I’m tired of having to remind people that I’m black but I’m a person, and that my life matters, too.
I write with a feeling of tightness in my chest I can’t quite explain or articulate, though it’s something many of us in the Central District’s remaining black community have felt.
It’s interesting to watch your neighborhood change. I’ve lived in the CD most of my life. In my mid-20s, I moved to nearby Leschi to raise my family. I’ve watched Seattle gentrify, and I’ve felt it, too. When I was growing up, my father was one of just a few white people on our street — all in interracial marriages with mixed, black children. I never thought twice about it, except to appreciate that my neighborhood was filled with people who looked like me. People came to the CD for Catfish Corner, Ezell’s, East African food, a good barber. They came for Madrona and St. Therese schools. They came for church with gospel music, or to visit their childhood homes, their parents and other family. The CD, which stretches across the back side of Capitol Hill toward Lake Washington and from East Madison Street to Interstate 90, was rich in culture, diversity and history. People of all races lived together, proudly.
Today, it’s different. I’m raising my family here, but sometimes it’s hard to feel at home.
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Recently, I had an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. I stopped my car temporarily on 31st Avenue across from Leschi Elementary to answer a work-related message. I looked up and saw an SUV in the street blocking my car. I gestured to the driver, confused. I wasn’t blocking her driveway and there was room in front and behind my car for her to park. The driver left her car idling in the middle of the street and approached my window.
“Am I in your way? What’s going on?” I asked.
“Yes, you are. I live here.”
“I thought this was a public street? I could be waiting for my child.”
“Well, I have children, too. And I pay a shit ton of money to live here. You need to leave.”
I was shaken. I, too, live in this neighborhood. I lived on this very street. I learned to ride a bike here. My daughter plays at this playground. And yet, because I was a black woman, the other driver assumed I didn’t belong, and ordered me to leave.
I told her I didn’t want to argue, that her tone was uncalled for and disrespectful. I told her that, had I been “someone else,” she wouldn’t have approached my car angrily or asked me to leave. When she argued, I pointed out that she had left two young children in a car that was still running, in the middle of the street, and that I could not drive away until she moved it. “I’m sorry for cussing,” she said. “But I pay a lot of money to live here, and I just want you to move your car.”
She moved her car. I drove a few car-lengths away, pulled over, and broke down.
I’m a woman, a business owner, a voter and a mother. I, too, pay to live in the neighborhood (as if that matters). And I’m tired of having to remind people, much too frequently, that I’m black, but I’m a person, and that my life matters, too.
I hope my neighbor reads this, that it serves as a reminder to treat people kindly. Don’t let your assumptions cause you to act out against your neighbors. Let’s set good examples for our children at a time when so many people in this country are hurting. Let’s throw away the liberal facade and practice what we preach.
To my neighbor — your children were watching that day. I hope you use this experience to teach them to treat people fairly, kindly and with respect, regardless of the color of their skin.