CHOP (The Artist formerly known as CHAZ) & Being Black in the Pacific Northwest

CHAZ, of course, is not a person but an acronym for the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, an area in Seattle that has made headlines for evacuating the East Precinct of Seattle's police department within a six-block stretch in the city, where protesters are able to organize freely and without police interference. In efforts to better represent their purpose, protesters have renamed the zone CHOP (Capitol Hill Organized Protest).

Within a week, this six block zone grew into a mecca for peaceful protest, art murals in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, free political speech, co-ops, and a safe haven for Seattle's house-less community,

I had the divine opportunity to be in Washington last week for work, my first time returning since moving earlier this year. Most of my time during this trip was consumed by work obligations (no complaints), but before heading home I was able to spend my last day in and around Cap Hill with friends, both new and old. Luckily, I traveled with my camera and was able to capture some really beautiful memories and images of an experience that I will never forget (sharing a few of them here.) However, as powerful as it was to see history being made, I couldn't help but have several conflicting thoughts & feelings around my experiences of living and working as black woman in this city. On the surface, Seattle is a liberal, progressive, technology driven, young, hip city that's rapidly growing and diversifying. Beneath the surface, there's a long history of passive and systemic racism.

In full transparency, I had no clue this was even occurring in Seattle. In the name of self preservation, I've drastically limited time spent on media outlets (social media being at the top of that list.) Shortly after learning of CHAZ/CHOP's existence, I began noticing certain outlets portraying the city of Seattle as a war zone without the boys in blue there to keep the peace... when that couldn't have been farther from the truth (by "outlets" I'm referring to the deceitful, racist, illiterate hillbilly bitches down at FOX News). In contrast, I also noticed people making attempts to minimize the peaceful protests and compare CHAZ to Coachella, which I found to be insensitive to everyone who prayed, marched, cried, screamed, was hit with rubber bullets or sprayed with tear gas, arrested, and/or tased behind advocating for the protection & preservation of black lives and communities. Efforts of The King County Equity Now Coalition are calling for the redistribution of $180 million from Seattle Police Department's budget to invest a minimum of $50 million from the budget into the Black community, in addition to demands to end all contracts between Seattle PD and Seattle Public Schools as well as dropping charges for ALL protesters arrested for protesting.

(Sidenote: do I need to point out that Coachella is a music festival? There's nothing fun and fancy free about Black people being literally murdered in the streets with no reprocussions for the terrorists that commit these crimes. READ THE FUCKING ROOM.)

If you know me personally, you know I have a love/hate relationship with Seattle. My time there was challenging, to say the least. Though challenges are catalysts for growth and I'm grateful for the many experiences & people I've met during my bid there... if I'm keeping it real, being black in Seattle (in AmeriKKKa, period) is draining as fuck. Seattle prides itself on being liberal and progressive, but far too often (mainly in work or creative spaces), I was consistently

  • a) the only black person (or one of a handful) in the room or

  • b) I was constantly around people who rarely interact with black people, thus aren't in the habit of having black people check them or their racist ass family members for biased behavior, speech, and actions.

I have worked in a variety of unique environments in metro Seattle, both a small business owner/freelance artist as well as someone who held management and brand rep roles for global brands like Tom Ford Cosmetics, Nordstrom, and Farmacy Beauty. In any given work function, meeting, or booking, I was usually the only black woman there, even while working with other freelance brands & companies with large teams. Though I am aware that lack of diversity in work spaces and in leadership roles is a worldwide issue, I mention it here because Black people only account for about 4% of Washington's population.

That being the case, I could go on and on with very specific examples about the bullshit I encountered on a frequent basis in a city that lacks representation, But I won't. I'll sum it up by saying it's high time to talk with White people in the Pacific Northwest who think because they live in a progressive state and don't say the N-word , they are exempt from taking a step back to examine their passively racist behavior and blatant micro aggressions. It's time to address the white or white-passing non-black POC artists, creatives, and influencers, who until recently, had no history or interest in engaging with and showing support to black creatives and black businesses, let alone properly compensating Black artists for their art, ideas and contributions to culture.

It's time to address the bi-racial and multiracial community of POCs in Seattle that have designated themselves as the voice of the black experience, even if they grew up in suburban white communities that weren't effected by systemic racism and/or those who grew up knowing next to nothing about black culture because they were primarily raised by their white mothers, as opposed to their black relatives (that's no shade to the mixed community. But let's call a spade a spade.) It has been disheartening to see so many bi-racial sisters who never claimed or celebrated being half or a quarter black, until it became trendy to do so. Being half black or a quarter black isn't a full scope of the Black experience, considering issues such as colorism and the privilege of being closer to Euro-centric standards of beauty that have been imposed on the black community (namely black women) since day one. I encourage our multi-racial POC brothers and sisters to use this experience as an opportunity to play their positions as listeners/observers instead of trying to lead conversations where they have limited experience. Let's be all the way clear on something real quick:

The black experience is not one size fits all, and being a person of color isn't interchangeable with being Black.

I don't mention these things to negate the devastatingly grueling work and support of tens of thousands of supportive allies in Washington & the Pacific Northwest. I am proud to know so many genuine and well intended individuals that fully understand why the Black Lives Matter movement is so vital to the survival of this country. I deeply appreciate allies that are actively listening to black people share their stories, and are committed to examining their own behavior while using their privilege to speak up and challenge the racist actions of others, without projecting white guilt and/or foolishly pushing the "all lives matter" agenda (I would say check on your ALM family and friends, but I’d be lying to even remotely imply that I give a fuck about this particular demographic of people. FUCK 'EM).

All things considered, I am beyond grateful that the stars aligned for me to be in city that has contributed to my growth in so many ways during such a historic time. I am also beyond grateful for the opportunity to re-connect with my friends, acquaintances, and clients in the Seattle area. For everyone who stands in collective solidarity against racism, colorism, micro aggressions, intolerance of LGBTQI+ rights (with heavy emphasis on protecting the lives of black trans women), and any other systems in place to keep black people and other marginalized groups at a disadvantage, let’s continue to keep our foots pressed firmly against these racists' necks.

In an attempt to be self aware, I understand this message may not resonate with everyone (and that’s okay).

However, for anyone who has an issue with these sentiments, I can’t locate a fuck to give. Respectfully.

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