Diversity has become a “buzzword” used by every city that has a significant multicultural – multiethnic population. It is also a polite way of saying as a society we are contending with the political and policy legacies of discrimination, segregation, exploitation based on race, ethnic origins, religion, language and our history of slavery. Regardless, America remains a beacon of hope but our luster is not shining.
Our country is complicated. We are a country through revolution, a survivor of civil war, still dealing with the legacies of Jim Crow, unfriendly immigration laws, years of urban development practices designed to discriminate, and recently experienced an attempted coup from a divisive former president who lost an election. Yet, as complicated and politically messy as we are, people continue seeing our country as a bastion of hope and prize country for opportunity.
Federal Way is currently a destination for people displaced by gentrification in neighboring cities, affordability seekers, and new immigrants. According to 2020 census data, English is not the first language for 34 percent of our households. That percentage is higher for the cities of Bellevue and Kent. The 2020 census clearly shows our country is becoming more urban, more diverse and less white.
Dealing with “diversity,” on American terms, is contending with the realities of our ingrained discrimination ideologies based on, white privilege, race, ethnicity, class, age, income, language, religion, education, and culture. Our task is to understand that prejudice is taught, tolerance of the status quo is preferable for those in power, and fear is used to divide us. Changing hearts and minds is always tough but vital to Federal Way’s future.
Enabling people of different cultures, backgrounds, races and nationalities to assimilate and achieve their American dream is about removing barriers. Much of the Trump presidency was about building walls, division, distrust, and fear of others. In a country built on immigration, hope, and opportunity, with a manifest destiny mindset, we must find ways to build community, embrace diversity, and value looking out for one another regardless of our origin.
Our city’s Diversity Commission is essential for helping build a dynamic community consensus. Their job is to listen to the whole community and allow deep discussions with the intent of building cultural bridges to one another. Extrapolating what is going on politically or culturally in a community by looking at diversity from a statistical perspective is not possible. We must have dialogue.
Looking at the 2020 census data for Federal Way, we are: White 52%, Hispanic/Latino 19%, Black 15%, Asian 13%, Multiracial 8%, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 3%, and American Indian/Alaska Native <1%. Those are just numbers. The commission’s job should be to find out the needs and dreams for those communities and help them grow into expectations greater than just being here. Federal Way moves forward when all aspects of our community benefit and work together.
Other pieces of the puzzle that need to be understood are home ownership verses rentals, household income ranging from poverty to disposable, education level, business opportunities, and how these characteristics stratify within our diversity. If Federal Way is ever going to achieve its potential of being a premier city it needs to understand how to utilize its diversity in ways that elevate our education potential, jobs growth and economic well-being.
The Diversity Commission’s mission is to advise city-government and to ensure that our community is united amidst diversity. They have approached this task by conducting events that bring awareness to MLK Day, Black History Month, Cinco De Mayo, Culture Fair, Flavor of Federal Way, and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. These programs are good but they serve as “box-checks” that our city council directed the commission to conduct to show that the city is doing something.
These events celebrate aspects of our diversity, but they do very little to create a broad cultural understanding of our city’s and country’s growing diversity. We need to be focusing on and defining what the needs are for our city and what we can do to embrace inclusion as a citywide municipal practice.
The city’s diversity commission, like most city commissions, is underfunded, understaffed, underutilized, and operating within the city’s basic programming box of creating a presence with no ability to grow and no advocacy allowed. Our current city council leadership clique is regressive ideologically and prefers constraining the capabilities of our commissions as they pursue their unique support role in building community.
In the municipal world there will never be enough money to meet all needs, but having no imagination or setting commissions up to fail is worse. Council authorized in the current budget cycle a part-time position, to staff what needs to be a full-time job, to support the already underfunded Diversity Commission. Shortly after someone filled the position they found a full-time position elsewhere.
Council’s approach really is a con-job on the community and a white-washing of our city’s future in a way that prevents our diverse population from fully embracing Federal
Way or more significantly – one-another. Adding to the commission’s funding-con, our city’s staffing efforts appear to be minimal in trying to mirror our growing diversity.
For Federal Way to find a more secure path toward being a solid middle-class city that is respected for its job base as well as its diversity, we need to properly support and fund our commissions. Achieving a higher standard of opportunity for all, as well as positioning our city for a bright future based on our growing diversity, requires better leadership.
The author James Baldwin once said: “The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it.”
Advocacy from the community is critical for us to become a place where we all fit. Federal Way cannot evolve until we have council leadership that embraces diversity, inclusion, education, the arts, building a strong economic base and a better future for all.
Keith Livingston is a longtime Federal Way resident and community observer. He can be reached at email@example.com.