Racism and Seattle’s Next Mayor

by Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW) and European Dissent (ED)

Together, CARW and ED sent a candidate survey to Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon aimed at understanding their analyses of racism within themselves, as well as the actions they would take as mayor. You can see their full responses here. We did not call anyone to the metaphorical table to chastise them. We called on them so that we could better understand where they are, and where we might wish them to be. We want to continue the conversation even beyond this election cycle.

A note: neither candidate responded within the given timeframe. Durkan’s responses came in as we were in the final stages of writing this piece. Given that, we incorporate some analysis here, but not to the extent we would have liked.

Durkan’s last minute engagement says plenty, and we’re disappointed by that. Could it have been her plan to potentially thwart any criticism of her? Could it speak to the lack of urgency she feels to undo institutional and internalized racism? We don’t know. Here’s what we do know of Durkan: she supports sweeping homeless encampments, she’s on board with the youth jail, and she used the phrase “colored people” at Candidate Survivor (2:00) back in July.

Based on her survey responses, it’s pretty clear Durkan is unable to hold race as a conversation, deeply examine how her life has been shaped by her whiteness, or acknowledge the work people of color have put into things she takes credit for.

Within one question, Durkan redirected an introspective prompt at how growing up white affects her sense of self to promoting bullet points on her resume and “decades of experience of fighting for justice.” She manages to not ONCE use the word race or mention communities of color when asked about budgetary spending on increased policing and the North Precinct construction.

When asked how she would support communities of color as mayor, she mentioned her success in gaining a diverse array of endorsers and states “partnerships” with community-based organizations are a marker of successful outreach (spoiler: they’re not). All in all, Durkan gives no glimpse into her humanity around these topics. We’re not sure we can trust someone unwilling to reveal themselves a bit. We’re here when she’s ready, but we’re not casting ballots her way.

Now: Cary Moon. We appreciate Moon’s responses to our survey. If you’ve read them in full, you can see that she has a handle on the language of racial justice. In the spirit of learning and in good faith, we’d like to offer a brief response to some of her answers.

As we’re sure she knows by now, if Moon’s analysis of racial justice was truly as sharp as her language, she would have thrown her weight (and her money) behind Nikkita Oliver. Rather, Moon offers that she tries to be aware of racism daily by reading news and fiction by people of color. Moon describes how a lifetime of privilege has aided her but she currently seems unable to see how her white privilege has played out in this very election (re: Stranger endorsement ::sips tea::) or could imagine what a liberated future looks like.

To us, it’s as if Moon is looking at a door. On her side, before the threshold, there’s books and photos, Twitter feeds and maybe even a march or two. But on the other side is true accountability – answering to communities of color who lead the way for anti-racism and coming to them with no-strings resources and follow through. What gets you over the threshold is feeling the deeper grief of the loss of culture and humanity and accepting our role as oppressors. On the other side is movement toward collective liberation, not simply the learning and intellectualizing, not simply the language which Moon has figured out.

We appreciate that Moon is trying. We read her Op-Ed last week. We read her Facebook status calling for people to quit dragging Nikkita. But we challenge her to put more on the line, to turn her language into action instead of evading questions. When asked about funding the North precinct, she never really answered it; when asked about the youth jail, she parroted the words many politicians have said before her with little to back it up.

Words are not enough to ensure that people can stay in their homes, to keep them out of prison cells, to see them live safely in a city that claims to be a progressive haven. We invite Cary to put some actions behind her words of allyship – say, by grabbing the mic back from Jenny Durkan and handing it to Sharon Maeda? Just a thought.

We want a mayor for everyone—not just the people with the loudest money, the most access, the people you already know. Jenny Durkan needs to begin unpacking her white privilege before we could consider her an accomplice. As for Cary Moon, we can see she is on a path and we open our doors to her. This is not an endorsement, but we are voting for her. Some of us (most of us) are voting grudgingly, but we’re voting. Win or lose, we hope she’ll show us that we made the right choice.

The Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW) and European Dissent (ED) are two Seattle-based organizations working to dismantle white supremacy through education and organizing. Our collectives are predominantly composed of people who self-identify as white, and we are accountable to POC-led organizations who we work in close partnership with. Both organizations endorsed and campaigned for Nikkita Oliver in the mayoral primary.

Featured image by Alex Garland

9 thoughts on “Racism and Seattle’s Next Mayor”

  1. Wow. I’m wary of “anti-racist whites” who recognize that neither candidate is on board with opposing white supremacy, but go ahead and decide to vote for the lesser white supremacist candidate. Now THAT stinks of white privilege. The decidedly liberal whitebread political conclusion you come to – that you’ll complain about racism but not actually stop supporting racist candidates – is the exact opposite conclusion of the vital political lesson captured by the accompanying image of the sign that reads “Dear Fellow White People, Is your allegiance to order or to justice?” Guess what? When an electoral race is between two candidates who refuse to challenge white supremacy, the best option is to refuse to choose any white supremacist candidate. PERIOD.

    The last two paragraphs completely contradict the point yo’uve made in the previous article.

    1. While I can appreciate your position I just have one thing to say about not voting at all because you don’t like either candidate. That position is flawed. Yes, neither candidate is perfect, but one is willing to try while the other is not, and if you chose not to vote in the election then somebody else will fill the void you left and we all are likely to get the worst outcome as opposed to the less optimum.

      The 2016 presidential election is a painful case in point. The refusal to vote for Hilary Clinton because she was not well liked gave us the Trump administration. I would rather not see that happen in Seattle too.

  2. Lonnie Lopez, I hear what you are saying. I voted for Nikkita Oliver in the primary and I wish I could be voting for her now. I just can’t bring myself to not vote when so much is at stake. It’s how I felt during the 2016 presidential election and how I feel now. I recognize that Moon is not perfect but Jenny Durkan is a whole lot worse. The way I see it, Moon may end up being ineffectual but under Durkan Seattle is guaranteed to continue criminalizing the homeless, gentrifying and displacing communities of color, and prioritizing corporate interests over people. I hate it but I don’t see any other option but to grudgingly vote for Moon.

  3. Cary Moon understands that we live in a system to exploit people to “make the rich richer”, and that it is no accident that this exploitation has been especially targeted at poorer people and vulnerable people of color. We see it in the stranglehold that financial speculators have on our economy and politics, which we see here as homelessness and lack of affordable housing.

  4. As a non-white, I can’t help but take issue with “anti-racist” whites proclaiming which of the privileged, white candidates is least committed to dismantling racism. I am putting my vote behind the candidate that actually has a public history of fighting discrimination throughout her career, rather than one who simply speaks the right “language” of “allyship” from the comfort of her multi million dollar home.

  5. great piece, thank you CARW and ED. and thank you Jen and Lonnie for adding additional perspectives that didn’t immediately cross my mind while reading this article.