People across the country are talking about race, and we should be. Individuals, organizations, and governments are being called on to better understand and overcome the forces that make racism a …
People across the country are talking about race, and we should be. Individuals, organizations, and governments are being called on to better understand and overcome the forces that make racism a daily and deadly reality for so many people. White people in Jefferson County, this is a time to listen, learn, reflect, and act to end white supremacy and advance racial equity in our personal lives, our work, and our activism.
Housing is deeply intertwined with racial justice. Who has access to housing shapes local culture, institutions, and belonging. So, let’s ask ourselves, why is this area so white? Many of us choose to believe that it just happens to be this way, but even a brief look at history reveals how that whiteness was cultivated as Black, Indigenous, and people of color were excluded from accessing land and housing locally.
It is nearly the 150th anniversary of when the City of Port Townsend Board of Trustees passed an ordinance prohibiting Native people from living in Port Townsend. The S’Klallam qatáy village was burned around the same time, forcibly removing the S’Klallam people from their own lands. While the first Alien Land Law in the newly-occupied territory of Washington allowed for “non-citizens” to obtain land (to attract European settlers) the Washington state constitution was later crafted to prohibit non-citizens from acquiring land, which effectively excluded Asian immigrants from land ownership. Washington was one of the last states to repeal its Alien Land Law in 1966. Redlining and racially restrictive neighborhood covenants in the region weren’t outlawed until the Fair Housing Act of 1968. While these laws have been changed, their racist legacies have crafted the community and region we live in today.
This history is part of the story behind why it is predominantly white here, but other forces continue to keep it that way. Most local renters know that word-of-mouth is the most common way to find a rental, but advertising units in this way evades the Fair Housing Act. Some landlords prefer to advertise like this because of how many calls they’ll receive if they advertise publicly (because of how few rentals there are). However, the reality — intentionally or not — is that this tendency can result in a form of modern housing discrimination, both through the implicit and explicit biases of landlords, and through the way that such information is accessed or not.
Black, Indigenous, and people of color who do access housing locally live in a predominantly white community, which can be emotionally taxing and feel/be physically unsafe. I know of at least one mixed-race family who decided to move away specifically to raise their child in a more racially inclusive community. It’s on us, white folks, to make this place actively anti-racist so that race does not continue to be a barrier to living in Jefferson County. Listen to the experiences and demands of the people who have worked for racial justice over generations, learn how to be an anti-racist, reflect on how racial justice relates to your life and work, and continue to take action.