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Where is the Diversity in Seattle Audiences?

September 24th, shortly before Seattle Arts and Lectures guest Malcolm Gladwell appeared on stage, a young black man whom I did not know asked me why there were more blacks to hear Gladwell than Zadie Smith in February. Before I could answer, my black friend said, “Zadie Smith is less accessible. Many blacks do not know her, certainly do not know she is Jamaican.” The man said Smith and Gladwell had the same backgrounds. My friend said English/Afro-Jamaican Gladwell is “an Americanized Canadian who writes about issues important to Americans.” Gladwell’s latest book, Talking to Strangers, begins with his attempting to explain what happened to Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old black woman who was arrested in Texas for changing lanes without signaling, jailed, and discovered hanged in her jail cell three days later. British/Jamaican Smith often writes about subjects that interest African Americans; however, these pieces usually appear in The Guardian and Atlantic although occasionally she is in The New Yorker. Gladwell is on the staff of The New Yorker. We can agree then that Gladwell has more access, therefore, to The New Yorker? Smith’s works are often about immigrants and the challenges they face attempting to enter British society, subjects that may be of less interest to African Americans, many of whom feel as if they themselves have been and are terribly mistreated.

September 23rd, three days after I taught a basic English class in a public place, a woman in the class emailed me the following: “One thing that I know (and it wasn’t your fault) was the make-up of that class. Weren’t you expecting it to be reflective of the local community here? I was. This is likely one of the most diverse communities Seattle has, and yet, most of the people in that class were older white folks. The last thing I expected to see was all (or almost all) white folks, in the seating.”

Because Time is my greatest enemy, I would guess many persons do not have the time such events or classes require, free ones included. Varied responsibilities take precedence, perhaps: children, partners, organizations, parents, relatives, for instance. Many people work on weekends and nights. Many people work more than one job. When it comes to expecting the class “to be reflective of the local community here,” I had no expectations about who would be in the class. All classes are open to all who come, as should be the case. As I said at the beginning of the class, what I hate most is having no idea which skills writers have. But everyone is always welcome. I told a few persons whose writing I have seen that they could skip this class. A person who can’t write a sentence and a person who has written a book are most likely in different categories, yet both persons saw the title of the class and came to see, to learn, I hope. I admit, I never thought of teaching anyone but black students; after all, I grew up in all-black schools with all-black staff. As a senior, I met my first white teacher at all-black Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Making my home in Seattle made clear I would have students of a variety of backgrounds. I have always welcomed everyone although I have not always been welcomed.

According to Seattle Times columnist Gene Balk, whites, at 31.7%, are the largest racial gr