Be Safe/Seattle’s diversity is a strength; let’s keep it that way

By Minh Ngo

Project Coordinator, Seattle Neighborhood Group

If there is one constant in this city’s history, it is that Seattle is a mix of people, cultures and religions with one of the highest levels of ethnic diversity in the Pacific Northwest. Washington is one of the top refugee resettlement states in the country.

In the 1970s Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees began arriving in the Seattle area. More recently, refugees have come in large numbers from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and East Africa.

Working with various neighborhoods all over the city, Seattle Neighborhood Group’s crime prevention coordinators have discovered many notable misconceptions between different ethnic groups in our very own city.

Like many major American cities, there are distinguished divisions, marred by racial prejudices.

Most people can acknowledge that discrimination has an underhandedly deteriorating effect on the lives of all communities, even when it is not explicit, aggressive or intentional. Problems arise when these biases profoundly and harmfully affect the day-to-day interactions of our residents and neighbors.

What is racial prejudice?

To be racially prejudiced means to have an unfavorable or discriminatory attitude or belief toward someone else or another group of people primarily on the basis of skin color or ethnicity.

For example, a certain group of people may be prejudiced when they believe another group to is responsible for all crimes happening in their neighborhood. Or, a person is prejudiced if he or she believes someone from another ethnic group is inferior because they don’t speak the same language as the first person.

Why is racial prejudice harmful to the community?

No matter what part of the world you are from or what culture you identify with, you have seen or heard the results of racial prejudice even if you have not felt or experienced it directed toward yourself. You can find it in virtually every aspect of society: in the media, in local government, in school, in the workplace, in your neighborhood and on your block.

You can see it in stereotypes, violence, hate crimes, inadequate funding for public educational services, unemployment, and disproportionate numbers of African-Americans incarcerated. Whether you are a member of the majority or the minority community, harboring racial prejudices toward another fellow community member on the basis of their ethnicity means you’re participating in and helping to perpetuate racial stereotypes.

Believing someone or a whole group to be naturally violent or inferior also means you are taking away your chance to communicate and to learn about their culture. This is especially unfortunate if you live or work in close proximity to each other.

What often comes with miscommunication is distrust. When you don’t communicate with your neighbors, you can’t trust each other. And when there’s no trust, there’s no support or assistance from either side. In other words, you are impeding their ability to achieve their full potential as a human being and to contribute as a community member. By taking away their potential contributions to your community, you may weaken your community as a whole.

As Seattle becomes more diverse and the world’s residents more mobile, we must address racial prejudices intentionally and move beyond the ‘us vs. them’ mentality.

Whether as individuals or as a community, let’s communicate, get to know one another and keep our neighborhood safe together.

Why not start making new friends on Saturday, Feb. 10, as Seattle celebrates Neighbor Day. It’s a chance to reach out and connect to your neighbors and indulge in random acts of kindness.

Consider going for a hike together, have a book or plant exchange, or just enjoy a cup of coffee—you might discover you have more in common than you realized.

Seattle Neighborhood Group educates, organizes and collaborates with residents, businesses, government entities and other organizations to create safe communities through equitable engagement, with a focus on underserved populations. Contact Minh at 206-323-9666 or minh@sngi.org.

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