I recently moved to the Central District in Seattle. From talking to people, it seems like the CD is where people my age move to if they can’t afford Capitol Hill. I am getting to know my neighborhood. Assessing safe paths to walk at night, figuring out my favorite Ethiopian restaurant, (I have counted at least fifteen so far during daily walks) becoming acquainted with my local coffee shop.
Capitol Hill is where I have always wanted to live. I grew up 45 minutes north of Seattle, and would venture to the hill all the time as a teenager. Before we were of age, we would cruise around Seattle, going to our favorite burrito spot to check out the cute boys, giggle in the sex shops, and try to feel sophisticated at all the boutiques when we went shopping. I feel safe on the hill. I always assumed that this is because I was most familiar with the area and had a strong sense of nostalgia for it. While this may be partly true, I also think that the safety sprung from the lack of challenge. The lack of cultural and class divide. The hill is amazing in terms of its arts and music scene (why I principally wanted to move to Seattle in the first place) But it’s an expensive place to live. It wasn’t always that way, and a lot of people are angry at how gentrified/yuppified it has become in the last few years. You can see the stark divide at Cal Anderson park, where well dressed hipsters sun themselves on the grass, while a homeless person begs for change a few feet away. The Central District has become increasingly gentrified in the last few years. With economic turmoil, it’s hardly uncommon for lower class (and often people of color) to be pushed out the outskirts of the city. As the city becomes more expensive, the trend of hip, urban white folks wanting to live outside the city in the cheaper areas is now quite common. In his article, “Gentrification, Integration or Displacement,” Seattle University law professor Henry W. McGee, Jr, (and CD resident) notes that “In 1990, there were nearly three times as many black as white residents in the area, but by 2000, the number of white residents surpassed the number of blacks for the first time in 30 years.”
Despite the startling figures showing gentrification, my mind is still blown daily by all the color around me. It’s funny that it is surprising when I see a white person waiting for the bus with me. I have always grown up in a white community, roughly comprised of the same class and political tendencies.
My mom visited my house for the first time the other day, and I brought up all the new emotions that I was experiencing in not living in a predominately white community for the first time in my life. Eating lunch with her, I wondered if she had any guilt in raising me in a white community all of my life. I don’t ever want my parents to feel that way. They worked hard in teaching me about my own heritage and expanded my views on the world around me. I do think I have a little bit of internalized hostility towards my chosen community sometimes. It’s lonely never feeling like you are reflected in anything around you. But I do carry a tremendous amount of privilege. Moving to the Central District has made me more aware of this. While I may “bond” with other people of color around me in some experiences of racism, our experiences are not the same In the way I dress and speak alone, I represent some aspects of dominant, middle class educated white culture.
“The story of the black gentrifier, at least from this black gentrifier’s perspective, is often a story about being simultaneously invisible and self-conscious.”
I recently read a fascinating article entitled “Confessions of a Black Gentrifier” by Shani O. Hilton. I moved to the CD, not because I knew anything of the rich history of the neighborhood, or I specifically wanted to live with more people of color, but because of the proximity to Capitol hill, and the cheap rent. Am I guilty of gentrification, even though I am not white? I think the answer is yes. Obviously gentrification gets overly simplified. These days, it seems the hip discourse in your favorite bar are guilty conversations about white professionals and hipsters taking over poorer areas.
In the discussion of the complexities of gentrification, I liked the article’s suggestion that“Perhaps because just as “black people” is a proxy term for poor people in D.C., “white people” is a proxy term for the young professionals who have moved in—and neither term is being accurately used.” D.C. and Seattle are very different areas with different economics, but I don’t think this musing should be dismissed. Not everybody poor is black. This seems like a duh statement, but in terms of what we process everyday through the media and our own racist, involuntary thoughts, I think this is important to remember. In analyzing my own upbringing, my education and class has given me a tremendous amount of privilege. Part of being privileged means being able to pass in different circumstances. Pass, meaning able to blend in, or be treated better. I have been treated poorly by ignorant cops before, but my clothing and the way I articulate myself has also given me leniency in past legal situations. Hilton writes that “Newcomers to D.C. of any race tend to arrive for the same kind of high-powered jobs, the kind of jobs you can’t get without education and social capital. The people who are already struggling to find work when newcomers get here, though, are likely to be black….The gentrifier is a person of privilege, and even if she doesn’t have much money, she’s got an education and a network of friends who are striving like she is, and she has the resources to at least try to get what she wants.”
Living in Seattle has been really good for me, it’s challenging and pushes me think about what makes me uncomfortable. Living in a small town, where it seemed like I knew everyone, I probably didn’t always make the right choices when it came to personal safety. For the most part, I felt safe in walking home alone at night. I cut through alleys and didn’t think about whether the street I was walking on was well lit, or heavily trafficked. In moving to Seattle, I have been trying to figure out my own boundaries and feelings of safety.
At the same time, I have been thinking about what fears are valid. What intuitive feelings are worthwhile to take note off, and what unease is guided by ignorant, irrational notions about class, race, and aesthetic differences from my own?
When I first moved into my neighborhood, I had no job yet, and my friends lived in different areas of Seattle. It seemed like I had an endless amount of time so I went on a lot of long walks around the Central District and Capitol Hill. It felt like I was hollered at on the streets of my new area more than anywhere else in Seattle or Bellingham. When I made eye contact with someone else, where a smile was involuntarily given, I was met with “How you doing, girl? You’re beautiful, you know that?” Really though. Wouldn’t a simple, “hello,” do? I resented that I couldn’t walk to the grocery store without a car full of dudes yelling at me. I felt angry that I would tense up every time a guy would be walking toward me on the sidewalk. It was not that I was concerned about violence against me, I just hated feeling that I couldn’t walk anywhere without unwanted attention being drawn to me. I also felt guilty in my emotional responses. After all, my feelings of unease were not from real danger. First world problems. Not even first world problems. Middle- upper class, white girl problems. I questioned my defensive reactions and had a lot of conversations with friends about it. One friend pointed out that It shouldn’t matter if I was really unsafe or not, I should not have to put up with anyone making me feel uncomfortable. Of course, I agree with this, but at the same time I have been thinking about greetings and vernacular and how they differentiate between different groups of people. Is it possible that I misconstrued some street interactions and salutations as hostile and sexually aggressive? Am I being overly sensitive? What it comes down to is the balance of power, and the perception of power. I think what often bothers me about men talking to me on the streets is my feelings of vulnerability. When I am walking to the bus after work at 1 am on an empty street, if a man tries to saddle up to me and say hi, I am going to act defensively. It’s necessary. Is my intuitive clamming up response always right? Maybe everyone who greets me is just being friendly, and I am over thinking everything and being rude in not wanting to interact back. Still, I resent that I cannot occupy public spaces without feeling obliged to please someone else. Just let me walk to the fucking grocery store.
I realize that I tend to analyze everything to death (gimme a break, I am a political science theory major) but I really am interested in other women’s experiences with street harassment. How do you balance intuition with irrational thinking?
- Anjk, originally from Girlfriend Junction
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