There’s a part of town that half the people in Seattle barely know anything about, and by some measures it’s the most diverse place in the country: South Seattle. It has a lively literary, artistic and activist life and its own news site, the South Seattle Emerald.
Marcus Harrison Green founded the South Seattle Emerald after leaving a job at a Los Angeles-based hedge fund in his 20s. He returned to the community of his youth to tell the stories that traditional media have neglected.
Green has captured the poetry and prose of this community in “Emerald Reflections,” an anthology of dozens of poets, prose writers and one graphic artist from South Seattle. The book includes works by Nikkita Oliver, Reagan Jackson and Real Change columnist Gui Jean-Paul Chevalier.
“Emerald Reflections: A South Seattle Emerald Anthology” can be ordered from Ingram, or directly from Third Place Press.
Real Change interviewed Green recently about “Emerald Reflections.”
How did this anthology come about?
Third Place Books had a grand opening in Seward Park. They had had some mishaps and wanted to reach out to this diverse community. Their manager knew of the Emerald’s work. He knew our poetry section. They said, “We’ll put the money in and all you have to do is find the artists.” We ended up being nearly 60 contributors and probably at this point a hundred more who want to contribute. If we end up doing a Volume 2, already there’s a sense of inevitability. I would love it to be an ongoing series.
I would love people to pick up the book and really explore this area and its people here. This is a snapshot in time of richness that is here. The promise of America went from the melting pot to a tossed salad, and I call it a gumbo, meaning that there’s so many different things and spices and ingredients that get put into this boiling pot here and they concoct this entrée. There’s no place like it; 58 something ethnicities, 80 something languages spoken when you include dialects. To come here and just be in this mosaic of culture, there’s not too many places in the city or even outside of Seattle that you can say that’s the case.
That’s not the usual image you get of Seattle in the media.
I remember Robert Weide’s documentary about Woody Allen and they’re interviewing Martin Scorcese and he says, “You know, I really like Woody Allen’s work, but he lives in a New York that I don’t know. I know the New York that’s in ‘Goodfellas.’” That’s the thing here — everything south of the I-90 overpass, that’s Seattle to me.
What are some of the works in here that reflect that kind of diversity?
It’s like choosing your favorite kids. There are definitely ones that stand out, depending on different times, like Georgia McDade’s “History,” Reagan Jackson’s “Freedom Still Isn’t Free,” Monique Franklin “Walk Woman Walk,” even Larry Crist [“Suffer the Fan”], to relive the Seahawks Super Bowl debacle, [that] show the contours of this area. Especially in the perilous times we live in now, having just a celebration of diversity is that much more important.
Where did you grow up?
What was that like?
It definitely helped shape me. I think you get a view of the world that you realize doesn’t exist in several other places. I did go to a private school, so it was a juxtaposition of socio-economics and class. You go to a prep school, which had majority White, a lot of kids who were more affluent than I was. You’re just always broke when there’s field trips or anything like that, and then you’re going home to an area that has a distinct contrast, so you learn how to maneuver in different places.
How’s the South Seattle Emerald doing?
It’s doing very well. The readership continues to grow. Print is something we are working on, because being exclusively online is an issue. You have a lot of people who are new to computers in this area and you want to make sure that they have access to the things that you’re talking about.
The economics are not good for print, though.
They’re not great, but, as nonprofits, why do we exist? Are we here to be a service to this community? How best do we serve the community and how best do you do that without having to starve the rest of your life?
How would you define the political stance of the paper?
Well, it’s a 501(c)3, so we do not endorse candidates, but organizations like DemocracyNow!, organizations similar to The Intercept have been organizations we wanted to model ourselves after. That vision, muckraking, “going where the silence is.”
Has the Emerald done investigative articles?
Because we are smaller, it’s “the stories we’ve got” kind of thing, realizing that investigative pieces are important as well, but they cost a lot of time and resources. We want to get to a level where we can have the great stuff that we do as well as some investigative pieces.
Tell me what you think about the politics in the neighborhood. Bruce Harrell represents Rainier Valley, but he’s fairly conservative on the Seattle City Council.
We also have some of the lowest voting turnout in the city. I think he only won by about 300 votes in this last go-round. It’s an interesting mixed bag. We have three different socialist organizations right along Rainier. Not really a huge visible Republican presence, obviously. The 37th [state legislative] District is extremely liberal. Sharon Tomiko-Santos and Eric Pettigrew had a race and they got 80 to 90 percent of the vote.
What about issues of public safety versus police harassment?
There are various extremes on that issue. That’s not just something here. It’s obviously in other places. You do have that strand that’s based on negative interactions with the police and your community’s experience with police. And when you’re in an area that’s as diverse as we are, there’s going to be people who want as many police officers down here as possible; there’s going to be other groups that do not.
Granting that the gun violence hasn’t dissipated here, burglaries are down, seven out of nine indicators are turning down in South Seattle, as opposed to other areas, so it’s another of those things about what are you choosing to emphasize.
Another issue is gentrification and lots of people not being able to afford to live here.
There’s definitely a tinderbox around that. There’s some people to whom even that word is triggering. People move into the area; they don’t want to be looked at as “a gentrifier.” It’s even hard to agree on what that word means. There’s certainly displacement. You look at a place like Columbia [City] as it used to be and what it is now. Very stark contrast. If you keep market forces as the main determinant of who lives where, you’re going to see this, and history continues to bear it out.
Then how do you preserve the diversity here?
That’s a very interesting question. I had an intern ask me not too long ago: “Do you ever feel like you’re documenting the death crawl of a community? Because obviously, going by the numbers...” I thought about that for a while, and I wondered, and I still say that even if that is the case, you’re documenting the life as it is now. It’s still very important. Even if it’s for the record.
I’m trying to find some hope. That’s one of the reasons we want to start doing more solutions-based journalism, pieces about what other areas or other cities have done to combat things — like Berlin. There’s an article in the Financial Times, nobody’s leftist rag at all, celebrating what Berlin is doing in terms of trying to keep the composition of that city together by very high taxes on people who live outside of the city purchasing homes and a form of rent stabilization and a few different other things. So that’s like an Eleanor Roosevelt school of thought, that you’ve only done everything that you possibly could when you’ve done all that you can. We’re trying to do all that we can.
How do you think Trump will affect things here?
I’m still processing the news. I feel, like many people, a state of anxiety, a bit shell-shocked at the same time. I remember waking up that morning with a very bad feeling, and I immediately was drawn to this quote by Howard Zinn about how to be hopeful, that being hopeful is a necessity in life. If you conduct yourself now as you believe human beings should conduct themselves on earth, then you’ll have some marvelous victories.
What do you think White people should do about racism?
I think they should inform and talk to other White people. Any marginalized group can only shout so loudly. The dominant group begins to be desensitized to it: “Oh, it’s just a grievance.” Having somebody being on the same team, so to speak, talk and speak to each other about things, such as racism, about thinking systemically as opposed to just on the individual level, talk to people about the lived experience of others — that’s where a lot of folks need help. I think it’s necessary.
You read some horrific things that are popping up. There’s so many people who harbor certain prejudices [who] are now emboldened to act upon those prejudices. We need all hands on deck. You don’t need to look too far, even in this state. There was a middle school where some of the White students were telling the Mexican students, shouting, “We’re gonna build a wall.” Hatred is a learned thing, whether they learn from society, whether they learn from the home. How did these middle schoolers get to this point? What do they encounter? You almost feel as bad for them as you do for some of the people who they act against. Everybody is a victim of this hate.
We live in a grand experiment that has mixed results: America. It’s because we try not to talk about it. We’d rather not talk about things. America is one of the only democracies that has had a genocide of native [people]. We’ve had slavery and we’ve never had a national reconciliation. In South Africa, they had truth and reconciliation, same with Rwanda, the horrors that happened there, and then you have a place like Germany, which has outlawed all Nazi paraphernalia and everything else in the wake of what happened. So we’ve never truly had a sensitive response to all of these things that have happened and I don’t think we’re anywhere closer to doing it. You’ve had Obama, president for eight years, who’d run away from discussing race, specifically in his first term. I’m fearful that conversation won’t ever happen on the national level. Which, again, is why it’s imperative for White people to have those conversations.