In mid-April, a panel of writers from publications across the city gathered at the Rainier Arts Center to address the elephant in the newsroom: that #JournalismSoWhite. The tiny theater was packed to the gills. People were eager to discuss why diverse voices are critical for a successful newsroom.
According to the Atlantic, 92 percent of journalists in the United States are white. And Seattle isn't exempt. Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large told the audience that people of color made up 20.8 percent of the Times newsroom in 2015—nearly a 2 percent drop from 2004. Things are pretty white around the offices of The Stranger, too.
Podcasts aren't necessarily journalism—and they're not hosted exclusively by journalists—but white voices seem to dominate the podcast scene here. There's The Stranger's own Savage Lovecast and Blabbermouth, KPLU's Sound Effect, Too Beautiful to Live, and The Fire You Can't Put Out. If Seattleites are looking to hear more local diverse voices, they have limited—but still great!—options including #LuluNation+crew and Eat Your Paisley on Hollow Earth Radio. In June, Ijeoma Oluo, Seattle-based writer and contributor to the Stranger, will launch the Big Fat Feminist Echo Chamber podcast.
And Seattle itself, of course, is particularly white. According to a 2010 census report, the city is nearly 70 percent white. The Seattle Times estimates that the Central District, the city's historically black neighborhood, will be less than 10 percent black in the next decade thanks to ever-increasing rents and the costs of living in the city.
Eula Scott Bynoe, Alaina Caldwell, and Jasmine Jackson, all age 31, grew up together in the Central District. They watched many of their neighbors and friends pack up and move further south to places like Renton as wealthier white families moved in. In an effort to bring together the community they watched scatter, on May 26, the three women launched a hyper-local podcast created by and for people of color.
So, podcast nerds and media critics, you might want to skip this week's episode of This American Life, Call Your Girlfriend, and Freakonomics and check out Hella Black Hella Seattle.
Bynoe, Caldwell, and Jackson are huddled inside a small recording studio at 8 p.m. on a breezy Monday evening. With seven people crowded inside, along with a drum set, an electric guitar, a bass, and keyboards, the studio soon grows muggy. Bynoe ditches her chambray shirt for the camisole she is wearing underneath, while Jackson, looking perfectly comfortable in her cream-colored sweater, nervously looks over her notes. Caldwell, who is wearing an intricately patterned tunic dress, passes around glasses of Hennessy and apple juice.
It is showtime.
"Welcome to Hella Black Hella Seattle, creating community for people of color in Seattle," Bynoe says into the microphone, kicking off the inaugural episode of Hella Black Hella Seattle, or HBHS for short.
Critical Sun Studios, where we're recording today, is tucked away in the heart of Beacon Hill. Seattle music producer and musician Bubba Jones, who is Bynoe's cousin, owns the studio and is helping to produce the new podcast. The three hosts all hope that, at the very least, their podcast will remind us that people of color are still integral to the fabric of Seattle—and help people of color navigate this city.
"To find other people of color [in Seattle], you need to know where to go," Jackson, who serves as the podcast's calendar curator, tells me before the taping. "If I had just moved here, absolutely I'd feel isolated. I wouldn't know where to go, where to eat, where to meet people."
The hosts of HBHS intend to be both tour guides and local historians. Caldwell wants to let listeners know about the best places to eat; her latest favorites are Vendemmia and La Cocina Oaxaqueña. (Her cohosts gasp when Caldwell admits she isn't a die-hard Ezell's Chicken fan. Instead, she says she prefers the Nashville hot chicken at Georgetown's Sisters and Brothers, a recent discovery.) Jackson shouts out local dance and boot-camp classes for the upcoming weekend to break Seattleites out of their regular gym routines.
Another mission of HBHS, one close to Bynoe's heart, is introducing listeners to notable Seattleites of color. Local hiphop artists Porter Ray and Nate Jack are the show's very first guests.
Bynoe leads the discussion, deftly steering the conversation from music and the meaning of everyone's horoscope to how Ray and Jack coped with their fathers dying and, eventually, their experience balancing their careers as musicians with their responsibilities as fathers themselves.
"I didn't graduate high school. I lost my father during high school, and I just lost interest. Due to my father getting sick, that's when I started struggling. But it's not like I grew up underprivileged," says Ray.
Bynoe, Caldwell, and Jackson are all professionals—but none are professional journalists. In fact, none of them even work in media. Bynoe is a full-time doula, Caldwell is an IT coordinator at Northwest Hospital, and Jackson is a merchandising coordinator for jewelry retailer Blue Nile.
Bynoe was the driving force behind the creation of the show—Caldwell and Jackson joke that they agreed to do the podcast so Bynoe would stop bugging them about it—and she plans to address the systemic inequalities faced by people of color in this city: high rates of incarceration among black men, an education system that is failing black students, and how the city has become more segregated as gentrification and soaring rents force people of color out of the city.
"I want this to be a show that everyone listens to, not just people of color," Bynoe tells me before the taping. "I want white people to listen with it in mind that this will build [their] understanding of what it is to be black in Seattle and to understand that Seattle is not all roses."
Or all white.
"When people think of what a Seattle person looks like, they do not picture the three of us," says Bynoe. "People imagine a typical Seattleite to be a white woman decked out in Lululemon gear waiting in line at Molly Moon's."
Our conversation shifts from a discussion of the makeup of Seattle to the makeup of the Central District.
According to census data, the black population in the neighborhood has dropped dramatically—from 51 percent to just 21 percent over the last 20 years. To Bynoe, this isn't a sign of black flight. It's a sign that the residents of the historically black neighborhood aren't wanted there anymore. Bynoe and her husband routinely receive letters from developers interested in buying their Central District home.
"My mom gets letters in the mail asking her to move—that's not flight, that's force," says Bynoe. "You never get letters in the mail that are like, 'I know that your husband passed away and that your income has been [cut]'... or 'We want to get to know you better and have a block party.' Those aren't the things that come to the door. What comes to the door is 'We would love for you to leave.'"
As a result, Bynoe says the neighborhood feels like a hostile place.
"We don't walk around and hang out as much as we did [because] it feels much more like it's their neighborhood than it's ours," she says of the white newcomers to the Central District. "There's this racial difference and this class difference as well. They're aware that we've been here forever and that we're not making the same income as them because our homes aren't as nice as theirs."
In a follow-up e-mail, Bynoe, Caldwell, and Jackson compiled a list of black-owned businesses—community landmarks—that have closed in the last few years: Roger's Market, Catfish Corner, the Kingfish Cafe, Polly Esther's nightclub, and more.
The HBHS team says they're tired of seeing community staples close their doors, and they see their podcast as a way of helping promote POC-owned businesses—to white and black listeners—so that these longtime neighborhood spots aren't lost among shiny new housing developments or swanky new grocery stores.
"As black people, we make less money than white people, period," says Bynoe. "So if you're a black-owned business that just gets black people coming into it, [it's hard to] get rich off of that."
Back in the studio, Nate Jack is pattering away on the golden drum kit while Bubba Jones plucks a bass line. The room feels even warmer now—but maybe that's just the cognac. The women of HBHS and Porter Ray jump back and forth between debriefing their first two-hour recording and their plans for the weekend. At one point, Jones's 10-year-old daughter comes into the studio. Bynoe sits the little girl in front of a microphone and asks her why she's Hella Black Hella Seattle.
"I'm Hella Black and Hella Seattle because I like recording music with my dad," she says.
"Yeah, that's it!" Bynoe tells her.
New episodes of HBHS will be released every other week until September 1, when Bynoe plans to move to Los Angeles with her husband so he can study animation at the prestigious California Institute of the Arts. When I ask whether she intends to continue producing HBHS episodes while in California, Bynoe is vague.
"We are all the way Seattle girls, and we know there is nothing to do in November. We go into hibernation," she says. "But we're definitely going to do a winter-break episode!"
Download episodes of Hella Black Hella Seattle on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher, or check out their website at hellablackhellaseattle.com. Follow them on Twitter @HBlackHSeattle and Instagram @hellablackhellaseattle.