An Open Letter to Progressive White People of Seattle

 by European Dissent

What does White Supremacy look like in Seattle? Often, when we hear that term we think of the KKK or overt individual acts of racial bias and prejudice. But White Supremacy is also embedded in our City government and in our own actions as progressive White people who believe in racial justice. In the past month, the ugly face of White Supremacy has manifested itself loudly and clearly in the actions of Mayor Ed Murray and other White Seattle City leaders. What have we done as progressive White people to interrupt these racist actions?

In a knee-jerk reaction to the tragic murder of Donnie Chin, Mayor Ed Murray has targeted all of the hookah lounges in Seattle for closure, attempting to link these businesses to violence in our communities. Blaming hookah lounges for systemic failures to invest in communities of color allows us to focus on individuals rather than on the broken education system, economic system, transportation system, and criminal justice system which are terrorizing poor communities and communities of color in the City of Seattle.

As community support swells around the hookah lounge owners and their families, Mayor Murray refuses to admit his mistakes or take a collaborative approach.  Contrary to how some news media has presented recent events, the Mayor has not in fact backed off of his attack. He is now trying to find a legal route to shut down the hookah lounges. Rather than working with the lounge owners to develop guidelines for the operation of these businesses, and rather than working with the community to address the real causes of violence in our streets, Mayor Murray has declared war on business owners of color. He is bringing the full force of the Mayor’s office down on eleven small businesses.

Mayor Murray’s reactive thinking, paternalism and obsession with maintaining dominance and control – all characteristics of internalized racial superiority and White Supremacy – are profoundly damaging to our City. Rather than genuinely engaging with the community, the Mayor has pulled out all stops to ram his personal solution down our throats – just like he did with Bertha.

Fellow White progressives, we are all culpable in what has happened.

  • As progressive White people, we elected the current Mayor based on identity politics, wrongly assuming that his support of LGBTQ rights would translate into support for racial justice.
  • We allowed ourselves to believe that our belief in the importance of racial justice was the same thing as actually working for racial justice. We have not held ourselves accountable to organize collectively, on a large scale.  We have not challenged ourselves as a progressive White community to understand racism and our specific role in undoing it.
  • Over the past month, we stood by as passive observers and allowed the hookah lounge issue to become a spectacle – one which reinforced the notion of “White civility.” When the issue of hookah lounges hit the news, we did not ask why the White-owned cigar lounges in Seattle were not facing the same scrutiny and attack. We did not question when the City repeatedly referred to private hookah lounge clubs as “illegal”.

As people who care about racial justice, we must and we can work together in a better way. We must change the way we interact with the Seattle City government and with each other. Wherever and whenever we see these racist patterns repeating themselves, it is our responsibility to disrupt them. It is our responsibility to hold ourselves, our White elected officials, and our White-controlled institutions accountable in concrete and practical ways. We must start practicing anti-racist ways of being together and building for collective action.

To stay connected to the multiracial, antiracist organizing to end attacks on Black businesses and move forward in a way that is healthy and united:

  • Like and follow the “Stop Blaming Hookah Lounges” page on Facebook and stay tuned for posts from European Dissent in the “European Dissent Seattle” Facebook group
  • Check out these recent news stories about the Mayor’s actions against hookah lounges:

European Dissent is a group of White anti-racist organizers organizing in solidarity with People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Ending the Prison Industrial Complex, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, the Village of Hope, the Black Prisoners Caucus and other groups led by people of color and grounded in the principles of Undoing Racism. In this growing movement to dismantle White supremacy and build racially just communities we believe that White people must take responsibility and work with each other collectively, while taking direction from those most affected by racism. To get involved in European Dissent, join the “European Dissent Seattle” group on Facebook or email