There’s no easy way to say this, so let’s just cut to the bone. Seattle, we’re racist. Not kind of. Not used to be but much better now. We are. And if you need any evidence, just consider the figures in the chart below. Nearly two-thirds of Seattleites think this city is welcoming to people of color, which, hey, is great. Pat yourself on the back, progressives, because we solved the greatest social ill that has plagued America for centuries. One problem: Almost three-quarters of respondents were white. Which means—let’s do some quick math—at least two in five white Seattleites are unaware of the challenges facing a segment of the population they likely take pride in supporting. And that’s not a good look.
On a scale of 1 to 5, rate the following statement: Seattle is welcoming to people of color.
How about some context: Last spring the Stanford University Center for Education Policy and Analysis published a report on race-, socioeconomic-, and gender-based education gaps in 200 of the country’s largest school districts. With white students testing two grades above the national average and their black peers testing one and a half grades below, Seattle’s achievement gap was the fifth worst in the country. In summer 2015 the city’s Office of Civil Rights sent out volunteers to pose as renters and inquire about vacant apartments. That experiment found that in nearly two-thirds of cases, renters of color were more likely than whites to be warned of criminal background checks, asked about their spouse’s employment history, and shown fewer vacant units. And African Americans in Seattle were six times more likely than whites to be the victims of a hate crime in 2015.
Those are just numbers, and being unaware of them is not a racially motivated crime. Come to think of it, being aware of them yet unable to see the history of biased policies that sustain them isn’t necessarily one either—but only barely. Sticking your fingers in your ears and humming loudly when confronted with the reality that life isn’t as great for people of color as your carefully selected social media circle of friends would have you believe, though? That’s pretty racist.
It’s a scary word, isn’t it? Racist. We recoil when we hear it and think instead of other cities where we imagine the overt acts associated with it still occur. This isn’t the South, we think, as we fall asleep next to a copy of Between the World and Me that we bought with every intention of reading and maybe even will someday. But how often is that word a catalyst for self-examination, the start of an inner monologue about the gulf between perception and reality? If ever there were a time to look inward, it’s now. Because in Seattle, ours isn’t a racism of action. It’s one of inaction. It’s not born of contempt. It’s born of self-satisfaction. And wrapping ourselves so tightly in a cloak of progressive identity that we can’t see reality may be racism in its most cunning form.