I came to Seattle with $1,800. And no job. My mentor lent me $1,200. I was 29.
My first apartment in Seattle was with my boyfriend on Pine and Belmont. With the end of that relationship came the end of the $300 rent I split with him for that apartment. The place had black mold, a loud next-door neighbor who loved coke and karaoke, and a mildewed shared bathroom.
When that blue frame building was torn down, it felt like getting a rotten tooth pulled.
How could I know?
They built condos where my old apartment stood. Where the old Cha Cha and Bimbo’s stood. Where my friend Rahul Gairola would drop by after Manray had last call. Where my mother anxiously asked my sister why I decided to live in a Seattle slum if she raised me as a middle-class black girl.
Do you know someone this has happened to, too? Did their lost building feel like a rotten tooth? Or a beating heart? A home?
In 2006, former governor Christine Gregoire signed a law that supposedly made it easier to remove Seattle’s racist housing covenants from some deeds. However, this change did not stop upper-class white folks from waltzing into the communities where black and brown people were once forced to live, thereby gentrifying these spaces. The racial shift makes me feel strangely nostalgic about racism since people of color need a place to call home—spiritually, economically, geographically—and that has in large part stopped being Seattle.
In the United States black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be shot by police. In King County, Native Americans are 7 times more likely to be homeless. Black people, 5 times more likely. I want to forget these facts. Recently, I buried my nose in a sweet smelling purple bush while walking in the gentrified Central District. I text my friend Barbara to ask her what it is. She tells me it is called a butterfly bush, an invasive species. I laugh and text back: I bet a white person decided that; they can identify any invasive species but themselves.
White supremacy is not paying the same dividends it once did. To make community possible again we need rent control, housing vouchers, and programs to reseed communities that have been stripped of working-class homeowners, especially people of color. Native Americans should be first on the list of rectifications.
The American West has long been a place where people go to reinvent themselves. What we see happening in Seattle is so startlingly unimaginative. The bubble should burst. Let’s reinvent being human again.