Notes from Cafe Rozella

A customer walks into Cafe Rozella and before I have chance to say anything he blurts out, “so, how many times have you been robbed?”  I stuttered, “What?”  He replied, “This is such a dangerous neighborhood, you must be robbed all the time.”  I got his order and looked him over:  silk pants, expensive sport shirt, Italian loafers — looked like a salesman.  “None,” I replied.

Ruminating for a minute, I said, “actually this is a very safe neighborhood.  Crime statistics show this is much safer than most other urban Seattle neighborhoods.”  Yeah, but you have so many creeps around here… blah, blah, blah… he stammered on.

“Where do you live?” I asked him.  “White Center,” he said with a laugh.  When he saw that I wasn’t in on his joke, he mentioned the very same neighborhood that I live in.   Now, I could clue this fool in, but I knew that he had a bagful of prejudices and preconceptions that no amount of small conversation would alter.

I thought about all the Rozella regulars who make this their second home:  tradespeople, programmers, biotech scientists, teachers, counselors, government workers, students, writers and artists.  Does this guy have a clue about the richness and diversity in this community?  I’ll admit that, as with any urban neighborhood, there are a fair number of street alcoholics who wander around like extras in the Blade-Runner movie.  But what of all the families walking to buy groceries at the Asian and Latin American markets?  Are they invisible?  Only to those too blind to see.

My dad was a mechanic and hence I relate well to people who do the complex jobs known as the trades.  God has a special place for the grace of those who work with their hands.  I love these people and they represent the best of our community.  And what of the artists who struggle to fulfill a vision — that takes courage.

All this went through my mind from that small exchange.  And the guy didn’t even leave a tip.

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12 Responses to “Notes from Cafe Rozella”

  1. To be fair, didn’t the Gamestop down the street from you get robbed a month or two ago?

    But, I do agree with you that WC is not the crime-ridden hellhole that many outsiders seem to think it is. I think a lot of the bad reputation comes from peoples’ preconceptions and stereotypes about the neighborhood and the people who live here. Of course, articles like the “Gangs” article in the PI last month don’t help with that…


  2. We covered the White Center/South Delridge Community Safety Coalition meeting last month – it’s attended by a variety of people involved with safety concerns/issues, including King County Sheriff’s Deputies and Seattle Police. Reps from both (as we wrote at the time) said things have been quiet (knock wood) – graffiti is the worst problem (and the Parks Department is working on a new plan to fight it at their facilities, as reported in our CSC and NHUAC meeting stories). P.S. The GameStop robbery was three months ago, in early June. I’ll never forget it because I wrote in-progress updates for West Seattle Blog as my co-publisher for WSB phoned me those updates – while I was online via wi-fi from the University of Minnesota, during a conference about running community news sites!

  3. I have had a couple of people say to me that they are happy a white business opened. It makes me cringe every time I hear it. I get what they are saying though. I don’t think they are out right racists, I think they just don’t think about things before it leaves their mouths. I have had one of the Sheriffs ask if I have had my “White Center introductory robbery”.
    Living in White Center, I do wish there were more business that cater to me and my culture, and at the same time I would freak out if Heng Heng ever closed. I would love to see a bookstore, or even a sandwich place that sold decent deli sandwiches and salads. That being said, if a samich shop opened up down the street from me that was ran by some guy from Brooklyn that had the perfect meatball sub, I still would not congratulate him on his new white business. The point I am trying to make is that people are not really bad, just dumb.

  4. I think people have legitimate concerns for public safety in White Center as they do in other neighborhoods. I have discussions with people all the time regarding public safety issues. I was close to Steve Cox and supported his efforts to clean up the neighborhood. I wish I could say I had gotten a fraction of Steve Cox’s support from the Seattle Police Department. We, all of White Center, are treated by the Seattle police as if we are all hostiles — no friendlies in this multi-racial, multi-cultural crowd. So issues of public safety and police harassment strike very close to home. Issues of crime and public safety are legitimate.

    My difference with the travelling salesman is that he only wanted confirm his preconceptions. He wasn’t asking for my opinion or views — he wanted to expound on his — ad nauseum. And I found his manner demeaning.

  5. FullTilt,

    I didn’t mention “the R word” in my post because, for one, I don’t think it includes all the biases people have about White Center, and also because is such a hot-button topic on online forums.

    That said, I do think racism or racial bias is a factor in peoples’ thoughts about WC. For example, after the WC meetup organized on WSB a while back, a member characterized the people he saw as “thugs and crack whores.” Why did he think that they were? I don’t think he asked folks about their criminal histories and drug use habits…

    Ricardo, I agree that people shouldn’t feel bad about being concerned about public safety in WC. As an example, one of the first things I did when I moved into my house was beef up the locks on my house and garage doors. Just a prudent precaution that I would take in any part of the city. I have experience with property crimes in the U District and Ballard, lots of experience in fact, and for whatever reason, those neighborhoods don’t have the rep that WC has…

    Your salesman example is unfortunately all too common. Still, you’d expect a little more sense from the guy. I mean, what did he expect from you? Nod and say, “Yeah, I live and work here, but it’s terrible, I hate it and all the people here”?


  6. I just feel terribly guilty now. I only leave a tip half the time because I never carry cash and you guys don’t have a tip field on the credit/debit form.
    Also, I had a hard time reconciling moving out of my “nice” Seattle neighborhood (it may have had a higher per capita income, but it did enjoy higher crime rates) to an area that I am still hopeful will be annexed by the city (sorry to all you that I just alienated and horrified), but the number one incentive for biting the bullet and coming here was the multicultural richness and all of the awesome businesses. I’m shocked that people are concerned about business owner versus what they are housing. I was thrilled when Fulltilt opened because it’s not a corporate fast food joint, pawn, or porn shop.
    And Fulltilt–you don’t need anyone from Brooklyn, you are exactly next door the the world’s most perfect heavenly sandwiches for only $2! It does have a strange smell there, but the sandwiches are worth it. Between your two businesses, I’m achieving a buoyancy that will assure I will not ever die of drowning (jury’s out on the heart attack).

  7. Racism certainly exists, but I think a far bigger problem is elitism. When I moved to the area back in the 1960s, White Center’s population was nearly all Caucasian and virtually all of the same the negatives being said today about the area were said back then too. I feel that one of the reasons is that the public housing in White Center has always been visible, be it Park Lake Homes I (now Greenbridge) or Park Lake II, and that people have many misperceptions about the area often based upon that.

    In other areas nearby, such as Burien, many people have no idea whatsoever that there is a lot of public housing in their community because the housing isn’t all in one spot or outwardly labeled as such. The King County Housing Authority owns and operates several apartment buildings in Burien such as Burien Park, Munro Manor, and Yardley Arms.

    One day at the Burien Farmers Market I got in a conversation with a woman about annexation, who basically stated she didn’t want to annex White Center because of all of the people on welfare. I asked what exactly she meant by that and she said that White Center has all of that “welfare housing”. I explained to her that Burien has many units of public housing too and described the apartments run by the KC Housing Authority. She was stunned and said she had lived in Burien for years and had no idea it had any “welfare housing”. I went on to explain to her that the median household income in North Highline is very similar to the median household income in Burien and offerred to mail her the factual documentation showing that, which she declined.

    I’m not sure how to even begin to combat this type of ignorance and elitism. I guess all we can do is speak out and provide people with facts whenever there is an opportunity and hope that maybe over time their perceptions will change.

  8. Rosechimera, I eat those sandwiches everyday. Or at least every other day. On the odd days I get a bahn bao. I would love to have a different place to get a good sammich though. We are going to offer hotdogs here soon, so there will be another cheap offering I guess.
    AS far as the “elitists” argument, I agree completely. Even racism boils down to class. I object to the word elite though. There are elite athletes, and elite thinkers that I admire. Classism is a better word for me.

  9. FullTilt,
    You are so right, classism is a better word than elitism for this situation. I’ll use that in the future. Thanks.

  10. The Truth, how do you know they are from White Center? Or are you just making an assumption that they couldn’t possibly be from anywhere else based upon your own perceptions?

  11. another perspective Says:

    I think the salesman story is a fine example of prejudices/preconceptions on both sides of the fence. In this posting and many of the subsequent comments I think we’ve done a fine job of chastising the salesman for his thoughtless and awkward words, but let me offer another perspective. I think it’s fair that some people have anxiety living in a town wherein a well-liked deputy was murdered. I think people have a right to be anxious about gang activity, which is visible not just because of a few newspaper articles, but also because of the innumerable tags on neighborhood fences, park benches, sign posts, and so forth. And yes, every town has street alcoholics, but does this mean that every townsman needs to embrace them?

    Not everyone responds to this kind of activity with “oh, but any city has violence” or “hey, it’s just spray paint” or “hey, the city has a great mix of cultures.” This is all true perhaps, but not everyone is obligated to hold such a Pollyanna view of their town. Some people see the glass as half empty. Some people are fearful. And some people express that fear in different ways, including trying to find others with whom to vent. They aren’t wrong for feeling this way. And they aren’t wrong for expressing themselves. Haven’t we learned what a mistake it is to quickly judge people based on superficial things – like someone wearing “Italian loafers” or making small talk about whether a business has been robbed? (Indeed, perhaps these observations are themselves classism?)

    People are far too complex to pin-down in a quick dialog. Our choice of words, especially with strangers, does not always (or even usually) tell our whole story. We certainly don’t need to like everyone, but I suspect if we gave the salesman a chance to fully express himself, we would find a bit more depth than is suggested here. And we might even find ourselves acknowledging that his perspective is not completely without merit.

  12. I have lived on the Seattle side of White Center for almost 20 years. The reason we moved here was we could afford it and the racial diversity. It was a great place to raise our son. He learned to appreciate and participate in different cultures in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in a different neighborhood.

    It has it’s problems, but then every neighborhood has problems. I grew up east of Kent. My Dad ran a gas station where 2 armed robberies occured with several break ins over the years. It was suppose to safe in the country. It’s a risk you take when dealing with the public and as far as I know there aren’t magic protective bubbles over the “higher priced” areas of King County.

    I do have to share with you all what happened to me at West Seattle High School when I was introduced to the PTA members at school potluck. Just as soon as they learned my name they wanted to know where I lived. I replied Lower West Seattle/Upper White Center. Without a word they smiled, turned around and walked away. They avoided me for the rest of the potluck. Oh well….