The Big Chill: Seattle isn’t unfriendly, just segregated.

I moved to Seattle from Amman, Jordan a little over a year ago based on an online questionnaire. It had questions about where I would like to live: the size of the city, my preferences for art versus sports, public transportation versus private parking, weather, etc.. Based on my answers, I was given 24 choices. Some were towns like Bergen-Passaic, New Jersey and Little Rock, Arkansas, which were non-option options. Seattle, on the other hand, had much of what I was looking for: water, topography, public transportation, and no humidity in the summer.

I arrived here knowing three people and immediately began a part-time internship at the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas. For the first six months I was hyper-social. I went to every event anyone suggested: comedy and music shows, walks, CouchSurfing happy hours. I gave my number to anyone I talked to for more than a minute and made plans with people whose names I could barely recall.

All the while, I kept hearing about the “Seattle Freeze.” According to the Urban Dictionary, this means Seattle is “unfriendly, asexual, introverted, and divided into social classes.”

But in just fifteen months, I’ve met many people – at least if you’re measuring by the 130 numbers I’ve programmed into my phone. Of those 130, I would say twenty are friends and seven are super close friends. I happen to be a pretty friendly person (remember those first six months of whirlwind socializing).  Still, those aren’t bad numbers for year one! Conclusion: Seattle just isn’t as unfriendly as it claims to be.

Before you get too flattered, Seattle, there remains a worrisome freeze in this city. I am race and class ambiguous, but it’s clear to me this is a deeply segregated place. In Detroit I was always perceived as a Black woman until I started to talk; British English mixed with an Arab accent can be a funny combination. In California, I was often spoken to in Spanish. One time an older man from Mexico scolded me for not using my mother tongue. The US government says I’m Caucasian.

This reality has made it easy for me to pass through lines of segregation here in Seattle—a city where people of color (POCs) tend to group themselves with other POC and white allies; an ally is a white person who understands their privilege and actively does what they can to support communities of color without taking the lead in POC spaces. Undocumented immigrants live by each other for solidarity and affinity. Hipsters refuse to mingle with techies. Even CouchSurfers have a community just for CouchSurfers.

Seattle has large numbers of immigrant and refugee communities from around the globe, and a high number of transplants and visitors from just about everywhere—the ingredients are here for a metropolitan city that is truly urban and diverse. Yet it remains segregated, conforming to entrenched comfort levels while shunting aside the underlying tensions.

This is the real Seattle Freeze. Maybe it’s the history of redlining and internment camps, WTO protests and too many millionaires. Maybe it feels too hard to reconcile these disparate realities with our identity as a non-racist, non-classist progressive coastal city. But this city – who lives here and who defines it – is changing. I’m looking forward to the day when the “freeze” refers only to the cold weather.

20 Comments

    1. Im glad I moved away from there…I ended up on Anti-depressants, & wanted to kill myself, Its not the weather..Its the rude,interverted, untrust worthy people that live there. Yes they have there social class segregation, & also dont have any compassion for anyone unless it is doing something for them or to benefit them.

      1. You got that right. I went through the same thing, now I live back in sunny Florida:) I am so much happier.

  1. Liberals love to make friends with people from other countries. It makes them feel good. They just don’t like their white neighbours. They remind them too much of themselves.

  2. Liberals love to make friends with people from other countries. It makes them feel good. They just don’t like their white neighbours. They remind them too much of themselves.

  3. So, Seattle needs to desegregate. Except for the POC spaces.

    I know, I know. That’s rondure logic. Too 20th Century.

    To be fair it’s apparent this isn’t about the Seattle chill. It’s about how amazing you are.

    Got it.

  4. So, Seattle needs to desegregate. Except for the POC spaces.

    I know, I know. That’s rondure logic. Too 20th Century.

    To be fair it’s apparent this isn’t about the Seattle chill. It’s about how amazing you are.

    Got it.

  5. Finally, someone who agrees with me! When I bring this up to my housemates they just say I need to get out more!

    I moved to Seattle a few weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about how segregated Seattle feels. I live in Ballard, and almost everybody here is white. I’ve seen a few people of color, but usually they’re working at ethnic restaurants or performing manual labor. I get the same impression from downtown Seattle. On the other hand, there are some neighborhoods that are mostly made up of people of color.

    Of course most US cities are like this, but the effect seems to be exaggerated in Seattle. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and for all its problems it felt much more diverse. I must admit, I never expected a city that bills itself as progressive to be so segregated.

  6. I am from Seattle and proud however every year around October I became unsettled, anxious and depressed, followed by drunkiness, fits of rage and suicidal thoughts.
    I now live and work in the bay area; Oakland & SF. I hear about all the violence outside my front door and I don’t understand why people here are killing each other everyday. As a mix race guy I feel comfortable and relaxed here. Also a jog around Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland has a better vibe than back at Seattles’ Green Lake. The winter Sun ROCKS California isnt pretty everywhere but if wasn’t for the sun 37 million people would not be here.
    One more thing…Big back the SuperSonics you thieving Okies.

  7. I pretty much agree with the above comment. But I’m really writing to say that this Sarah Stuteville barricades herself from any personal connection, making it IMPOSSIBLE to bring ‘evidence’ to her attention, for material that deserves her publicizing touch. At 86 years, myself, I cannot fight my way through her self-protective mystique.

  8. Hi!
    With this piece you sum up a bunch of of the more integral tips!

    Enjoyable to read through & inclusive of valuable
    details.
    Thank you for posting The Big Chill: Seattle isn’t unfriendly, just
    segregated. | Seattle Globalist!

  9. Seattle is by far the worst city I have lived in as far as being cliquish and classist. Seattlites only care about people who have been here for generations.

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20 Comments

    1. Im glad I moved away from there…I ended up on Anti-depressants, & wanted to kill myself, Its not the weather..Its the rude,interverted, untrust worthy people that live there. Yes they have there social class segregation, & also dont have any compassion for anyone unless it is doing something for them or to benefit them.

      1. You got that right. I went through the same thing, now I live back in sunny Florida:) I am so much happier.

  1. Liberals love to make friends with people from other countries. It makes them feel good. They just don’t like their white neighbours. They remind them too much of themselves.

  2. Liberals love to make friends with people from other countries. It makes them feel good. They just don’t like their white neighbours. They remind them too much of themselves.

  3. So, Seattle needs to desegregate. Except for the POC spaces.

    I know, I know. That’s rondure logic. Too 20th Century.

    To be fair it’s apparent this isn’t about the Seattle chill. It’s about how amazing you are.

    Got it.

  4. So, Seattle needs to desegregate. Except for the POC spaces.

    I know, I know. That’s rondure logic. Too 20th Century.

    To be fair it’s apparent this isn’t about the Seattle chill. It’s about how amazing you are.

    Got it.

  5. Finally, someone who agrees with me! When I bring this up to my housemates they just say I need to get out more!

    I moved to Seattle a few weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about how segregated Seattle feels. I live in Ballard, and almost everybody here is white. I’ve seen a few people of color, but usually they’re working at ethnic restaurants or performing manual labor. I get the same impression from downtown Seattle. On the other hand, there are some neighborhoods that are mostly made up of people of color.

    Of course most US cities are like this, but the effect seems to be exaggerated in Seattle. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and for all its problems it felt much more diverse. I must admit, I never expected a city that bills itself as progressive to be so segregated.

  6. I am from Seattle and proud however every year around October I became unsettled, anxious and depressed, followed by drunkiness, fits of rage and suicidal thoughts.
    I now live and work in the bay area; Oakland & SF. I hear about all the violence outside my front door and I don’t understand why people here are killing each other everyday. As a mix race guy I feel comfortable and relaxed here. Also a jog around Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland has a better vibe than back at Seattles’ Green Lake. The winter Sun ROCKS California isnt pretty everywhere but if wasn’t for the sun 37 million people would not be here.
    One more thing…Big back the SuperSonics you thieving Okies.

  7. I pretty much agree with the above comment. But I’m really writing to say that this Sarah Stuteville barricades herself from any personal connection, making it IMPOSSIBLE to bring ‘evidence’ to her attention, for material that deserves her publicizing touch. At 86 years, myself, I cannot fight my way through her self-protective mystique.

  8. Hi!
    With this piece you sum up a bunch of of the more integral tips!

    Enjoyable to read through & inclusive of valuable
    details.
    Thank you for posting The Big Chill: Seattle isn’t unfriendly, just
    segregated. | Seattle Globalist!

  9. Seattle is by far the worst city I have lived in as far as being cliquish and classist. Seattlites only care about people who have been here for generations.

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