I went home in tears. I actually saw my date go back to the bar. A few days later i came to get the info of the bar and when leaving told the bartender i,m taking the bar to court and smiled and told me good luck. What a dick. He didn,t even feel bad. This bar needs to stop treating people like that. As for my date, he called back to his senses a few days later and begged me to give him another chance. Um. Obviously i said no. This was one of the worst nights of my lives and I cannot forget how saddening it. Also being young, 22, I have experienced minor racism before but this was just over the top. I had no one in the bar to stand by myself and the only person who i expected to turned against me. If it,s one thing I have learn is that do not talk to white people about racism or expect them to stand up for you.

    Reply

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