It’s Not Intentional (And Thats the Problem!)

“…A chorus of summer herbs

Of mangoes and bar-b-que

Of perfumed sisters

Hip strutting past

Fried fish joints

On Lenox Avenue in steamy August

A carnival of children

People in the daytime streets

Ring-a-levio warriors

Stickball heroes

Hide-and-seek knights and ladies

Waiting to sing their own sweet songs

Living out their own slam-dunk dreams


For the coming of the blues…” (Myers)

”No part of the property hereby platted, shall be used for trade, manufacture or business purposes of any kind, but shall be used for residential purposes only by white person…” Broadview, Seattle

During the majority of the 20th Century, Black-Americans were actively barred from living in white neighborhoods across the United States.  This led to the segregation of Black-Americans into mostly black ghettos in many urban cities, including or very own “politically correct, passive aggressive” Seattle which had restrictive covenants barring blacks and other minority groups from living in over 416 white neighborhoods around the Seattle Area.

Seattle’s discriminatory covenants and other private acts of discrimination prevented Black-Americans from living outside of the Central District in the 1920’s and by the 1940’s, the city’s black population grew rapidly due to Black-Americans migrating to the Seattle to work in the growing defense industries. Discrimination from employers, however, limited the economic opportunities for Seattle’s black community. The growth of the black population coupled with the restrictions on where Black-Americans could live led to overcrowding in the Central District.  By the 1960’s the black community increased from 1 percent to 4.8 percent of which almost 80% of this population lived in the Central District.

Black Americans and other minority groups occupied some of the oldest parts of the city. By the 1950s and 1960s, the housing stock in the Central District was beginning to decline and property values fell. Low rates of ownership and redlining from banks prevented neighborhood residents from rehabilitating their homes. Continuously White-Americans and jobs continued to move out of the city and discrimination prevented people of color from seeking higher quality housing outside of these neighborhoods.  “Hypersegregation” (Denton and Massey, 1992) created by this isolation of minority groups further enhanced the disparities between of the members of these minority communities and their white counter parts. 

Awww, the Central District, home to: Cat Fish Corner, Eizel’s Chicken,  Langston Hues Cultural Center, The Black Community Festival, beauty Supply, hair shops and Barbers.  Local activists in Seattle were inspired to join the Civil Rights Movement and while it was more subtle than in Southern cities, many African-Americans believed that it “differed only in intensity” (Taylor, 1994.)  The issue was (and still is) that whites were isolated from minority communities and indifferent to their concerns.  Historian Roger Sale said about Seattle that “The deepest of our racial sins is ignorance. In the south, where whites and blacks have lived, however badly, for generations, that ignorance turned out to be shallower than in many parts of the north; in Seattle the ignorance runs deep. People here were uninterested in the Chinese in the 1880s, in the Japanese in the 1940s, in the blacks in the 1960’s.” The problem with gentrification is re-awakening the consciousness of the white community and uncovering the even more subtle attitudes towards gentrification in regards to “pushing out” these communities which promotes inequity as well.

“…any house building or improvement thereon erected shall at any time be occupied by persons of the Ethiopian race or by Japanese or Chinese or any other Malay or Asiatic race…” Greenwood, Seattle

Republican Governor Daniel J. Evans encouraged residents in Seattle to support fair housing by stating that: “ I think all citizens of this state must search their own background to recognize that people ought to be able to live where economics and where their desires would put them” (1967)  After hundreds of years of economic oppression and discrimination, I’m confused how this was going to disrupt racial settlement patterns.  I watched a show once that was speaking to the women’s movement and a commentator said “When you oppress a group of people for an extended period of time and then you take the oppressor out of the equation, the oppressed group will continue to oppress themselves.” 

Segregation is not simply the separation of whites from minorities but it also involves the results of the policies that promote segregation such as economic segregation in zoning, segregation of public housing, and individual preferences and prejudices that have a residual effect on future outcomes on these communities. This means that some minorities must settle for lower quality housing than whites. Since school assignments are geographically based, discrimination also limits parents’ choices of schools for their children. In the absence of busing and extensive school choice programs, housing segregation contributes to school segregation. Discrimination by lenders and insurance agents limits opportunities to own homes. This reduces the amount of capital minority families can accumulate from real estate investments.  Continued segregation indicates that minorities are still experiencing discrimination in housing markets whether intentional or not.

“That no part of said premises shall ever be used or occupied by or sold conveyed, leased, rented, or given to negroes or any person or persons of negro blood…” Capitol Hill, Seattle

Where you live will determine your access to opportunity. Your address will determine your access to good schools, jobs grocery stores, parks and other amenities. While the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s allowed minorities to live in previously white-only communities, many of the job opportunities moved away from the cities living the in cities around the country without viable options for good jobs, schools and other public amenities.  Recently, as our nation moves from a production economy to an agglomeration of information and services jobs, there has been a movement back into the inner-cities. The demand for housing around city centers has increased and gentrification to these previous blighted communities is the reproduction. 

Out of this:  “No person other than one of the Caucasian race shall be permitted to occupy any portion of any lot in said plat or any building thereon except a domestic servant…”  Beacon Hill, Seattle

Came this:

“…A huddle of horns

And a tinkle of glass

A note

Handed down from Marcus to Malcolm

To a brother

Too bad and too cool to give his name.

Sometimes despair

Makes the stoops shudder

Sometimes there are endless depths of pain

Singing a capella on street corner

And sometimes not…”

It’s socially irresponsible to preserve a building in the name of “Historic Preservation” but not the community and it’s cultural imprint. It is indicative of this countries value system that continues to have a “quantity verses quality” sentiment.  The topic of gentrification doesn’t frustrate me. It makes me red-hot mad!  I was born in raised in Seattle’s rainier valley area.  I agree that gentrification is not an issue of race but an issue of economics, however, when you have a history of institutionalized racism and hypersegragation for almost two centuries, is there really a difference? Previous policies about segregation such as covenants in land deeds barring minorities from white communities, redlining and discrimination have affected past and future practices that are exclusionary and don’t even need to be intentional at this point.  The economic disparities created from years of racism and oppression are institutionalized and self-sustaining, no conspiracy theory needed.   

Today many will argue that gentrification is not about race but economics.  And isn’t it completely convenient to fail to acknowledge that economic disparities in this country are correlated to race and continue to bar these same minorities groups from these gentrifying neighborhoods?  I’d like to argue that the historical context in which these inner-city communities have fought to become “a community” through the civil rights movement has added value and created a culture lead to ownership and pride of these communities.  This ownership will not exist if these communities are once again relocated away from prosperity and opportunity.  Part of responsible gentrification is recognizing the value of these communities preserving the culture that defines these communities with the same vigor that we preserve the historic buildings in these communities.  The availability of affordable housing in neighborhoods with rich opportunity is the next battle ground for Black American’s and other minorities groups in Seattle and other gentrifying American cities. 




Memories of feelings

Of place

A journey on the A train

That started on the banks of the Niger

And has not ended”


(Harlem: A Poem

By Walter Dean Myers)


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