Somewhere in the first half of the last decade, I came across a Seattle Magazine article by Knute Berger, who now writes for the local news website Crosscut. In the piece, which concerned home buying in Seattle, he described the kind of person who looks to buy a home in Columbia City, which then had become the next stop for gentrification after the Central District, as a pioneer. I recall exactly how this description struck me—the images it provoked. In US history, pioneers are never black or Native Americans; they are white people escaping expensive land and searching for cheap or free land in areas that have, precisely, no white people.
At the time, Berger wrote his piece, about 75 percent of the residents in Columbia City were non-white. The neighborhood was also working class. By calling the home buyer a pioneer, he was making it clear that his audience, the group he was writing to, was white.
I recall all this because Seattle Times' Nicole Brodeur's column about a recent shooting that happened in Columbia City's business district (which now has a PCC market, a Rudy’s barbershop, a Pagliacci Pizza, and a Molly Moon’s) and its impact on the community's sense of safety, "Shooting a ‘reality check’ for changing Columbia City," is very much like Berger's old Seattle Magazine piece. It was written with whites in mind. That is to say, the people she imagined who would read her post were all white. They seem to crowd her imagination.
Let's think about this for a moment. If there was one black or brown or Asian person in Brodeur's imaginary audience, then she would not have written this line: "...the 43 rounds that flew June 5 seemed to carry a message for the residents and businesses of Columbia City: not so fast."
What else can this mean? This "not so fast"? She is saying that this neighborhood, even with its Molly Moon’s Ice Cream joint, and rising home values, its light rail station, is not white enough yet. The old neighborhood of blacks—with their crimes, their ghetto ways, their culture of poverty—are still "making themselves known." At the end of the post, she mentions that Columbia City was a place people passed through, and not what it is now: a popular destination. But it was a destination for many people: the city had black bars, black barber shops, black restaurants, and black night clubs. There were also lots of Asian, black African, and Latino businesses here. The owners of these places where not just standing around watching cars pass by.
As Sharon H. Chang explained in her South Seattle Emerald post, "Brodeur managed to casually pen a piece that zipped from 'objective coverage' to radicalize damning, White panic, and colonial entitlement."
A quick lesson about writing: Brodeur's piece would have been more thoughtful if the readers in her mind were not just one color; if she also saw a black or Asian or Latino person looking over her shoulder as she composed a post. Every writer imagines his or her readers. The question is: Who are these readers?