When I set out to write this article, I began by looking at data. I looked up the homeless rate of POC (People of Color), specifically the impact on the Black community compared to the White community. I read about the infant mortality rates of Black mothers here in Washington state compared to White mothers. I wanted to throw all of these numbers out to prove a point. To show with numbers the disproportionality of POC vs Whites experiencing homelessness, generational poverty and lack of access to lifesaving services such as health care. I wanted to drive it home with percentages and shock you with the reality that even though Seattle gives the appearance of a diverse and progressive city, it actually struggles deeply with race equity. That in fact, as progressive as we like to pretend that we are here in Seattle, we still have far to go to become truly equitable for all.
During this bit of research that I was conducting, I realized that I don’t really need to regurgitate numbers and figures. Doing this would reduce my POC brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness, living in poverty and grieving their babies to a number. By reducing them to numbers, I would strip away the humanness. All you really have to do is step outside and look. Look at any corner in any neighborhood where homeless people hang out and see how many are Black and Brown faces. When you are downtown sipping your coffee and walking, notice who’s wearing suits and who’s sitting in the doorways and occupying the alleys. Walk into any shelter, DSHS office, or foodbank and see with your own eyes that, yes, White people struggle too, but there are far more POC struggling just stay alive.
I recently read a series of essays published in the New York Times as part of The Project 1619, which set out to explore, uncover, expose and speak the truth of our history here in United States. To show and explain why “progressive” cities such as Seattle struggle so deeply with white supremacy and why it is not recognized as such. The Project walks us through a painful past and paints a painful picture of all that Black folks have endured here in, and for, this country.
While reading these essays, I came to a more intimate understanding of why I am able to make my living as a social service worker. That my job is a reflection and direct result of the White Supremacist policies that the Unites States was built on. Not that there wouldn’t be a need for social services, but there wouldn’t be a need for them on such a large scale. That if this country had not started with an economic system based in the brutality of chattel slavery, giving birth to our modern capitalist system, POCs may have had a better shot at acquiring wealth. If our founding fathers had not upheld the dehumanization of black people, then we might have a system where essential needs such as health care, mental health care, food and education would be attainable for all.
I’ve heard it said that the greatest travesty ever perpetrated upon Black people here in the U.S. was not slavery itself, but the de-humanization of Black people. I believe this to be true. If it were not, Black people, who only make up 6% of the entire population in King County, would not account for 24% of our homeless. If it were not true, then Black infant mortality rates would not be twice as high as they are for White mothers. If it were not true, then the Black unemployment in the U.S. would not be higher than it is for whites.
As a woman, a black woman, a black gay woman, I know the importance of being able to see past these numbers to the humanity of each person. As a social service worker, I center and ground myself in the fight for equality and racial equity. It is this grounding that allows me to not work with numbers but to work with the men and women who come through the doors here at Neighborhood House.
By Rochelle Hazard, Housing Stability Manager