I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest area, but I’ve heard a great deal of praise for the region, especially Seattle. Aside from the weather (I’ve been told it’s quite a rainy region), it is apparently a great place to live. At least if you lean left. The city is viewed by many as a bastion of liberal progressivism where forward thinking people from all walks of life are welcome. Seattle is a ‘Welcoming City‘, where immigrants, refugees, and Muslims are accepted and embraced. It was voted one of the top 5 liberal cities in the country in 2014 and given that recreational marijuana is legal there, it’s not hard to understand why. Unlike the Southern U.S. where I dwell (and most of the country, for that matter), Seattle also has extensive public transit and [Hot Damn!] they were one of the first cities in the US to approve a $15/hour minimum wage. Anecdotally, I’ve been told the city is very friendly to transgender people, and with 9 top-rated HRC employers in Seattle, I can see why.
$15/hour, queer friendly businesses, and legal weed? Sounds good to me. There’s just one problem (well, there’s probably more, but for the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on just one). A problem that has existed in the Pacific Northwest dating back to its beginning. It’s a 500-lb. elephant in the room and is a blight on the liberal reputation of Seattle (as well as the greater Pacific Northwest). If you guessed racism, you are correct. To make matters worse, it appears as if many white liberals were tired of conservatives hogging the “I’m a racist asshole” Spotlight, and wanted their turn. It may surprise some to hear accusations of racism lobbed at liberals, but racial biases and prejudices are not limited solely to those on one end of the political spectrum. And while overt examples of individual race-based public or political* discrimination has diminished significantly** over the last half century or so, more subtle forms of racism, such as racial biases and prejudices, continue to thrive.
Such biases turned out to be quite at home among many of Seattle’s white liberals in the wake of a Black Lives Matter event last year. Conceived of by teachers across Seattle, the event–which was little more than teachers wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts to school–hurt the fragile sensibilities of many liberal parents leading to a White Whine backlash.
The Root reports:
Last October, teachers in the Seattle Public Schools district planned a Black Lives Matter in the Seattle Public Schools event that consisted of wearing T-shirts with the slogan printed on them, despite the fact that a similar effort at Seattle’s John Muir Elementary in September was met with criticism, hate mail and threats of violence.
The teachers expected backlash, and they got it, in the form of white parents from the city’s wealthier neighborhoods writing to their school principals and saying that they were displeased that such an event would take place, saying that a Black Lives Matter day was too militant, too political and too confusing for their young children, according to KUOW.
Because the parents would not speak directly with the news station about their displeasure, KUOW made a public records request and published their emails with all identifying information redacted.
I’m reasonably sure I’m going to regret this, but I feel the urge to go read some of these complaints:
Wrote a parent at Laurelhurst Elementary: “Can you please address … why skin color is so important? I remember a guy that had a dream. Do you remember that too? I doubt it. Please show me the content of your character if you do.”
Hmmm, I might need to go get my racist Bingo card. I mean–Come on! Invoking Martin Luther King, Jr, and like this? The comment is so scattershot and lacking in a direct, comprehensible point. In mulling over that comment, I *think* these are the points the parent was attempting to make.
- “You shouldn’t be talking about race. You should be colorblind like me. I’m white and I don’t see race, just like MLK wanted.”
- “Martin Luther King, Jr (a really important black guy that I remember) said he had a dream of a day when black girls and black boys would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, which totally means ignore skin color altogether” (not).
- “Wearing a BLM shirt is asking people to notice your skin color and judge you based on it, which is not what MLK wanted, which means you don’t remember him.”
- “Explain to me the content of your character” <—-I cannot fathom what purpose this serves to bolster the argument being made.
Though based on a colossally poor understanding of MLK Jr’s words, if you leave out the “explain it to me” part, the outline of an argument becomes apparent. Not a good argument mind, but the shape of something. This incoherent email offers some insight into its author:
A: they don’t understand the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. Otherwise, they’d understand why discussing skin color is important. Crucial, even.
B: they are completely clueless about systemic racism. If they did, they’d know that BLM is about addressing systemic racial inequality in the criminal justice system which runs far deeper than simply answering the question “on what basis should people be judged”.
C: they don’t understand implicit racial bias. If they did, they would know that we all make subconscious judgments of other people that are not under our direct control (regardless of how progressive we are (or claim to be).
(I hope further emails are a bit more comprehensible)
Next up we have one from Eckstein Middle School in Wedgwood:
“What about red and black or yellow and white and black? How does supporting Black Lives Matter help that gap?”
(Le sigh. No such luck)
Hard to believe, but email #2 is far worse than the preceding one. “Red and black or yellow and white and black”?? What gap is this person referring to? Wait a minute! There’s a way I might be able to figure out WTF this parent is trying to say. Let me just don my Racism Goggles. Ah, there we go. I think what the author is saying is “what about the opportunity gap between Indigenous people and Black people or the opportunity gap between Asians and whites and Blacks? How does supporting BLM help those gaps?” Now let me go burn those glasses. Ugh. Seriously? Given their proximity to black and white, it is likely that red and yellow refer to other racial groups at the school. Most likely red refers to Indigenous folks and yellow is a reference to Asians. Clearly someone has been reading up on racist color metaphors. Also, the name of the movement is not The Movement to Address Systemic Racial Inequalities Among all People of Color. The Black Lives Matter Movement addresses one racial group and the problems they face as a result of racism. Supporting BLM means recognizing that African-Americans have historically been devalued in this country and doing what you can to help the movement. Supporting BLM has nothing to do with closing the opportunity gaps among other PoC. This may come as a shock, but you can actually support more than one equality movement at a time. That is if you actually are concerned about the welfare of Indigenous people or Asians.
Next up is a parent from Bryant Elementary:
Ah, at last–a comment that is comprehensible and contains a point that doesn’t need a divining rod to discover (though it is still a frustrating one). Something in my gut makes me question whether or not the 9yo actually said “she felt bad about being white” or if that’s her parent putting words in her mouth. But even if she had, I think there are good reasons for people to feel bad about being white. I’ve never advocated for that, but it’s not hard to imagine liberal leaning folks feeling bad about (for instance) not having to face race-based obstacles in life simply bc they got lucky at the genetic lottery (when compared to the race-based obstacles Black USAmericans face regularly).
As for ‘police lie and do bad things”?
That’s not a one-sided message when all throughout our society, police are venerated and treated with respect. They are privileged at so many levels, up to and including when they are charged with murder (bc so many people are loathe to convict police officers). More kids need to see that police officers are not the perfect, pure, paragons of justice dedicated to serving and protecting, bc the truth is they are not. They are human beings who make mistakes. Such as lying or doing bad things.
Finally, the last comment posted at KUOW:
How do you “work quietly” to resolve systemic racism? How is anyone going to be aware that this is a problem if you’re quiet about it? How would you even devise plans on closing the gap if you don’t discuss said plans? I also have to laugh at the idea that you can “leave the politics out” when you’re talking about the opportunity gap. The gap exists in the first place bc of politics. The gap is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is the result of policies put into place by prejudiced white people that sought to advantage themselves in all the ways, and ensure that African-Americans had access to nothing (bc to them, we were property). Century after century, Blacks had no opportunities. No wealth or land. No education. None of that magically changed when segregation ended or when the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. Nothing leveled the playing field between whites and blacks such that equal opportunity was had by all (attempts have been made to compensate for the centuries of no opportunity, cf. Affirmative Action). Sooooo…given that the opportunity gap exists bc of politics (specifically, white supremacy), how can politics be removed from any discussion on closing the gap?
FFS. Racist asshattery is so tiresome.
In addition to the inanity above, the advice of this parent has “I want to stay comfy and secure in my privilege. I don’t want to think about racism and I don’t want to talk to my child about racism” written all over it in big bold letters.
I just realized that I have a bit more confidence in the schoolchildren than some of the parents bc I don’t believe its a herculean task to teach elementary school students the value of Black life. It’s not like the teachers were giving comprehensive, in-depth, peer reviewed lessons on the struggle for Black liberation in the United States, as these parents seem to believe. No, it looks like (once again), we’re being advised to hush up, bc some white people do not like our message. That, or the equally insulting “you’re fighting for your rights the wrong way. Here, here (patting the nice colored person on the head) let the wise white person tell you all about the way to get what you want“. Either way, the responses from these parents serve as a reminder that manifestations of racism are many and are not partisan. They also serve as a warning that even the most liberal of places may not be that welcoming to People of Color.
*It could be argued that racism in political discourse never truly diminished, but went underground instead, as racist white politicians began using coded language (‘dogwhistles‘) to speak to their ilk without using explicit racist words and phrases. Hence the rise of ‘thug’ to describe African-Americans or ‘inner city’ as a descriptor of poor Blacks.
**The presidential campaign of (and eventual win by) the current White House occupant has seen an increasing number of public hate crimes, which, if sustained long enough, could reverse this trend.