An open letter to white-collar Seattle transplants

Hey there! How are you enjoying the city so far?

Yep, it does rain a lot. No shit, you live in Cap Hill? Sure, it can get crazy on the weekends. You pay how much for rent? Yeah there are a lot of uh, “street people” I guess.

Good food, but the restaurants just aren’t as nice as where you used to live, huh?

"Our Home" by <a href="http://eighthgeneration.com/">Louie Gong</a> (Nooksack), 2015.
“Our Home” by Louie Gong (Nooksack), 2015.

First off, Seattle is not L.A., Manhattan, or San Francisco — and many of us would like to make sure that never happens — so don’t bother comparing. I’m sorry if your six-figure job dragged you kicking and screaming from whatever classy cosmopolitan wonderland you moved here from.

But, here you are my dear — so please stop acting as if there was nothing “going on” here before you arrived. Seattle’s worth doesn’t lie in meeting your weekend warrior playground criteria.

And cut the attitude that we locals should be grateful; as if your “spending lots of money” and the “economic growth” your employers have spurred are doing all of us a favor, not just the select few who operate in your elite micro-verse.

It may seem like a petty thing to take offense at, but it reflects a huge ignorance and dismissal of Seattle’s existing history and heritage.

Yes, the city may seem homogenous, and is pretty lily compared to most other major cities. The irony is, Seattle, as the 4th fastest gentrifying city in America, has become MORE WHITE (within the city limits) than ten years ago, as people of color are displaced to the outer suburbs, or out of state altogether.

Data analysis shows that our diverse “homegrown” communities are being left behind in terms of education and job access, as most high­‐wage positions are filled by “high-­skilled” workers moving in from out of state.

Seattle has a distinctly LGBT neighborhood, a historically Black community, a flourishing culture of artists and outsiders just to name a few…

At least it did. These communities are dwindling and facing even more challenges from the influx and concentration of wealth, hyper-development, and gentrification.

"Slapoo Takes Back the City" by <a href="http://eighthgeneration.com/">Louie Gong</a> (Nooksack), 2015.
“Slapoo Takes Back the City” by Louie Gong (Nooksack), 2015.

Seattle is experiencing a mass displacement and erosion of social capital among people of color, low— and moderate — income families, plus a now OFFICIAL! homelessness state of emergency.

The last homelessness count showed nearly 20 percent more homeless than a year ago ­— and every $100 per month rent hike increases the homeless population by 15 percent.

But I don’t mean to be a total Eeyore here — we can get a Nespresso machine delivered to our doorstep in an hour. AN HOUR! And there’s probably a brand new CrossFit gym in your neighborhood now!

Wait, WHAT ONE HOUR — NFW — THE WORLD AT MY FINGERTIPS!!!

When historic homes and businesses get demolished to make way for high rises or mixed-use luxury condos, or a shiny new transportation line/bike lanes/road diet cut right through the heart of a low-­income ethnic neighborhood as bus lines get chopped and existing businesses get squeezed, you might see a more convenient way to get to work and hit the town on your weekends.

But on the other side of that equation, people are being pushed out; either directly or indirectly being told, “this place does not belong to you anymore.”

That cool place on 23rd where you buy your legalized weed? It sits at the intersection considered the epicenter of the Seattle Civil Rights Movement, and where Black communities have long been disparately profiled and imprisoned for selling and using weed. The (white-­owned) pot shop there appears to be booming, while across the street, Midtown Center, which houses Black­‐owned small businesses, will be razed, I mean, ahem, “revitalized” for big new fancy-ass buildings. Will these businesses and their customers be able to re‐stake a claim? We’ll see.

Of course it wouldn’t be fair or accurate to place direct blame or burden on you and the industries you support, as you’re caught up in larger forces orchestrated by corporations, developers, philanthropists, and elected officials who OWN EVERYTHING in this town from sports teams to property investment firms to foundations, and have been colluding and planning this “gold rush” for years. You might say you’re just trying to survive and optimize like the rest of us.

I don’t claim to know what exactly the solution is, and obviously inequity is a complex systemic issue with no silver bullet. But we all hold individual responsibility to the places we live and work. On the scale of power and privilege, you are situated on the weighted end, and perhaps there are some things you (and all of us) can do to tip the balance.

To follow my big rant of DON’Ts, here’s some ideas of what we can DO (your suggestions are welcome too):

Shop, eat and buy from minority­‐owned and small businesses. Be mindful of where you consume and how that supports or undermines the existing ecosystem. I’m sure Tom Douglass, Ethan Stowell, and Bezos are doing just fine.

Hold your peers and your employers accountable. Think about how these rapid changes are affecting people and who is on the losing end — and have more conversations within your circles. It’s likely getting an assload of tax breaks, so ask about your company’s corporate social responsibility and giving practices. And there’s been a substantial amount of media attention to the grueling “hi‐skilled” workplace culture, but how does your company treat its warehouse, delivery and blue­‐collar workers?

Give to local organizations doing organizing and advocacy led by those most impacted by these changes — people of color, low‐income/working class, immigrants and refugees, queer and trans: OneAmerica, South Communities Organizing for Racial/Regional Equity, Rainier Valley Corps, Black Lives Matter, Got Green, Lambert House, Seattle Young People’s Project, to name just a few.

Get engaged: civically, socially, politically, etc. Get to know this city’s culture, its people, and its history  — beyond your immediate social strata, your “vertical neighborhood,” and the new fancy bars and restaurants. Appreciate and help us preserve what was already here — including (and especially) the aspects that don’t directly interest or serve you.

Overall, please treat this city and its people with respect, whether you plan to settle here, or view Seattle as a stepping stone to your next career or life move. Be aware of the spaces you are entering, as you would anyone’s home: Gay bars are not your personal bachelorette party, and please refrain from hassling the drag queens when you’re out on Pike & Pine (you WILL get your ass beat). Chinatown/ID is not just a convenient place to have your raging tailgate and throw your empties; people (like my Grandma) live here and depend upon the services, language, and culture only this community can provide. Know that the Black and brown kids walking down the street and in front your townhouse were here before you were. You are encroaching in their neighborhoods, not the other way around.

Now that you’re here in the 206: will you be the weeds, or will you be the fertilizer?

Xoxo,

Cynthia from Seattle

PS: This letter was inspired by The Stranger’s “Welcome to Seattle” issue.

 

For more art from Louie Gong, check out www.eighthgeneration.com

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41 Comments

  1. It was a chore to get through this rant – in fact, I scanned most of it, till the “Do’s”. Start with those, and fold in the history along the way. Spanking people is a poor tactic to get a fair hearing.

  2. I think this article (and a lot of others) blame the wrong people. The local government allows rent hikes and issues new building permits. Yes, this is due in part to new white-collar workers, but they’re not the ones making these decisions.

    If you want fewer tech transplants, support local schools (including the poor ones) and push education in tech/medical fields. Seattle will never be the low-tech, backwater it once was. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a culturally diverse and inclusive city that I know.

    If you want transplants to be a part of this city and support the local culture, stop telling them they don’t belong and start telling them about all of the wonderful culture around them and how to support it.

    1. “start telling them about all of the wonderful culture around them and how to support it.”

      That’s what she did. Read the whole article.

    2. Seriously man? Of course that means it can’t remain diverse. The core of diversity is access. When rents get raised to the point that only the extremely privileged can afford it, access becomes blocked, which means no more diversity. Duh. I’m getting pretty tired of seeing self-righteous, self-justifying newbies bitch about the “nerve” of Seattleites who’ve been displaced from their homes, jobs and communities “daring” to complain about it. It’s a black and white issue. Our homes have been appropriated. Stolen by others. Not only others, but people who seem to have no interest in acclimating to the culture here. You don’t move to a new town and tell it to be different to fit your own personal preferences. That’s the attitude of an arrogant douche bag. Not only that, but moving to an LGBTQ, artistic neighborhood with completely disrespectful and violent tendencies toward the people who live there is totally unacceptable. Of course we hate you. Of course you get the cold shoulder. It IS actually acceptable for people to hold intellectual standards as a sort of price of admission for their approval, even if – gasp! – they DARE to disapprove of you in all your yuppie asshole glory. Because jeez, I mean, everyone owes it to you to approve of you, right? You’re the fuckin best, right bro? There’s NOTHING you don’t know or understand. How dare they? It’s as if the people who’re perpetrating this shitty behavior, of not recognizing the obvious plight of displaced Seattleites, are literally incapable of comprehending their predicament or the suffering and injustice that’s been caused. LGBTQ, artists, musicians, outsiders, etc, are by their nature a very vulnerable, marginalized part of society. And you fuckers barged into their safe haven, drawn to their light, and proceed to stomp all over their neighborhood and lives, appropriating the culture they’ve built while bullying, assaulting and displacing them. But god why are they so grumpy? I’ve got money. They should be grateful. Their livelihoods and homes aren’t important. Only MEEEE. The privileged always are, by definition, extremely ignorant of what it’s like to be anything other than a privileged mother fucker like themselves.

      1. The cadence of your post hypocritically exhibits the very ignorance, rudeness, and disrespect you condemn. To engage in a substantive and productive conversation, you should consider avoiding discreditingly vulgar and emotional rants. Seattlites ought to lead by example and welcome new Seattlites with respect and open arms. Gentrification is a complex, very real issue that must be acted upon, but I don’t think your outlook on and reaction to the changes in our city are productive to the conversation.

        1. Elliot – by your very reply, you are demonstration exactly what K is talking about. Why does K have to sanitize what K says to suit your idea of what you want and think is proper. The Capital Hill area was a defined neighborhood of independent thinkers and doers that could go there and express themselves without criticism and disdain. So before you start with you critiques of another’s lifestyle, do a little research so you don’t sound like such an entitled little turd.

  3. I wonder what “awful” suburban hell hole Cynthia decided to gentrify Seattle from. What is with these white women who act like they are down with the cause they seriously think we need them to advocate for us and frankly they don’t. Its about them making themselves look good at our expense.

  4. Nope nope nope. This article is not a HSPofCS. Diversity IS being displaced. Income inequality IS on the rise. Funky landmarks ARE being razed to make way for even more hip shit. Perhaps I would editorially agree that the better tactic is generally to lead this sort of critique with the “Do’s” but the rest is pretty much as I also see it. Grew up in Seattle. In no way able to afford it now. . .

    1. And frankly, at what magical moment in time does one bemoan change? After the last “big one”? After contact? After deforestation? After the regrade was done? After the flu epidemic? After the Wobblies raised hell? After the World’s Fair? Beatles invasion? Founding of Seafirst? Kingdome implosion? Super bowl win?

  5. White people complaining about the lack of diversity in Seattle. Thanks for the giggle. Move to Bellevue then, far more diverse than Seattle and increasingly so.

    “Cynthia Brothers is a nonprofit consultant”

    Wait, that’s a thing?

  6. Brilliant–Bravo; if you can afford to roll your eyes at something so true-you’re clearly benefiting from the destruction of our city. Please, we welcome to go back to wherever you came from if you’re feelings are so hurt that you don’t fit in..Finally someone gives true voice to what we’ve been putting up with for way too long.

    1. Born here. Black and Latino. Rolled my eyes just as hard.

      The fact is, white hipsters who think they’re honorary [insert race here] have been running Seattle for FAR longer than tech transplants. Yes there’s an undercurrent of truth to what she’s saying, but nobody needs rescuing or protection from the opinions of out of towners, or this bs condescending approach (you really expect to insult people then turn around and be like “hey lets ask work together, you’re opinions are important to me too!”

      You are painting a bunch of people with the same brush the way you don’t want them to do. How about just- those that care about Seattle, do something about it, those that don’t, don’t. If you like Seattle great, if you don’t, that’s fine too. We’ll all be ok either way, and the gentrification that started before you got here would still be going on either way. The hipsters doing all thurs complaining were fine when they were the ones ruining things, but now that it’s people from a social group THEY don’t like, all of a sudden it’s a problem lol.

  7. I hate nativism in all its forms. This is ridiculous – I shouldn’t have to live how you want me to live to move for an opportunity within my own country of birth. Pretending that gay bashing is caused by “tech bros” [which the article implies that it is] is absolutely absurd.

    Yknow, if you don’t want people to move to your city, start a revolution and secede from the United States. Your nativist views are profoundly anti-American.

  8. …and what if, like myself, you’re both a white-collar transplant AND one of those minorities she’s trying to “preserve”? Is there a woman-splain for that one?

    1. Duh – there aren’t any gay or black tech workers. Gays are only allowed to work at gay bars and tattoo parlors and blacks are only allowed to work in stereotypically black industries like hair and foodservice. Every problem Seattle has ever seen has been caused by a white, homophobic, “brogrammer” who moved here from a terrible place like Brooklyn in New York or The Castro in San Francisco.

  9. Rent rising because of greedy landlords? Sometimes, but really, how about, renters, “stop voting for every single property tax that comes your way”?? Think the landlord is gonna absorb that cost every year?

    Uninformed voters are putting themselves out of a place to live, then whine to the Stranger about how fucking expensive Seattle is.

  10. “and every $100 per month rent hike increases the homeless population by 15 percent” – is there a second source to verify that statement?

    1. It’s absolutely true. The rent increases are due to wealthier people moving into the neighborhoods. They in turn leave more well stuffed wallets, purses and brand new Apple products in their cars. Homeless people come and steal them to buy heroin and set up camp in nearby green belts. I think the author was unclear in not specifying that homelessness isn’t being driven by displacement, but by wealth attracting those living a parasitic lifestyle.

  11. This could have been a great essay about the changing city, as Seattle keeps apace with the modern global economy. Aiming the rants at a specific group of individuals (“white-collar transplants”) is not classy, and distracts from some otherwise interesting ideas. Needs a little more meat, and a lot less self-righteous advice. In my humble opinion.

  12. What is it with white women being some of the most racist idiots out there while trying to speak for every other minority that just wants them to shut the hell up?

    1. So, Mike, I’m curious…I’m a white woman and although I wouldn’t write this type of article, I frequently wish I could do something more to support and represent minority groups that I am clearly not a part of. You say you wish white women would just “shut the hell up.” I know you don’t care if my preciously little white girl feelings were hurt, but I’m asking you, really, how do we engage? I don’t agree with the tone of the author’s letter, but I do think she was trying to do something good and encourage people to engage in their community. I moved to Seattle from Oakland 16 years ago. I remember going downtown and thinking how clean the streets were and how annoyingly translucent everyone was. Now, I’m used to everyone in my neighborhood being white and the throngs of minorities living outside the courthouse where I work. Maybe I haven’t been around long enough to see the big picture, or maybe it’s just not my picture to see, but it’s depressing as hell to go to work everyday and see the struggle, and see how disparately that struggle impacts minorities. No, I’m not living that struggle, but do you want everyone who can’t totally identify with your experience to shut the hell up? Seems like a bad strategy to me.

  13. Wow. This article. First of all, awkward thanks to the author, Cynthia, because it really prompted me to think about my role in this city as a recent white collar transplant who is also a Person of Color. I totally agree that ANYONE who moves ANYWHERE should make some effort into contributing to a sense of community. I am also trying to appreciate the messy attempt to give a nod to the value of honoring diversity. But the overall tone is just BITCHY, which cancels out most of the good this article could have done. Know what I mean? Maybe if the title that more accurately described the target of the article? Instead of “An open letter to white-collar Seattle transplants” maybe “An open letter to ignorant, privileged, clueless classists who make minimal effort to enhance the community.” I consider myself a white collar worker. I’m a psychologist. A broke psychologist who is trying to start a private practice and lives off of my well-earned unemployment benefits, baby and dog sitting skills, and my online stationery shop. Despite my broke ass, I try to donate to animal rescue and am offering pro bono support groups to college students of color. I try to patronize small businesses even though this is sometimes more expensive than doing my shopping at Walmart or Fred Meyer. I moved to Seattle not for tech or for dreams of glory, but because I have family here and I love the Pacific Northwest in all its raw natural beauty. As a Person of Color I am highly invested in highlighting the city’s diversity and enriching it by being one of those “minority-owned” businesses (www.sophiarathphd.com). I guess what I’m trying to say is that as a transplant, I ask native Seattleites not to place me in the same category as those useless bits of fluff highlighted in this article and to get to know me before jumping down my throat. End rant and have a wonderful week, neighbors!

  14. While singling out the white collar transplants to blame for Seattle’s troubles is incorrect, in my opinion, as the issue is much bigger than that, the transformation of the city that the author describes is a major reason my husband and I have just moved to a rural part of Washington State.

    My husband has health issues that leave him unable to work much of the time, and making ends meet on my non-profit worker’s salary (even when supplemented by some freelance income) became really tough when our rent went up nearly 30% over the course of one year.

    Add to this worsening traffic, ongoing construction and road work that made it virtually impossible to get into and out of our neighborhood during rush hour and on many weekends, and the disappearance of cozy historic homes surrounded by greenery that gave way to the generic gray facades of contemporary townhouses and apartments, and we knew it was time for us to move to a smaller, greener, quieter location with easier access to the outdoors – the exact same things we looked for, and found, in Seattle when we moved there 9.5 years ago, and that are no longer there.

    I continue to work remotely for Neighborhood House, a Seattle and South King County based nonprofit that enables low-income local residents to achieve their goals for self-sufficiency, education, and health. I hope that my contribution plays a small part in making the lives of those who do want to live in and around Seattle on limited incomes less of a struggle. As for myself, this city is no longer the right place for me.

  15. Ridiculous. I think the Millenial who published this article needs to get out more. Every city, everywhere, is changing. It’s the way of the world, not just Seattle. The best way to manage change is to have a competent state/local government. The officials here are so completely left sided they are making a mess of things. I have never witnessed a such a terrible State government and the local government is incompetent.
    I have found the “transplants” here to be MUCH more polite, and well mannered than the natives. Pacific Northwesterners seem a bit grumpy to me. Take a shower and stop drinking so much.

  16. You have some thought provoking things to say, but your tone turns people off. You come across self righteous and PC. Therefore you preach only to the choir.
    Gentrification. Everyone me included bemoans it. But no one has a practical solution to stop it. The Central District will keep changing because it is close to downtown. Therefore , because downtown and SUL offices and services are hiring > people housing in CD is now in demand. Lesser supply + greater demand = increased vale = gentrification. Or do u think that the murder of 2 business owners at 23rd & Union in the last 5 years is cool?
    I like your “Dos,” but again your tone is a turn off. But I especially like your invitation to the techies to show concern for working conditions of the low wage non-techie employees of Amazon, etc.
    Hey, everyone posting on this board: Please using paragraph spacing and indents. Long unparagraphed posts are a turn off, b/c they are hard to read.

    1. Woops. Paragraphing is supported in these Replies. But indenting is not.
      Hey moderator can u tweak your software to allow indenting?

  17. There are native Seattleites who are also professionals and/or people of color who are welcoming of new Seattle residents. This doesn’t mean we aren’t sensitive to all of the other concerns that come along with growing pains. We need to find a solution together, but any one group shouldn’t be completely responsible or blamed.

    I was once a transplant in NYC and DC and enjoyed my life in those areas during those years. I am embarrassed to think that Seattleites would treat other Americans in an unwelcome way. Sure there are situations where others ruin it for all, but let’s not contribute to that further. Because of this article, and this ongoing concern, I created a new FB member group and mashup for informal, friendly gatherings in the Seattle area for new Seattle residents to get to know Seattle. Please check it out and consider becoming a member: http://www.meetup.com/New-to-Seattle-Mashup-Meetup-for-Professionals

  18. This “open letter” is rude and obnoxious. I’ve lived here for the last 51 of my 64 years, and I’ve actually lived through the changes in the nieghborhoods that you, Cynthia, claim to know so much about. Frankly, this “open letter” reeks of the pretentiousness and smug superiority that you are acusing others of.
    Get off your high horse, Cynthia. You don’t speak for the average Seattlite.

  19. Tgis was a good read. One word of warning- although- bicycle *advocates* are disproportionately white collar hispters having fun, studies are consistently showing that 40%-60% of urban bicycle *riders* are too poor to own cars and that bike infrastructure is most needed in low income areas.

  20. I enjoyed this “open letter”. Come on folks, those of you who had the hairs on the back of your neck standing up – please, re-read the”open letter” with an “open mind” & “open heart”; it’s really simple, it all about RESPECT…respecting other people, the surroundings, the culture, the history…etc.

  21. Wow, based on the responses the level of introspection represented over all is about nil.

    What I see is a lot of hostile defensivness. I am not a “native Seattlite” I think I will leave that moniker for the indigenious people who were the first group of non whites gentrified out of the city.

    But I have lived in Western Washington since second grade. I moved here from Tacoma at age 18 worked as a shop girl downtown, and lived in 1200 sq ft a turn of the century apartment with a view of the Puget Sound a fireplace. I did not make too much more than minimum wage and my rent was an astronomical 400.00 a month including utilities. Some 30 plus years later I have a Masters degree (in a humans services field)I am married and God help us once our fourplex in West Seattle gets bought up by a developer, because there isn’t anything even with two moderate incomes we can afford.

    I love this city I used to cry when I had to leave because I hated leaving. Rolling Stone Magazine once described Seattle as the sort of place where at 3:00 AM without traffic comming in either direction people waited for the light to change. That could be read a as slur. but I think it described how polite, and generally committed to a social contract people from here used to be. Nowadays I no longer turn on my blinker because more than 50% of the time this will mean the people in the next lane will deliberately try to block my merge.

    It is really really hard for those of us who have lived here a long time to experience the cultural norms that newcomers have brought with them, or see things like the Harvard Exit theater close or see whole blocks of our neighborhoods being torn down and replaced with chain stores because small bussiness can no longer afford the rent. And yes this is because so many people are moving here, and because far too many of the people who do move here don’t pause and think about their impact on the communities they are entering.

    It is hard for me as an Asian person to see the International District and Beacon Hill struggling against losing their idenity because of the huge influx of newcomers with more money and no understanding of how racism works or how the history of defacto segregation created “ethinc” neighbhorhoods. People who don’t understand why a whole string of bars with single name monikers catering to a exclusively white clientele displaces generations of people who created community and home despite their lack of welcome in the rest of Seattle. Because of you did really understand all that history then you would understand the pain of watching a place disapear where your color, the slant of your eyes your accent, the food you eat and your cultural norms are well normal, and therefore safe.
    If you understand the history of race in America you also understand that displacment of communities of color and the subsequent enrichment of white communities through that displacement is constant throughout our history, from the “founding period” to the present.
    No one is asking you take the blame for 250 plus years , but you do have a reponsibility to be a disrupter of a pretty bleak historical narrative.

  22. Seattle was trashed long before people started getting fancy jobs. Regressive tax structure. Laisse faire zoning and free-for-all development. A lack of civic engagement in historical preservation of key cultural areas.

    Even the cultrual ethos of Grunge, arguably Seattle’s only worthwhile achievement, was a resoundingly apathetic “whatever” that defined my generation’s attitude.

    Also: If you don’t like what is happening here, you could move somewhere else, instead of presuming that you’re somehow entitled to a static environment cast in the image of your own comfort. Man, I wish that existed, I’d sign up — but it doesn’t. So, I moved here because I could make some money.

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