Category Archives: Commentary

Race Matters: The Misrepresentation of Race In The Media

by Sam Louie

Courtesy NY Daily News
Courtesy NY Daily News

 

As an Asian-American therapist with a multi-cultural focus, I can attest that an ethnic person’s identity can be mired in self-hatred and self-loathing during the process of integrating into mainstream American society.

In therapeutic circles there’s a process known as the Minority Identity Development Model.   The first phase is one called the “Pre-Encounter Stage” where a minority member devalues himself, his ethnicity (i.e. culture, customs, the way he/she looks) in comparison to the accepted, mainstream culture.  In the U.S., minorities may think the country or region they live in is anti-minority or non-minority and may act or behave in ways to be more “American” as a means to fit in.

The complexities related to Elliot Rodger’s mental health is vast and speculative but from his writings it’s clear it hinges on three prongs: race, class, and gender.  Mainstream media has expounded on the class and male entitlement aspect of Rodger’s life but very little is mentioned on the racial component.

If anything, it seems race is the last subject they want to address.  While his Asian background didn’t directly lead to his carnage, according to his manifesto it was clearly one of the contributing challenges he faced as someone who struggled with his mixed Chinese heritage as early as nine years old.

On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with…my first act was to ask my parents to allow me to bleach my hair blonde. I always envied and admired blonde-haired people, they always seemed so much more beautiful.”

Rodger’s desire to fit into mainstream society and be accepted as a minority during this vulnerable stage can not be understated or ignored (like it currently is by the media).  He was looking for acceptance from numerous sources: blonde women, his father, and peers but felt rejected or “not good enough” without the acknowledgment that one the biggest rejections he was grappling was his rejection of self.

His struggle while ostensibly looking like a young man plagued with a number of mental health issues should not be relegated to that classification alone.  Instead, we as a society need to understand Rodger was a young man who was stuck in a process where he was not able to integrate his ethnic Chinese side with his Caucasian side.  His writing of his ethnic self-hatred is evident even if it’s cloaked by his veiled attempt to bolster himself with his grandiosity (itself a defense mechanism).

I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl! And white girls are the only girls I’m attracted to, especially the blondes. How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them?

This is why his race matters.  Because we as Asian-Americans hurt knowing he was never able to get to the second phase of the minority identity development known as the “Encounter Stage” where an ethnic minority learns to see himself as valuable, loved, and cherished not in spite of his culture but because of it.  In other words, minorities in this stage learn to embrace their heritage despite the surrounding that may convey contrary messages.

This explanation isn’t to simplify Elliot Rodger’s malicious actions, rather it’s to shed light and understanding to the public that race matters.

 

Sam Louie is an Asian-American psychotherapist with a private practice in Seattle and Bellevue.  He focuses on issues of culture, race, and addictions.  He is also a Los Angeles Emmy-Award Winning former t.v. news journalist and can be reached at:www.samlouiemft.com. sam@samlouiemft.com and on Twitter @SamLouieSpeaks  

Race Matters

Editor’s Note: Race Matters is a new column which provides a nuanced take on race and its impact on the culture of the South Seattle area.

by Sam Louie, M.A., LMHC

Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA team Dallas Mavericks provoked controversy following his interview with Inc. Magazine regarding his views on race and culture.

“I mean, we’re all prejudiced in one way or another. If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of. So in my businesses, I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I’m not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it’s not appropriate for me to throw stones.”

His comment comes after the NBA’s actions against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on audiotape making racially charged comments.  The NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him 2.5 million dollars after he told a female friend, V. Stiviano, not to bring Black people to Clippers games.  Sterling is in the midst of having the NBA force him to sell his team as well.

Some have accused Cuban of being a bigot but I think this misses the point.  In the interview he adds, “While we all have our prejudices and bigotries, we have to learn that it’s an issue that we have to control.”  Control and how we handle our prejudices is the operative word here.  Just because Cuban has prejudices doesn’t make him racist.  Being aware of race, culture, context and the implications it poses to us personally is much more valuable than people ignoring the subject matter by hiding behind the veil of being blind to color when they say, “I don’t see color”.  What these people are implying is that their decisions and how they treat someone aren’t based on another person’s ethnicity, skin tone, or appearance.  I believe for the most part, Americans don’t discriminate in hiring practices, housing, and other significant racial issues, but when it comes to issues of socialization and our own personal comfort zone, we do discriminate and have our prejudices.

Despite our best attempts to not think about race, there will be times and situations where race, culture, image, and stereotypes form our decision-making.  I believe if we deny this part of ourselves, we deny our humanity.  We are at our core, primal creatures.  We make automatic decisions that are unconscious, reflexive, and based on our need for survival.

There’s an almond-shaped part of our brain in the temporal lobe, called the amygdala, that is hard-wired to any threat (real or imagined).  The amygdala, controls autonomic responses associated with fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation.  This is the “fight or flight” portion that we hear about and as much as we may want to turn this part off in the name of cultural sensitivity, the neurons that fire in this region are automatic and can’t be shut down.  Now I believe we can learn and grow in our sensitivity to threats but that takes much effort since what you perceive as a threat is based on your upbringing and as adults hard to change without significant work.

For example, I grew up in South Seattle and graduated from Rainier Beach high school.  I lived, played, and went to school with African-Americans for my formative years.  Consequently, in my adult life I gravitated towards Black journalists when I was working in t.v. news because I felt most comfortable around them.  This didn’t make me a racist but since I never knew or was surrounded by “middle-aged, white men” growing up (except teachers), I had no context of how I would be treated and hence saw white men as more threatening to my sense of security.  I remember at one point, my girlfriend at the time asked me, “Why do you only hang out with Black people from work?”  I got defensive because I wasn’t purposely ignoring White folks but had just gravitated towards African-Americans since I thought had more in common with them.

This same logic applies when I’m in other urban areas around the U.S.  I don’t have fear being in ethnic communities (i.e. Asian, Black, Latino, etc.) because there’s a certain familiarity I’m accustomed to.  However, if this isn’t your upbringing you’re going to feel uncomfortable, wary, and possibly scared or fearful.  The same applies to people who present a certain stereotypical image.  Whether it’s the stereotype of an Asian gang-banger, a White Supremacist, or a Black thug, I know for myself these images create different responses to me depending on the context.  In all the conversations and stories I hear about race, context is often left out.  Context is vital because context is what make the amygdala in the brain is searching for on a real, everyday, moment-by-moment level.

For example, if there’s a group of young White men with tattoos and shaved heads walking around South Seattle, I’d think they were lost and this wouldn’t trigger my amygdala as a source of threat.  Same thing if they were walking around downtown Bellevue.  However, if I’m in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a city close to the original headquarters of the Aryan Nations, and saw this same group walking down the street, my fight and flight response would be screaming at me.  I’d be foolish to ignore it.  This same response comes up when I see Asians who dress and look like gang members driving or hanging around South Seattle.  I am vigilant not to look at them in any way that could be misconstrued to provoke them.  Am I being racist?  I don’t think so because based on the context, it’s simply my sympathetic nervous going into autopilot.

I will acknowledge there are times when clients I work with have undergone significant childhood stressors and threats to safety (i.e. consistently getting bullied, beat-up, teased, etc.) that in adulthood they remain in a hyper-aroused state of fight or flight around men of any ethnicity.  Even if the perpetrators were of one race, the level trauma can be so damaging that any man, regardless of race, is seen as a threat.  The same level of trauma happens to women who are raped.  If race was a role then there may be extra sensitivity to the offender’s race but the damage can be so encompassing that the women don’t discriminate on race per se but the entire male gender could be seen as a threat.
Issues of race need to be further explored instead of simply compartmentalized or having people ostracized for their views.  Honest discussion, openness, education, and socialization can break down our preconceived notions of those we know little of or know only through caricatures or stereotypes.  It behooves us all to know where we fall on the continuum of prejudice, racism, and bigotry.

Sam Louie is an Asian-American psychotherapist with a private practice in Seattle and Bellevue.  He focuses on issues of culture, race, and addictions.  He is also an Emmy-Award Winning former t.v. news journalist and can be reached at: www.samlouiemft.com. sam@samlouiemft.com and on Twitter @SamLouieSpeaks  Sam Louie

Committee Amends North Rainier Rezone

originally appeared in the Seattle Transit Blog

by  Martin H Duke

 

Last week the Seattle Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) committee once again took up the North Rainier Rezone, last seen inspiring a diverse set of public comments earlier this month. There were more public comments that are by now quite repetitive, although the latest tactic is calling for yet another 2-year delay while companion parks, economic development, and transportation plans develop. I predict approximately zero current opponents would suddenly accept the plan then, as it still won’t address their fundamental desire to limit the number of low-income neighbors and preserve effortless parking at local businesses. Meanwhile, rents spiral upward and the Rainier Valley continues to suffer.

Afterwards, the committee approved three amendments to the legislation and tabled a fourth proposed by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who was out of town. Unfortunately, one of the amendments requires a title change to the bill, so the committee will have to wait until June 3rd to vote on the legislation and send it to full council.

The three attendees (Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata, and Tim Burgess) approved the following three amendments:

1) Amend the proposed zoning to exclude the parking maximums currently operative in other “Seattle Mixed” Zones (basically just South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne). This triggers the required change in the bill title, and addresses the fear that the proposed maxima “might be too low” for certain businesses, like grocery stores, envisioned for the area.

north_rainier_rezone2) Change the “Class I” pedestrian street designation to “Class II”  on McClellan and Rainier. Class II allows “more flexibility” for street interface. It would keep transparency requirements, but permits more uses at ground level for a “greater range of businesses.” Rather than forcing nothing but eat/drink and retail, health care, light industrial, and office applications would also be allowed on the first floor — but not residential. The council is concerned about vacant storefronts, reflecting many comments from residents.

Even Class I setbacks are flexible in the design review process, but Class II allows 12 ft. setbacks as a matter of course. DPD thought “more suburban, less active” might be appropriate given the traffic on these streets. Notably, on-street parking on these streets would improve the pedestrian environment, possible if SDOT uses the “bowtie” street reconfiguration here to greatly improve bus/rail transfers.

3) The committee added a few blocks east of MLK and north of McClellan to the upzone (the blocks labeled LR3 and NC1-40 in the upper right), due to a request from the landowner, the nonprofit Mt. Baker Housing Association. These parcels are already developed to LR3 (Low Rise-3), but MBHA would like to tear this down, add more affordable housing, and simultaneously deal with residual contamination from a dry cleaning business there. The parcels would become MR2 (Midrise 2) and SM-65 (Seattle Mixed 65′), respectively.

From my perspective, these three amendments range from wonderful to mixed. The expanded housing on the MBHA site is unmitigated good news. Meanwhile, it’s clear that parking minimums create a whole suite of bad effects, but maximums are debatable, particularly in a place where redevelopment might take a while to get off the ground. As for the pedestrian classification, allowing a broader diversity of businesses is probably a good idea.

The Harrell amendment, on which the committee decided to delay deliberations until Mr. Harrell could be there to discuss it, would lower the 125′ limit on the Lowe’s site to 85′, although a contract rezone could raise it again once the City knew would would go in. As always, height is a flash point, but this amendment would simply reduce the site’s potential and add yet more veto points to its best possible use. DPD believes residential will not utilize 125′ under current conditions. Reducing the height will make residential more competitive, and is likely to subvert the often-expressed community wish for the site to be focused on job creation.

Mr. Burgess specifically asked for neighborhood feedback on this amendment, via public comment at the next meeting or via email. Let him know what you think.

Mr. O’Brien closed by asking about the lot immediately south of the station but not affected by the rezone, currently LR3-RC. Across a quiet street from the station, any sensible framework would upzone these extremely aggressively. Last decade these blocks fell out of the plan because they might cast shadows on deserted Cheasty Blvd., there were single family homes on the other side of the greenbelt, and there were commercial uses nearby that have since largely disappeared. I wish I was joking about any of these “problems.”

Since this terrible decision, the status of these blocks has changed. Capitol Hill Housing purchased the southern block. The northern block will be split between an underground King county sewer overflow storage tank (!!!! – hopefully it’s buildable above) and a northern half split among several parcels. Mr. O’Brien asked for input from DPD and the public about making some or all of this area SM-85 or SM-65. Good for Mr. O’Brien to bring up this common-sense revision. Thank him and let him know this is a good idea.

As a side note, Lyle Bicknell of DPD said there is already interest in redeveloping the Rite Aid/QFC site immediately north of the station while preserving those tenants. Good news!

 

Why The Mt.Baker Rezone Is The Right Move For South Seattle

  by Young Han

Image Courtesy of GGLO
Image Courtesy of GGLO

 

At the beginning of this month, I attended a meeting of the Seattle City Council’s PLUS (Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability) Committee.  The Committee hosted this meeting to hear public comments on the proposed rezone of the area around the Mount Baker Link Light Rail station.  This is the area that has been identified for the location of the North Rainier Urban Village (http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cityplanning/completeprojectslist/northrainier/whatwhy/).  The rezone would change the existing zoning to a designation called Seattle Mixed-use and raise height limits to 65, 85, and 125 feet, depending on the parcel of land in question.  I attended to testify strongly in favor of this proposal, as it represents the best way to develop Rainier Valley in a way that is inclusive, attractive, and future-focused.

The reason for the proposed rezone has its roots back almost 15 years.  Back in the late 1990s, the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, in tandem with neighborhood residents and other stakeholders, developed a vision for the northern corridor surrounding Rainier Avenue South.  Through this plan, they envisioned development that was transit-oriented, mixed-income, and walkable.  While the rest of Seattle has continued to change at a rapid pace and Link Light Rail brought much needed connectivity to the neighborhood, the status quo, with respect to zoning, has not led to the kind of development desired there.  Much of the area remains low-density strip malls or underutilized buildings that fail to engage pedestrians or integrate well into their surroundings.  The rezone would create additional incentives and a framework to make this happen, in a way that is consistent with the original vision.

Naturally, any plan that intends to bring large-scale change will lead to some degree of contention.  Residents from all over Southeast Seattle packed the Committee hearing on a day where the temperature rose to an unseasonable 80 degrees.  Many of the opponents to the planned rezone showed up early and made their concerns known loud and clear.  The kinds of structures that would be built would be out of character.  The new development would lead to traffic and congestion.  If current levels of retail occupancy in mixed-use developments continued, new buildings would fail and too many workforce housing units would lead to unintended consequences.  Many opponents also expressed concerns about the process that produced the proposed rezone.  They had not been adequately informed or consulted, they said.

As someone who has been engaged with the North Rainier planning process since 2011, I was concerned by what appeared, at least very initially, to be overwhelming opposition.  Thankfully as the comment period continued, a greater number of proponents began to lay out their arguments and restore balance.  Ultimately, after two hours of testimony and public comments, it seemed reasonable to say that while the concerns were not entirely unreasonable, that they misguidedly defended a suboptimal status quo for fear of unknown (as opposed to likely) outcomes.  At the PLUS Committee, I expressed an abbreviated version of the following opinion:

I’ve lived in both Columbia City and, before that, Mount Baker, for the past three years.  In Mount Baker, I lived on Walden Street, one block from the area to be rezoned, in a mixed-use building.  Currently I live in Columbia City less seven-tenths of a mile from the proposed rezone.  I support this proposal because it will add a critical mass of infrastructure, people, and amenities.  Currently much of this area is underutilized urban space.  For many, it can feel unsafe and it is unquestionably unpleasant to navigate on foot.  Anyone who has lived in the area knows, for instance, about the activity around the National Pride Car Wash.  Right there, on the street, is what appears to be an open-air drug market.  A year and a half ago, two people were shot at this location (http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Teens-wounded-in-South-Seattle-175528391.html).  There aren’t enough eyes on the street and this kind of development does not benefit anyone.

As City of Seattle’s Planning Department notes, Seattle will add 70,000 households in the next two decades—that’s significant.  If Seattle cannot build the density to accommodate these future residents, we will end up with a housing and affordability crisis much like San Francisco’s.  There, the crisis has created an immense amount of discord and class conflict as rising housing costs have displaced long-time residents.

For one, they got the zoning wrong (http://www.theatlanticcities.com/housing/2013/10/san-francisco-exodus/7205/).  Speaking to NPR, Former Mayor Art Agnos noted that in San Francisco the discussion is no longer about whether San Francisco can be a city for all people, but whether it can be affordable for those earning between $60,000 and $150,000 a year (http://www.npr.org/2013/12/03/247531636/as-rent-soars-longtime-san-francisco-tenants-fight-to-stay)!  The median income for a worker in Seattle is currently under $60,000 and there are many similarities between our two cities.  In a city growing as rapidly as Seattle, there will be trade-offs.  In North Rainier, as it will be citywide over the coming decades, the trade-off will be managed density for sustained blight in some places and escalating housing prices in others.

Lastly, on the issue of workforce housing, there are many assumptions being made about people who will live in income-targeted housing, as well the number of units under consideration.  The current zoning proposal will require developers to include a limited number of affordable units for each of their projects, if they want to build to the maximum heights allowable under Seattle Mixed.  This is known as incentive zoning, and in a city where rents have soared over the past two years (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021673014_rentincreasesxml.html), an essential tool in keeping Seattle income-inclusive.  This will not entail the construction, as some seem wont to believe, entire parcels of housing for the indigent.  Indeed, for the purpose of the North Rainier rezone the units in question will be targeted those individuals earning 60-80% of area median income.  For a single-person household, this is an income in the mid-$30 to mid-$40,000 a year.  Large numbers of white-collar workers, particularly those starting out in careers, fall into this category and I, too, qualified for and lived in workforce housing while working at what was an e-commerce start-up.

The proposed rezone of the area around the Mount Baker Link Light Rail station represents both the continuation of a neighborhood visioning process begun in 1999 and an opportunity to bring  quality development to Rainier Valley.  For too long, the area has suffered from underinvestment, crime, and blight.  Smarter levels of density, in conjunction with the transit links already established by Sound Transit, will lead to development that is engaging at street level, unnecessary to traverse using motorized vehicles, and safe for people of all ages.  Different neighborhoods (pick your favorite example) around Seattle have used rezones to create beautiful urban spaces worthy of the name.  Rainier Valley, too, can rise.
Note* The Seattle City Council Land Use And Sustainability Committee will be meeting this Tuesday, May 20th to discuss the Mt. Baker Rezone:  http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/aboutus/news/events/default.htm?trumbaEmbed=eventid%3D110117410%26view%3Devent%26-childview%3

Young Han is a Columbia City resident interested in economic history and the economics of technological change as well as an advocate for cooperative development, and expanding economic democracy