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Sherrell Dorsey. Seattle is the 11th largest city in the US; and the fifth whitest. As part of the Program Venture Fund, Tonya Mosley examines a key question that is a part of her life and community: What is it like to be black in Seattle?From experiencing the public school’s busing program in the 1970s to struggling with single life in the city – Mosley captures stories that point to the history and future of understanding racial identity in our Northwest metro area, its rewards and its challenges.Follow the hashtag #blackinseattle on Twitter and add your questions and insights. Don't have a Twitter account? Eavesdrop on the chat in real-time. Tweets about "#blackinseattle" 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.

'You Couldn't Tell My Father He Was White. Believe Me. I Tried.'

The cover of Mishna Wolff's book, "I'm Down," about growing up as a white girl in South Seattle.
Macmillan
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The cover of Mishna Wolff's book, "I'm Down," about growing up as a white girl in South Seattle.

Before there was Rachel Dolezal, there was Mishna Wolff’s dad.

In this 2009 interview, comedian Mishna Wolff tells Steve Scher about her dad, a white man, and how he became a part of Seattle's black community. 

He attended Franklin High School and wore "a short perm, a Cosby–esque sweater, gold chains and a Kangol — telling jokes like Redd Foxx, and giving advice like Jesse Jackson."

He was white, but he was "down," Wolff says. “He was still very much a part of the black community. In fact, I think he’s still a Royal Esquire, a black club in Seattle.”

Related: Is Spokane's NAACP Leader Passing For Black?

"Does he say, 'I’m black?'" Scher asked.

“It doesn’t need to be said,” Wolff said.

“What does that tell you about how we put people in categories?” Scher asked.

“The book is actually not about being tethered to categories, it’s about being untethered,” Wolff said. “Class and race became these malleable, liquid things that were much less fixed than they had ever been before.”

Before Civil Rights, Wolff said that categories were much more fixed. “This was black, and this was white. This was poor, this was rich.”

After, there was more fluidity in terms of how people could identify and portray themselves. She was shocked, for example, that kids at her wealthy white school would wear ripped jeans.

“I couldn’t figure out why rich kids would wear ripped jeans,” she said.  

This episode of Weekday includes callers explaining their own experiences as outsiders in minority communities.