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Black Man, White City: 'It's Unnecessarily Stressful'

On a map, Seattle is a blue dot – often described as liberal and tolerant. But it’s not always comfortable for black men who say they experience racial profiling and discrimination.Below are stories from four black men from around the Seattle area, in their own words.

Tariq Sahali, Age 36, Garfield Community Center Counselor

I have to go in almost showing the intention that I am peaceful, that I am happy, that I am not really here to cause any sort of trouble.

If there was one thing I would want people to know about me, it would be that I am far more than my appearance and I have gone to great lengths to make sure that my appearance is not in any stereotypical fashion. My hair, my clothes, the way I walk down the street. The whole nine. I’ve had to be conscious of that just because I’ve seen people’s reaction to a certain style, being more urban or contemporary.

I change my disposition; I change the tone in my voice, the way that I’m standing, everything.

For example if I’m in one of your nicer restaurants downtown, I have to walk in with a whole different approach than if I were walking in your neighborhood corner store here in the Central District.

It’s unnecessarily stressful. You’re in the Central District, where there is some of everybody, to across Madison, and all of a sudden the vibe has changed, and you might not be as welcome as you were just across the street.

Sean Hatfield, Seattle Housing Authority

I grew up down in Madison Valley for about 20 years.

Two weekends ago, I was down there with my son to show him where I used to live at, and I stopped my car in front of my old home.

The people who lived there now came outside and asked me if I was lost, if I needed directions, and I explained to them, “I lived in that house that you reside in for over 20 years, and I just wanted to show my son where I lived at.” And then another neighbor walked up and asked if they were OK.

And she explained that, “He used to live here, but he’s on his way out of here.”

It kind of disappointed me.

I remember I was headed to work at the bus stop at 23rd and Union and the police officer stopped me and made me take off my shoes, went through my pockets and said, “Don’t catch the bus here anymore; this is a high drug area.” And I said, “Well I live right around the corner.” And he said, “I don’t care.”

In the 2000s, I would think that things would change, but they haven't much.

Anthony Ray, aka Sir Mix-a-Lot, Age 50, Recording Artist

I am Anthony Ray, aka Sir Mix-a-Lot, born and raised in Sea-Town! Lived in every project but the Yesler Terrace.

One day, I was coming home from Redmond Town Center – I go there every Saturday for a car show.

I’m going home, Highway 18, I’m in a bright orange Lamborghini LP 640. I’m coming to a red light and I stop right at the Green River.

There are about six cops sitting on the other side. I take off, I know there are cops there, I’m not speeding, and they all take off and follow me. I pull into a spot.

The guy walks up – hand on his gun standing back and yelling. And he yells, “Put your hands up and step outside of the car!” And I say, “I can’t put my hands up because this car door opens from the floor, and I can’t put my hands down!”

And so he reaches down, opens my car, grabs me, leans me against the car and puts cuffs on me and searches my car. Like I’m going to have dope in a Lamborghini.

Told me I was going to jail, but still didn’t tell me what he pulled me over for.

So some white kids, thank God, pulled over and said “Hey Mix, what’s up?” And I said, “Film this! Make sure you film this and put it on YouTube.”

And this young cop comes behind, and she takes the guy and gets in the car, and the guy comes out on his walkie-talkie and he’s making sure I can hear him and he says, “Ah yeah everything is all right, blah blah blah.” And now I’m supposed to be happy.

I think he wanted me to say, “Thank you.” That was really weird, and he tried to talk to me about fishing and that was the most condescending feeling I ever had in my adult life.

What if I wasn’t Mix-a-Lot? What if I was just a black guy who worked at a law firm that had on a sweat suit and driving a car?

Those kids wouldn’t have walked up and went “Yo, Mix.” I would have been in jail.

David Sheppard, Age 43, US Department Of Commerce Regional Inspector General

I was on my way to my office one day – this was about five or six years ago. I had my suit on, I was dressed halfway decent, and this guy walking toward me just blurted out a racial slur and caught me off guard.

There was a guy coming out of a building who came to my defense, for lack of a better word.

Then there was a guy who did it again about two years ago, and I was sitting at the bar eating lunch by myself, and a guy walked behind me said the same thing. In both instances someone local came to my defense.

It made me think about what that person was and not about myself. If anything it made me feel sorry for the guy and his ignorance.

It would be nice if you could get to the point where you could just be a man regardless of where you come from, but that’s just not our reality yet.

Funding for Black In Seattle was provided by the KUOW Program Venture Fund. Contributors include Paul and Laurie Ahern, the KUOW Board of Directors and Listener Subscribers.

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