White by design

Dear President Trump,

It’s only 1pm and already it’s been another banner bird day. We took the dogs to the Union Bay Natural Area this morning and saw or heard the following birds: redwing blackbirds, seagulls, mallards, song sparrows, wrens, two osprey (plus noisy chicks), and a heron. We also saw turtles sunning themselves on a snag in the water.

And while we were out it struck me in a way it hadn’t before that the lack of variety in the people around here is in stark contrast to the varied bird life we were encountering. Yes, I’ve been aware that Northeast Seattle is predominantly white. It’s hard to miss that fact. But today it felt different seeing white person after white person riding their bikes, walking their dogs, cutting their grass, driving their cars, standing and chatting. Actually, there was one non-white person; an elderly Asian woman who was trying to cross the street to the bus stop. She wasn’t at the corner, but it still would have been easy for the driver of the ginormous Land Rover to stop and let her cross instead of leaving her stranded in the middle of the street while they righteously took their right of way.

For the first time today the nearly relentless whiteness I encountered viscerally felt as though it was by design. This was patently not an intellectual experience like the ones I had when I first learned about red-lining or about how African American veterans were excluded from GI housing benefits after WWII. No, being one among all the white people moving among only other white people was another of those sucker-punches that left me feeling queasy, ill at ease, and stupid. I’m struggling, and will continue to struggle, to grasp the enormity of the insidious, and obviously largely successful, plot to keep us apart from one another, to brainwash us with the idea that “birds of a feather flock together”, when really, birds of many different feathers do just fine hanging out in close proximity to one another. It’s us (the white us) that have set things up to make it seem like it’s the most natural thing in the world that Northeast Seattle is almost exclusively white, when it’s really by design.

I think three things pulled this veil aside today. First, a friend of mine told me yesterday about reading “The Color of Law” and “The Color of Money,” both of which detail the systematic and systemic ways the US government has actively, consciously sought to disenfranchise and oppress African Americans.

Second, I read a WP article this morning about the GOP Florida legislature passing an amendment to the new law allowing felons who have completed their sentences (including probation and parole obligations) to vote. The amendment says that they also need to pay all their court and restitution fees before they will be allowed to vote. I’ve not been able to get the image of whack-a-mole out of my head since reading that – some bit of pro-social progress is made and you all put your devious little minds to work and come up with a way to whack the shit out of whatever bit of pro-social progress we might have won. Despicable. And then your ilk cry crocodile tears like State Senator Jeff Brandes did when he told reporters that surely they know where his heart is, that he has gone as far as he can to privilege mercy over sacrifice, but gosh was that first law not clear and this is just an effort to tidy things up. Bullshit.

Third. Ah, the third thing. Damn if the third thing isn’t a WP piece talking about how several of the Democratic presidential candidates have been underwhelming African American people during their swings through the Southern states. Although several others were mentioned in the article, the main focus was on Bernie Sanders and how he failed to acknowledge or connect with the women (though this aspect of the snub wasn’t highlighted) who pulled together a beautiful meal to go along with a town hall meeting he held in Spartanburg, SC last month. He said it was because he didn’t eat anything and wasn’t aware that people had worked hard on the meal. Yeah, right.

If most the Democratic candidates aren’t willing or able to walk the walk, aren’t able to unstick from their narrow take on which relationships are and aren’t important to cultivate, whose hand they do and don’t need to shake, who they do and don’t need to see and value and cherish, then no wonder John Lewis is not as hopeful now as he was in the 1960’s that the arc of justice can make it all the way across the chasm that separates us from the beloved community.

May all of us who need to have our ideas of our safe havens shaken up, have them shaken up. Now.
May all of us who need to feel in our guts that our unearned privilege is indeed unearned, feel it. Now.
May all of us who need to grapple with the reality that our collective health is interdependent, do so. Now.
May all of us who need to reckon with the whiteness we are surrounded by do that reckoning. Now.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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