I’ve found myself getting into this conversation more often, from folks who are not from around here or who haven’t lived here for the past number of years. Most recently it was a conversation today with a woman I work with who is originally from the south and she and I got on the topic. Folks often talk about Seattlites and their passive-aggressiveness, which we all know is very evident, but it is interesting because to me that’s far from being the only significant flaw. Although many here give the appearance of being connected and intelligent, they are actually extremely superficial, flaky, unreliable, phony, unstable, and just all-around shallow. This is Seattle, and the Seattle area.
I’m not trying to make sweeping generalizations, and I don’t think that is what’s happening here. I know that there are many perspectives and the ones I’ve come across along with mine are not the only ones. But to add, I do have some experience under my belt to back my stuff up. For starters I’ve done some serious traveling across this country. I’ve been to at least 30 of the 50 states in America. I’ve lived on both coasts — I grew up in Southern California, lived in Southern Virginia for half a decade, traveled up and down the eastern seaboard while there, my family is from the south and I have been there — outside of research. I’ve driven across the country — coast to coast — at least five times. With the exception of Florida, I’ve been to every southern state, and have made friends — especially when I lived in VA because of the large military population — and in So Cali because it is so colorful, with people who are from various backgrounds and places around the world. I’ve traveled outside of the country and, also importantly — I’m not a teenager or someone without life experience. So I think these all qualify me to have some semblance of knowledge on what I’m talking about when I say I’ve never seen anything like it.
When I was in Southern California last month, my trip to the credit union found me in a conversation with the teller who, after seeing my driver’s license asked me about the city. I told him that it’s not anything like where we’re at now — in Fullerton where I grew up — that is not far from the border of Mexico and we all know what happens there with this country’s anti-Mexican sentiments. That Seattle carries a very romanticized image about progression, coolness, health, with a large formally educated populace, but too many folks around here are superficial and extremely socially immature — there’s no depth to them. No substance.
I told him that what I believe — and this is my theory and what I actually think — is that because they’ve never had any reason to be anything but shallow. As we talked and he listened, I told him that in my opinion there are so many white people here who have never had to struggle for anything so it removes them from various obligations and accountability. Washington is a very rich state with more than a handful of major corporations that makes the economy much stronger than many others — and that’s a big deal. That’s just one factor but it’s very significant. This occupied Native land now filled with a majority white population has depended on their whiteness and white privilege to keep them secure, cushioned away from reality — they’ve never had to struggle for anything at all and that means the value placed on things outside of glamour is unreal, and these attitudes radically reverberate around the place. I’m not saying there are not individual incidents where folks don’t have hard times. I’m talking about what I believe on a large scale. Someone else mentioned because of the large Scandanavian ancestry and the isolation of Scandanavians is what makes folks the way they are. I don’t remember what exactly was said, but it was something along those lines.
I recently found a video by Queen Ifama, who I’ve been following online for the past 6+ years. She talked about friendships and how many folks are cowards, are not very honest, cannot be upfront, have no accountability, and this is something I find a lot here. Before I came to this realization about Seattle folks, I started talking to people who mentioned they have gone through similar. I was in a conversation with someone recently, who mentioned that the people who she has come to regard as true friends are not from here. And then things started to make sense because I remembered what a woman in her mid-40s (a Black woman) who was born and raised in Seattle, told me recently: that true friendships don’t require a lot of time or attention. Besides the fact that I was so insanely dumbfounded that someone would actually believe that in order to have a true friendship it takes only minimal effort, I was saddened that this woman clearly had never experienced deep friendships, even at her age. I have a few really good friends (who are not from here) that I’ve had for years and years. Not only did it take a lot of time and attention, it took concrete, intentional effort on each of our parts to nurture what we have. Also, despite not imagining what my life would be like without them, every moment wasn’t always peachy. There were definitely times that we got our feelings hurt. It took tears, arguments, severe honesty, and going down to humility to make sure we wanted to make it work, in light of what had gone down or what was going on.
I often think about Mississippi, a state where my family is from, and where I conduct formal research and the vast differences. How there is no such thing as passive aggressiveness, flakiness, insincerity — at least that I’ve ever experienced while there or have seen from folks who are from there. There is no such thing as not following through with your word.
In my own opinion, in a place like Mississippi — there is no denying there is a very complicated history of the state. That people have had to take care of each other — to direct each other to safety and to save their life — literally. They formed a sense of community because of the hardships they endeavored to live through together. If you didn’t keep your word it could potentially mean your life. It may also mean your kids, or someone you cared about facing consequences, not getting food, not being able to hide out, and various other traumas. In my mind, finding ways to connect to each other beyond a superficial level was essential to live and survive and to inevitably try and thrive. I don’t want to place Mississippians, or people in the south or anywhere else in a box because I know there is much more to their story than being the subject of trauma, but I’m pretty certain that their history of such traumas is a large part of it.
bell hooks says that there is a shared sense of community among people who have struggled together — they’re more connected and have a special tie bonding them. I see no such ties here. But I do see a lot of extreme selfishness, and severe emotional immaturity. Many folks around, I’ve found, seem to view themselves as deep intellectuals and well-rounded individuals who parade their jobs, their degrees, clothes, how many books they can get through in a month, how the city is the most ‘educated,’ and tout how Seattle is filled with hip bars, coffee houses and a bunch of other seemingly significant cultural components that in my opinion are so completely meaningless in the context of being able to relate to others and to go beneath the surface rather than only helping to fortify a false veneer. At least this is what I think and what I say when folks ask me about this place — when we get into a conversation about it. I know it isn’t just me or the folks I’ve talked to. What’s your experience?
This post has been in ‘draft’ mode since around January. I began writing it after I came back from California, and haven’t had time to getting around to finishing it until now. Of course it’s still relevant.