Posted on May 2, 2011

Census Report on Seattle’s Whiteness Really Hit a Nerve

Danny Westneat, Seattle Times, April 30, 2011


It [a census number index called the “diversity index.”] calculates the probability that two people in a given area would have different racial or ethnic backgrounds. A score of 0 indicates complete homogeneity. A score of 100 means complete diversity–that the population is mixed among the census’ racial and ethnic categories, which include white, black, Asian, Hispanic, mixed race and “other.”

The area of Beaulieu’s office, from Judkins Park on the south past Pratt Park on the north, has an extremely high diversity index rating of 91. Living there are 451 blacks, 362 whites, 107 Asians, 171 who identify as mixed race, 45 Native Americans, 279 “other” race and 612 Hispanics (who can be of any race).

If diversity means “variety,” here’s where it is. Right smack in the middle of one of the least diverse cities around.

What drew me there is that a lot of people were hacked off by the story last weekend that said Seattle is so white. Some objected that the image didn’t match their own experiences. Others seemed defensive, saying: So what if we’re a white city? Nobody’s redlining, like back in the old days.


Everything in the story was true. Seattle really is the fifth whitest big city in America, and, judged by the diversity index, the eighth-least diverse.

But it’s also true that Seattle is the least white, as well as the most racially diverse, that it has ever been. Today it’s 66 percent white. In 1960, by contrast, Seattle was 92 percent white. In 1980, 80 percent white.

There’s also widespread misunderstanding, it seems to me, about the word “diversity.” It doesn’t always mean “more minorities.” Seattle’s Central Area has been flooded with whites moving into the inner city. But this gentrification isn’t simple to categorize, because it has made many of those neighborhoods more racially diverse, not less.

The story of Seattle is likewise complex. The city houses the most racially jumbled neighborhood in the state–South Park, with a diversity index of 93, as near to total variety as any neighborhood is likely to get. By comparison, the city’s least diverse spot is centered on the Madison Park gated community of Broadmoor (the census says Broadmoor, with a diversity rating of 10, has 710 whites, 19 Asians, no blacks and no Native Americans).

Despite extremes like that, Seattle is–again according to the census–one of the least racially divided big cities in America.

That’s based on another measure, called dissimilarity, that looks at how different races are distributed across census tracts. Seattle doesn’t rank in the top 50 among big cities for segregation (Milwaukee, New York, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland are the top five most racially segregated).

How can we be white and not very diverse, have some of the most diverse neighborhoods and be among the most integrated–all at the same time?


To me the mixed messages add up to a pretty fair portrayal of our city: predominantly white but ever less so, with pockets of extraordinary variety, all somehow still muddled around without concentrated ethnic neighborhoods.