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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 group on the south end of Seattle followed by Asian 30.3%, Blacks 21.4%, Latino 9.1%, Multiracial 6.0%, Pacific Islander 0.8%, Native American 0.5%, and Other 0.2%.

I have no idea how often I have attended a function and saw no persons of color or fewer than four. When I arrived here in ’67, I was surprised, but after a while, I decided to attend whatever when and wherever. I will probably always encourage persons to attend but won’t let going or being alone stop me from going. I wish I could teach the world, the world to write. I believe when we get in the habit of writing better, we speak better, communicate better. I believe the better we can communicate feelings, beliefs, the easier it is to negotiate the world. I’ve seen so many persons of all ages, races, creeds change for the better once they write something and someone understands it, likes it, tells others about it.

Seattle abounds with activities, programs of many kinds from free to much higher. I wish more folks of every color, ethnicity, creed had the opportunity to attend and made a point of coming to more lectures, plays, operas, classes, music programs, sports events, etc. I’m convinced all of us would benefit as a result of glimpses of life outside of our respective caves/bubbles/cages, e.g., where we live, despite the wealth or poverty we may have experienced or are experiencing.

~Georgia S. McDade

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