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Reimagine Seattle: Natasha Marin

The challenges of the past two years have changed the way we live, the way we work, and the way we show up for each other. They have also given us a rare chance to collectively reimagine our future. Through the Reimagine Seattle Storytelling Project we invite community members to reflect on their current experiences in Seattle, how they have been impacted by recent events, and their hopes for the future of our city.

Reimagine Seattle

by Natasha Marin

abstract watercolor painting of a Black person's face, with light and color emanating from the top of the head

How have the events of this year changed you and/or your community?

I am only one person, not the designated spokesperson for entire communities. Personally, every year changes me. I call this Growth. There were countless opportunities for growth this year.

I have watched the tree outside my bedroom window change continuously all year. Like a dream sifting away, I remember this tree fully alive in a glorious yellow halo of autumn light. I remember Rahwa Habte this way. There were days since March when outside was just too far for me to go. My heart could only stretch around me and my children. There will be more sunny days, I thought, I will go out then. When it’s safe. Right now, I can only see only one stubborn yellow leaf still clinging to one of the lower branches of my tree. 

As far as I can tell, the global pandemic, the resulting shelter-in-place orders, the cleaving of “essential” and “non-essential” workers in the collective unconsciousness, the increasing list of missing and murdered indigenous women, the protests against the state-sanctioned murder of Black People, nor the immoral incarceration of children at the southern border seemed to disrupt the trees from doing what trees do. I’m quite sure some of them felt the fires though, although the fires seem so far away now, like the giant hornets, the mysterious sinkholes, and the seemingly unceasing Twitter telenovelas. What does it mean to be truly human anymore when people must scream BLACK LIVES MATTER until our collective voices turn into hollow shadows like the wind itself?

If I were the tree outside my window, I would be so naked and open right now. I would’ve shaken off a lot of attractive accoutrement already. In reality, I dress in layers of fluffy-snuggliness as though I am a stuffed animal and think showering every day is incredibly unnecessary, indoor gardens however … and I have had the time and the space to see myself and others, falter, grow, and thrive, as we always have. Emails miraculously continue being sent and answered.

abstract watercolor painting of a tree trunk

What are your hopes for the future of Seattle?

Honestly? You aren’t ready for my imagination. My imagination would likely terrify your delicate sensibilities. My imagination is Black like opaque clouds of powdered charcoal purifying everything in rebirthing swaths. My imagination is Black like the original people of Earth, Black like the vastness of infinite space. Your pathetic monolith of Blackness is small compared to my expansive and inclusive Black. My Black has always been Mixed, rather than inbred, and is still Blackety-Black. And I hope for what seems impossible– that all this stolen land calling itself Seattle would be given back to the people who cared for it first. Imagine that.

abstract watercolor painting of black shapes rising out of a pool of blue

If you could completely reimagine our city, what would it look like? What would you change?

I think redistributing wealth might be a nice way to start. Seattle believes itself to be radical, but there are so many people who live here who do not have their most basic needs met and are without even food security, sufficient health care, and stable housing. Some of these folks even are “from-from” Seattle … and still they don’t have what they need! I can imagine a city that cares more about the people most vulnerable to marginalization and exploitation than the wealth, comfort, and convenience of others. Short of giving all this stolen land back, imagine a city where even poor people can actually afford to live within the city limits! Imagine if the people currently in power didn’t have any power at all. Imagine decolonization. Imagine radical upheaval. Imagine restoration. Imagine reparations. You can’t perhaps, but I can.

I want to live in a city where I am held in love and respect. I want my global family to recognize me as family– as no more distant than a cousin. And I want us all to heal– to uproot our antiblackness and to grow in vulnerability and trust. I want White-identified people to stop trying to quote MLK Jr and their favorite hip-hop lyrics to Black People already. Please sit down. I want people who are indigenous to this part of the world to recognize global indigeneity. I want everyone to stop erasing Indigenous Black folks’ experiences out of their own ignorance and lack. I need pale people of all varietals to pretty please try sitting down and shutting tf up for as long as it takes to hear the proverbial Rabbit’s drum. I need people of all kinds to wake up and see that homogeneity is a myth– a fiction– a cobbled together fantasy lacking innovation. I want us all to stop being the unpaid fluffers in this endless porno called The Delusion of White Supremacy. Maybe then we can recognize our collective brilliance and evolve already. This is a city full of millionaires, punctuated with pot-holes, broken bridges and sprinkled in passing-for-white-hubris. This is also a city full of brilliant BIPOC artists who quietly make life-sustaining miracles every single day. To the city of lonely people, I wish for you the kinesthetic practice of making new friends. Make new friends, but keep the old. And I imagine all your beautiful icy hearts popping wide open like rare desert plants under moonlight.

Natasha Marin (NONWHITEWORKS) is an antiracism consultant based in Seattle, specializing in communications, community building, and digital engagement. Marin is also the curator of Black Imagination: Black Voices on Black Futures (McSweeney’s, 2020) and a conceptual artist whose people-centered projects have circled the globe and have been recognized and acknowledged by Art Forum, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, NBC, Al Jazeera, Vice, PBS and others. Her viral web-based project, Reparations, engaged a quarter of a million people worldwide in the practice of “leveraging privilege,” and earned Marin, a mother of two, death threats by the dozens. She heals herself by practicing vulnerability and by listening. The images included with this interview are her first attempts at watercolor in a long time.

Submissions for the Reimagine Seattle Storytelling Project were commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained in each submission do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas, of the City of Seattle.