Every day, I take the A Line to the Tukwila light rail station from my home, then I walk from the station to work at an elementary school. On my walk, I pass new buildings — the type that you see in Seattle’s bougie areas — overpriced apartments, justice centers, and other expensive urban infrastructures typically protected by over-policing and built-over, bulldozed Black, Brown, and immigrant-owned shops and community spaces.
Elliott Jaques, a 20th century psychoanalyst, is credited with coining the term “mid-life crisis” in an article he wrote in 1965, though he in turn credits author and artist Richard Church for defining it in his autobiography:
There seems to be a biological reason for men and women, when they reach the middle thirties, finding themselves beset with misgivings, agonizing inquiries, and a loss of zest.
An 18-year-old white male drove two hours to shoot African Americans shopping in a neighborhood grocery store. Of course, this has not been the first time African Americans have died at the hands of white men, and I wish to God I could say it would be the last. What we have failed to call out in this tragedy and other forms of racism over the past 400 years is the role of white supremacy.
“This film is dedicated to the future memory of white supremacy, the new world’s original gangster,” a deep voice declares. That’s how Manifest Destiny Jesus begins. Orchestral music blares, white text fades onto a black background, the words of English writer William Gilpin come into view: “The untransacted destiny of the American people is to subdue the continent — to rush over this vast field to the Pacific Ocean.”
Seattle’s crane-filled skyline comes into view. Logos of the richest and most powerful corporations in the nation glide down towering skyscrapers. Weathered tent cities cling to a dusty underpass. Seattle: a paragon of westward expansion and capitalist conquest. Fast forward: Displaced Seattleites lament the relentless hammer of gentrification. “I can’t even afford to live here,” a man says.
A woman sits in Columbia City Church of Hope, a stained glass Jesus hovers above, his ivory hand points westward.
Manifest Destiny Jesus, which screens at this month’s “Local Sightings” film festival, is a documentary that explores how the widespread portrayal of Jesus as white influences everything from gentrification to police brutality. And how one small church in a gentrifying South Seattle found the courage to ask, “What does it mean to worship a white Jesus?”
Imagine something meaningful to you and a person related to that thing who’s done something despicable. Then imagine naming some aspect of your meaningful something after that despicable person. Like naming an investment club after Bernie Madoff, film festival after Harvey Weinstein, or block-watch after Derek Chauvin.
The Pete Rose Fantasy Baseball League, anyone?
How would that make you feel about your significant something? I mean, what’s in a name anyway?
(This essay is in response to a prompt asking young people about their feelings living through the COVID-19 pandemic and reckoning with white supremacy after the January 6, 2021 insurrection.)
As I look around at the faces of people who have come into my life recently or a long time ago, I feel at peace. When I think of people who have been there for me at different times in my life — times when I felt like the world was caving in and times I felt on top of the world — I feel supported. My grandma who calls me Sunshine, my godmother Ruth who is the embodiment of tough love, my parents who make sure that I know they are proud of me, my zeiza (grandpa) who always believed in me, and many others. As I look at the room full of people here with me as I write, I love and I am loved. In a world full of hate, I choose love.
What was supposed to be part of a nationwide “White Lives Matter” protest at Westlake Center on April 11 turned out to be a “Picket against white supremacy!” Organized by local community groups, the event was attended by close to 100 people who were there to “stand up to racists and fascists.” The Seattle “White Lives Matter” non-event mirrored other planned rallies across the country — NBC News reported that the rallies, which were hyped up by organizers as events that would make “the whole world tremble,” ended up being busts when the turn-out on Sunday was much lower than organizers had anticipated.
On March 5 the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) opened its new Jacob Lawrence exhibit, “The American Struggle,” to the public.
“The American Struggle” takes us on a journey through American history, reframing the narratives we have heard for centuries.
During the creation of this series in 1954, Lawrence was spending countless days at what was then called the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library. He spent his time learning about not only the American history taught in schools but history told through other perspectives, which inspired this series.
In June 2020, Hugo House, a Seattle nonprofit writing center, posted a brief message via email and on their website in an attempt to condemn racism and show solidarity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Below the statement, Hugo House promoted a short list of poems and essays by Black writers. But by July, over 200 writers of Color and allies had signed an open letter addressing the performative nature of the statement and the organization’s lack of real investment, advocacy, and endorsement of local Black writers and communities.
“Hugo House’s recent email professing solidarity with the Black community rings hollow,” the letter reads. “The new civil rights movement makes clear that breaking down systemic and structural racism is all of our work, and we demand that Hugo House move concretely and transparently to invest its resources and make that change happen.”
(This article is co-published with The Seattle Times.)
Listen to this column:
Americans are trauma-ridden people. The sooner we admit this, the sooner we can heal.
Our inherited legacy is threaded together from slaughter, slavery and brutalization, the humanity of millions of Black, brown, Indigenous, poor, trans and other people sacrificed for this country’s prosperity.
Over the span of a month we have seen white supremacists raid our nation’s Capitol trying to rip out the throat of our democracy.