So many types of fancy houses and so little diversity

To: The Big League Champion of White Privilege

Since I’m finding that however it is that I decide to greet you ends up driving what I write about, I’m going to jump in to the stuff that’s been on my mind – and heart – the last few days and will circle back later to fill in a salutation.

On Saturday Laura and I took the dogs for a walk in the Laurelhurst neighborhood, which is a couple of miles south of us. Much of it is perched on a hill but it spills down to the edge of Lake Washington and it’s within walking distance of the University. It’s a sweet spot – convenient to the U, views galore, near shopping, and not too far from I-5 for downtown access. It’s also graced with wide, winding streets with buried utility lines, which for some reason, feels like a gigantic bonus.

We’ve walked there dozens of times, drawn by those wide winding streets and the views of the Lake even though the huge houses on the huge lots signaling huge wealth have long been unsettling. We did draw the line on the Windermere neighborhood, deciding we just couldn’t stomach it after two tries (look it up – it borders Laurelhurst to the north and makes it look almost ordinary). But Laurelhurst somehow keeps passing muster. I think part of it is that we feel a tiny bit subversive when we park our 1991 Honda Civic in front of some multimillion-dollar home and troop off with our mutt and subpar Dachshund, our scruffy weekend attire on our lesbian selves.

This last Saturday, though, the juxtaposition of so incredibly many different styles of architecture and so few different kinds of people really got to me. I thought maybe I’d written to you about this before but a due diligence search for terms like “Laurelhurst,” “Tudor,” Dutch Colonial,” and “Spanish Revival” came up blank, so apparently not. The deal is that within any given block in the Laurelhurst neighborhood, the homes there represent easily six or seven different architectural styles – each super-sized and kitted out with the loveliest landscaping and latest vehicles in the drives. But all of the people we ever see there are White and comprising apparently heterosexual family units. Every single one of them. No demographic variation apparent in the people whatsoever.

There was a hand-lettered sign in a window a couple of blocks from us for a few weeks that said “The system isn’t broken, it was designed this way.” Indeed.

You know all this isn’t a new revelation for me – I’ve long known about red lining and other exclusionary systems for keeping the populace segregated by race and Black people disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Northeast Seattle is notorious for it, including the neighborhood where we live. But there was something about the extreme expressions of individuality through the architecture in Laurelhurst and the utter lack of diversity among the people living there that burrowed in under my skin in a new way. Maybe it was the case that another veil fell away and the super-entrenched nature of racial segregation and systemic racism was palpably apparent to me, maybe signaled by the implicit message “hey you can live in this type of fancy house or that type of fancy house or this other type of fancy house…. as long as you look and love like just like everyone else here.”

Since I’ve not gone knocking door-to-door to test my observation, I checked to see if I could find some official numbers online. Turns out the city of Seattle has rolled up neighborhood demography by race and Laurelhurst is 86.9% White, 8.7% Asian, 4.2% mixed race/ethnicity, 0.3% Hispanic, and 0% Black. There is officially 1 Black person living in Laurelhurst and so with rounding, the % of Black people there is 0. There are only three other Whiter neighborhoods in Seattle and they are all even wealthier – and probably have at least as many different types of ginormous fancy houses.

May we all be safe and secure wherever we live.
May we be willing to step back and question pretty damn much everything.
May we cultivate the strength to see past the pretty facades.
May we accept that extremely segregated neighborhoods are not accidents.

Tracy Simpson

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