Census calls Seattle one of the least diverse big cities in the country

The Seattle Times’ Lornet Turnbull released an interesting, if not altogether surprising, article about Seattle’s ethnic diversity.  As evidenced by the 2010 Census, Seattle is the fifth least diverse of America’s 50 largest cities, with 66% of residents self-identifying as non-Hispanic white.  The article was quick to point out that Seattle is less diverse than the Midwestern (gasp!) cities of Wichita, Kansas and Minneapolis.

Also citing the statistic that Seattle has the largest Asian population in the United States (nearly 14% of the city’s population) and focusing on a black blues singer, it’s easy to see what the article is really saying—there are no black people here: no soul food, no hair salons, no black culture.

This idea that black people only like soul food and hair salons seems vaguely racist, but true in the sense that if black culture had long been a Seattle staple, it would have evolved into modernity the way it did in other big cities, like Chicago. I live in Capitol Hill, which has been mythologized to be the country’s most diverse zip code, but I don’t see too many black people around.  Not to say that there isn’t any room for influences of black culture in this hipster neighborhood, just that there isn't that much.

The thing that I find particularly interesting is that the Times provides no link to the data released from the Census Bureau and after searching, I couldn’t find the link either.  I wanted to see the list for myself, specifically how the data worked. What kind of ethnic diversity does Wichita have?  Why are black minorities more drawn to Minneapolis than Seattle?  Does the census rank “least diverse” as the lowest numbers of different types of ethnic groups? Without the actual data from the Census Bureau, readers of this article can only draw the conclusion that Seattle isn’t diverse—but we don’t know why or what minorities aren’t drawn here.

Another strange, and unelaborated point, in the article is the author’s explanation of why there aren’t many black people in Seattle. The article says that Seattle and Portland don’t attract black people specifically because they are destination spots, not midway points to anywhere else. In addition, they were too far for migration from the south, where black populations have long been centered. This seems hard to believe. When and where were you going if you stopped in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse cities in the country?

Seattle has some black people, the article says, because of big corporations like Boeing, Amazon and Starbucks drawing different minorities, including black people here. This seems likely; sure, industry has always drawn minority groups to cities in its earliest phases and big name corporations like these are definitely big draws for Seattle.

Granted, the author says that these are some, but not all of the explanations, of Seattle’s relative lack of diversity. I, for one, would like to know more.

Turnbull spends a lot of time comparing Seattle to our neighbor to the south, Portland, which clocks in at the 3rd least diverse city. Interestingly, the author’s explanation for why Portland isn’t diverse was that for six decades after slavery was abolished, Oregonians voted to ban blacks from the state. Seems pretty damn believable.

The article also states that Seattle is the 19th least diverse city in the state of Washington.  I’m not surprised to hear it. I spend a lot of time in the small city of Federal Way and the proportion of ethnic groups seems to be significantly difference than that of Seattle.  It seems like the reverse of the white flight we saw in Atlanta in the ‘80s--white people are not fleeing from the city to the suburbs here in Seattle; it’s the other way around. 

Something I’m not surprised that the article mentioned was that although Seattle is not diverse, it has fewer problems with racism than other cities. I can’t generalize about this, but ethnic tensions, even in Federal Way, seem less tangible than in other places.  Although Seattle doesn’t have a huge number of black people, since Washington was settled in great numbers later than other states, perhaps it also doesn’t have the same history of racism.

The Seattle Times article wasn’t inaccurate, just a bit incomplete. Readers need the data to draw conclusions and find explanations for themselves.  Only then can Seattleites decide what to do, if anything, about the lack of ethnic diversity in our city.    

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