Opinion

Diversity should be celebrated, not scorned | Nandell Palmer

As a man of color who celebrates diversity in all areas of life, I was appalled after reading last week’s Federal Way Mirror editorial, “Economic diversity and consequences of poverty in Federal Way.”

It got me thinking as to whether I, a law-abiding citizen of Federal Way, was fully welcomed in this city. At times it has caused me to wonder if I, too, was silently linked with the “othered” group by society and viewed with suspicion.

Oftentimes, we don't always scratch where we itch. And frankly, I would have preferred a more candid analysis on race and economic development in Federal Way than for it to be hinted at under the guise of “economic diversity.”

One doesn’t have to go far into the article to see the smoke screen giving way to perhaps decades of pent-up unease harbored by some citizens.

I say kudos, however, to anybody brave enough to broach the subject in an open forum, something that seemingly was uncomfortable to do for the longest time. But your explanation of the issues about diversity and poverty somewhat felt forced and contrived rather than authentic in getting your “real” points across.

The editorial cited national findings from one of America’s leading think tanks, the Brookings Institution, which stated that increasingly, poverty is moving from the inner cities to the suburbs. Where have they been for the past 15 or so years? That is nothing new. New York City, Boston, Chicago, and other large metro areas are examples of cities leaching off their poor to outlying communities or to different states altogether through gentrification.

While that observation is noteworthy for city leaders to come up with strategic measures to combat the onslaught of urban blight, we certainly don’t want to besmirch the golden word, diversity, making it a byword for shame and degradation. The face of diversity should not always be seen as poverty-stricken black and brown people running amok despoiling erstwhile picket-fenced neighborhoods.

I have the utmost respect for the editor and board members of The Mirror, but I would be remiss if I didn’t address that editorial, adding my own two cents. To me, it smacks of elitism at its highest level. And I don’t say that lightly.

Instead of warehousing our thoughts about the negative things that can emanate from diversity, how about if we opened our minds and became a tad more receptive in appreciating some of the attributes and benefits of diversity?

I know it’s not easy for homeowners paying high property taxes for their waterfront or golf-course properties to be mingling with plebs. Many of you have worked long and hard to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but please, don’t look down on those people that are not on your radar.

True diversity will strip away the veneer of elitism any day once we start seeing people as people. The majority of blacks, Hispanics, poor whites and Asians should not be viewed as mere interlopers bent on changing our city for the worst. Many of these hardworking people want the best for their progeny. Just look at San Jose for harmonious diversity. Look at Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks.

Many people of color, too, abhor a crime-riddled, congested Federal Way, dotted by a horde of low-rent apartment complexes with dwellers on a mad rush to ghettoize this pristine landscape.

Now, if only we could court the likes of Amos Winbush III, Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, Salma Hayek, Mario Lopez, or pre-fame Justin Bieber and his teenage mother as our neighbors. Note that all the aforementioned multi-millionaires were once so piss-poor that they didn’t even have a pot to pee in and a window from which to pour it through.

Currently, Federal Way has its fair share of minority professionals that contribute greatly to the city’s economy. Some are college presidents, surgeons, professors, engineers, and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, if many of them do not show or tell you about their tertiary education and upward mobility, they too will be bunched in among the so-called lower-class group.

Another thing that we need to contend with is that for the last eight years, the national economy has played a number on many people of all socio-economic and racial backgrounds that once commanded coveted salaries and vaunted stations in life.

Many that once entertained lofty pastimes with swag and a healthy discretionary income to boot are now grateful to cadge a few nights here or there with friends to save them from homelessness.

Gone are the exclusive getaways, which allowed them to jet hither or yon. Many have seen their marriages crumble under financial pressures. Still, others are burdened by physical and mental challenges for which they see no easy escape.

But it’s not right for society to judge them by their last paycheck or their last year of trial. They are hopeful, telling themselves that everything is subject to change. They are proud. They don’t seek government handouts but people’s fervent prayers.

I foresee a Federal Way with eclectic and historical districts: few downtown lofts, multinational block parties hosted on green lawns, a state-of-the-art performing arts/civic center, and family-friendly enclaves where neighbors of diverse ethnicities trust one another.

It’s a Federal Way where I can eat blinis from my Russian neighbors and catch a steaming bowl of Jjamppong from a Korean restaurant. It’s sipping chai tea with Kabal Gill at East India Grill or learning a few dance moves at a Moroccan get-together.

A diverse Federal Way looks like the young and dynamic Martin Moore, an adopted orphan from Bulgaria, trying his darnedest in the upcoming election to secure a spot in the council chambers at City Hall.

It’s Harold Booker, a distinguished African-American military officer and chemical engineer that worked at Boeing, who had fought racism tooth and nail in the early 1960s in Federal Way.

Living in a community of one’s choosing should not only be for the lucky or the preferred. The last time I checked, we’re all God’s children after all!

Remember, while most of us can readily point out the caterpillars in others, we’re unable to see the butterflies in them. How we treat people will largely determine how we’ll be treated time to come. We just don’t know which persons of note, especially children, toiling in a Federal Way school today that will go on and change the world tomorrow. So, I beg of you, please grant them that chance!

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