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.