It began a couple days ago on the Seattle page of Reddit, the Conde Nast-owned Internet bulletin board that amounts to a giant electronic water cooler where everyone wears a mask.
A white newcomer to Seattle had moved a month ago into the Central District, the historically black part of Seattle. “I have to say that I have never experienced racism in such an open and in your face way as I have here,” the poster, going by the handle 74NK, said. 74NK later explained, “While sitting on my front porch I got told I was ‘Bringing the neighborhood down’ by a couple walking down the street. When I tried to introduce myself to the lady, asking her name she replied with ‘We’re black people that’s all you need to know.’ There have been others, but that’s the most recent. Like I said I’ve lived here for about a month and have had 4 or 5 similar instances. Maybe my neighbors are just twats.”
74NK’s remarks began a terribly interesting thread that has now generated more than 130 comments, which is a pretty large number by Internet standards for a local issue. While a wide range of opinions were expressed, the thread certainly has done little to buttress Seattle’s much-vaunted reputation as a politically progressive city.
I’ve written here before about Seattle’s long history of racial segregation and the University of Washington website, Segregated Seattle, documenting it. Over the last half-century the segregation of Seattle has gone from de jure–mandated by racist laws and governmental policies–to de facto–without sanction of law. But to my mind, housing segregation still exists here. It’s actually pretty obvious to anyone driving around all over town like I do refereeing youth soccer matches. However, I can’t say the situation here is more extreme than any of the many other places I lived or worked in across the country before becoming New To Seattle.
According to the 2010 census, Seattle’s population of 608,660 was 66% white, 14% Asian, 8% black, 7% Latino, 1% native American, and 4% everything else. Bucking U.S. urban trends, Seattle ranks among the top five large cities in percentage of white population.
Now, I’m not sure of the link between de facto housing segregation and poor overall race relations. After all, people these days can live anywhere they can afford to live. But from the Reddit thread alone, there sure seems to be an underlying discontent on this front, one that surfaces publicly only infrequently.
Besides offering anonymity, Reddit has one other prominent feature: Users can vote to enhance or decrease the prominence of a previous comment. “I’m of mixed race and have never experienced as many uncomfortable white people and latent racism in the Midwest or East Coast as I have here,” said a poster on the thread named ericjs. After getting whacked, the commenter later added, “Thanks for downvoting my telling of a prejudiced experience here. You’re clearly so open-minded, progressive, and care about diversity and people of other cultures. Instead of guiltily rejecting any criticism, why not look at some local problems and think about them.”
qxnt, living in upscale lower Queen Anne, opined, “I think it’s because Seattle is very white, and de-facto segregated along class lines. There’s a lot less daily interaction between blacks and whites than in a place like Chicago or New York; even though the affluent white liberals of Seattle will happily vote for affirmative action and talk your face off about equality and civil rights, they’ll also cross the street when they see a young black man wearing low-riding jeans coming down the sidewalk.”
This drew a concurrence from brdistheword, no neighborhood given. “Seattle isn’t really progressive, either… It’s a lot of do-gooder “liberal” white people who think they’re progressive. I found it horrifically racist, in a backhanded manner… People tensing up if a person of color came near them or took a bus seat next to them, sideways looks, things like that. My basis of comparison are places like Philly, NYC, DC, etc that are actually diverse, though. Seattle is also way segregated, too. The distribution of wealth there was unnerving and they really don’t like poor people there.”
Not everyone agreed. “I keep hearing all this ‘Seattle is full of white people’ stuff and I can’t figure out where exactly they all are,” wrote dappijue from Seward Park, a neighborhood along Lake Washington with a startling mix of grand mansions and run-down homes. “Like 80% of the people I work with and see at the gym, stores, etc are minorities. I’ve never been in a more diverse city.”
There seemed to be agreement that 74NK’s problems with the neighbors might be a function of gentrification–whites moving into a black neighborhood, driving up prices and forcing poorer folk to move. But efforts to label it reverse racism were quickly shot down. “There’s no such thing as ‘reverse racism’ there is just racism,” wrote muttmonster. “Either you judge somebody based on their race or not.”
Residents of the Central District got some support. “I live in the CD,” wrote someone going by warriorsmurf, “and I grew up in a neighborhood just like this in Philadelphia, similar diversity, similar socio-economic status. For all that, it’s [Central District] nicer than where I grew up. Not so much graffiti and s–t on the streets. People are friendly, but not too friendly. I think the panhandler in front of the Walgreens threw a rock at my dog once, but like … that’s one asshole. By Philly standards it’s basically a tolerant f–king paradise. If you don’t like it, Seattle has many other fine neighborhoods.”
The Reddit thread was wide-ranging. There were denunciations of “pseudo-intellectualism” and comparisons with other areas besides Philadelphia, including East Los Angeles, Boston, New York City and the Other Washington. One mini-thread attempted to link local racial issues with a Washington State tax structure that, due to the lack of a state income tax, depends upon the state sales tax, which disproportionately hits the poor.
While most of the discussion focused on race relations involving blacks, there were some zingers concerning other backgrounds. One, concerning a popular local hamburger stand chain, came from bluemirror, apparently of Asian heritage: “I was at Dick’s, and a car of white guys said, ‘They don’t serve rice here!’
Despite some profanity and occasional overt suggestions of mental deficiencies, the Reddit thread was a civil discussion. All water cooler talk–for now, anyway.