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Reimagine Seattle: Kimisha Turner

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.

Reimagining Seattle

by Kimisha Turner

On the surface, for outsiders looking in, Seattle is a utopia of high literacy ratings, progressive ideals, and tech-savvy, planet-saving diversity encased in lush green Narnia-like surroundings. The water is beautiful; there are great places to hike, ski, and explore; and quirky fashion and interesting conversations abound over coffee and high-end cupcakes.

But within the onion that is Seattle, there is a seemingly unspoken underbelly of racial profiling, passive aggression, and a strong inclination toward performative allyship.

But, as long as we have access to artisan craft beer, a warm Starbucks drink, and Amazon Prime same day delivery, we have nothing to worry about, right? We’ve taken the number 3 position for homelessness in the nation as those who dream of homeownership must come up with half a million dollars to even consider it, but c’est la vie…just keep swimming, work harder and you too can achieve the dream life in the PNW.

A “progressive” city like Seattle hides the disproportion among access to quality education, mental and physical health assistance, and generational wealth building opportunities. Although there are a lot of genuine, amazing community members who are action oriented towards a more equitable society, there are also those that feel threatened by progress when their privilege is challenged.

For the most part, I have loved growing up in the PNW. I have some amazing friends and have made incredible relationships within the art community that I am truly grateful for. However, the past few years have exposed and opened new perspectives within me that desperately needed light shined upon them. Things that I naively refused to see or believe and learned to ignore out of survival. Growing up with rose colored glasses was no longer acceptable, nor an excuse for ignorance.

As a queer Black mother with a son who is a Black boy on the spectrum, we’ve both had the pleasure of experiencing varied levels of microaggressions, fear, and oppression in this city. I’ve been told racist and sexist jokes by bosses in the tech world, while my son’s been suspended and accused of sexual assault because his teacher was “uncomfortable” and felt “unsafe” ….at age 7. Yeeeahhhh…we’ve got some experience in this department.

I think one of the most surprising things to come out of “the COVID years” for me personally, has been a realization that I have been the “token Black friend” almost all my life here. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise, and I am almost embarrassed to admit that, but it is what it is. I grew up naïve. I had the audacity to believe that when push comes to shove, people (non-Black friends and family) would stick up, speak out, and protect me and my son.

It’s not to say that all my relationships here with non-Black folks made me feel that way, but it was eye opening when I assumed for 30+ years that the folks I have gone to bat for, surrounded myself with, and trusted would have my back… just… didn’t. And because of what? Because of their own privilege or fear of being labeled racist? Because they couldn’t be uncomfortable and put themselves in my or their other Black friends’ shoes for fear of saying something dumb or looking stupid? Even at the expense of my sanity, self-worth, and the safety of me and my son? Well, daaaannnng. WAKE UP CALLLLLL!

Racism is more covert here. People don’t even realize they are doing it, it’s a little too normal. Some say it’s worse than in the South because you don’t know when it’s coming or how it will affect your livelihood. At least in other parts of the country you know that people don’t like you because of your melanin. Here, it’s the subtlety of racist behavior and thought processes that permeate everyday life until one day it’s like…. lol…gotcha! As if I was a frog being boiled slowly, I didn’t realize I was being cooked alive until the protests and the pandemic.

Though these feelings really culminated over the last couple of years, I remember it really starting the night we elected “45”. I remember walking into my corporate techy job the very next day and having an anxiety attack the minute I walked into the swivel doors of the building. As part of the only 1 percent Black population in the company, fear came over me and I wasn’t prepared for the reaction my body had. I didn’t feel protected. I felt so much like the “other” than I ever had before. It was a whole ‘nother world now. We elected someone who would never have my best interest under his consideration simply because of my skin color, and there were people in this building that agreed with his sentiment. Whether they agreed with his thought processes or whether they just valued money and their tax breaks more…it didn’t matter. I wasn’t as important to them. It was debilitating. I shook at my desk and really had to take a moment to compose myself.

Then the pandemic; the police brutality and protests overflowed the airwaves. Things were FINALLY being exposed and people had to watch. Surely, people would stand with us, right? They wouldn’t be afraid to stick up for me or their other Black friends, correct? They would finally understand and really start to look within, and we could begin to heal. YIKES Kimisha… that’s too cute. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of beautiful, amazing allies protesting in the streets, putting their lives at risk for the cause… and that was incredible. But I didn’t really know the majority of them, and it almost made it feel worse because most of those people I did know were nowhere in sight.

Non-Black friends who seemed to have a lot of Black friends in the past, were suddenly very silent; not returning calls, not reaching out. The radio silence of reactions at work and on social media was deafening. The friends I grew up with were still posting their day to day but wanted to “stay out of politics” and not comment on the very things that were putting me and my son in danger. The things that I didn’t have the privilege of staying out of, or not thinking about. The things I must consider as my beautiful Black boy grows up with his own social challenges, on top of the burden of proof thrust upon him as he becomes a grown Black man.

There were noticeable differences in reactions and “likes” on my posts of cute pictures, fun Halloween outfits, and new art pieces versus a complete lack of reactions or posts in response to the injustices being addressed and exposed by me or other Black people. It was like they were saying “if I don’t see you than you can’t see me”. But they were/are wrong. I was blinded by it. It was just too inconvenient to address things that don’t ultimately affect them. That was a painful realization. The “best friends”, aunts, and uncles… abandoned us. We were no longer an asset to them, and my son and I were to fend for ourselves. It has been pretty lonely and sad. Being holed up in the house for two years didn’t really make it any easier. The relationships I once knew and counted on were no longer.

The blessing after all this, however, has been that it was another, albeit painful, way to develop resilience. To understand my value as a human and as an artist…who happens to be a Black mother. Those that did reach out to see how we were doing, did offer an ear, and publicly showed support don’t even realize how much it was needed. To be acknowledged instead of gaslit and get a break from the next crazy example of systemic wrongdoing was a much-needed drink of water while trying to survive parched and exhausted.

So, how would I reimagine this emerald wonderland? I think acknowledgement in the rich benefits of diversity within the corporate world, art world, and educational system is a start. Sharing our stories and experiences from all sides. Generating empathy that can help this city rectify the gaps that continue to divide us. We won’t know how we affect each other unless we know where we’ve all been. This requires participation and dialogue. It requires us to reach out to one another, let go of the “Seattle Freeze” once and for all.

I envision a city that encourages, promotes, and creates opportunities for underprivileged communities to confidently buy land, invest in stock, and enroll their kids in private schools. Creating programs to build Black children’s confidence in the tech industry, learn new languages, provide opportunities for travel, and teach them how to navigate the corporate world as leaders.

All people need is a chance to see how powerful they are and an acknowledgement that they matter, that their efforts and day to day existence is valued and valuable. It takes those who don’t have the burdens of the underprivileged to step out of their comfort zone and recognize their part and contribution to the status quo. We all had to deal with this pandemic together. It brought a lot of us together and it tore a lot of us apart. Ultimately, we all have the power to react and respond in healthy ways to whatever life throws at us. Remaining silent is just as big of a response as jumping on top of a car with a bull horn. We all have choices.  Hopefully we can all rebuild a city and community where our children will better understand how to communicate and take care of one another, no matter what shade we are or what side of life we happen to come from.

Black woman wearing tinted glasses looks directly at the camera. she has a bandana tied around her head and is wearing pink lipstick. she is standing in front of a brightly painted mural.
Kimisha Turner is a Washington born and raised interdisciplinary artist. She enjoys working in varying mediums and processes to execute her conceptual vision. She creates murals, art camps/workshops, sculptures, and performance art, connecting with her community while reflecting the times. Her work aims to help generate new perspectives and encourage empathy, pushing to have the viewer walk in another’s shoes while exploring ways that allow one to relate to another. She earned her B.F.A. from Cornish College of the Arts with an emphasis in Photography and Printmaking and has since focused on innovative ways of creating and interpreting the human journey. The Seattle Art Museum, Pratt Fine Arts and Seattle Theater Group are a few of the organizations to collaborate with Kimisha.

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.