A few years ago, I wrote something comparing and contrasting the Fremont Solstice Parade and the Seattle Pride Parade. 

The former was and is a spectacle of late-hippie “mandatory mellowness,” stridently “radical” and “anti-corporate.” 

The latter was and is about societal segments that have strived to be accepted by and respected within so-called “mainstream” society. As such, it welcomes the presence of corporations eager to show off their love of “diversity” (even if, in some cases, the marching examples of “diversity” are mostly affluent and white). 

This year, another difference emerged — how the two spectacles dealt with issues of race and representation. 

First, Solstice was “trolled” by a couple of gate crashers in giant puppet costumes depicting ethnic-stereotype characters.

One was a Chinese “coolie” character. It’s the other one everyone noticed: a black woman, a sort of cross between a minstrel-show “mammy” and a Rasta granny.

As later described by parade organizers, the two costumed performers showed up the evening of the parade’s staging rehearsal, and were asked to leave. Then on the afternoon of the event, they snuck onto the parade route as it was already underway. They went in and out of the parade at least twice; some parade-goers saw them, others didn’t.

I did see them. They didn’t seem all that different from characters I’d seen at past Solstice Parades. (Lest we forget, hippie culture once welcomed racist images, such as those in underground comix.)

Later that day, the parade’s organizers issued a statement about the incident. They said the costumes, particularly the “mammy” caricature, were images of racist hate that went against the parade’s commitment to tolerance and inclusion.

The white male who made/wore the black costume (which he’d named “Poquito”) sent a note to the Stranger several days later. He asked not to be named, and insisted he didn’t want or expect the costume to be perceived as racist.

The costume itself was eventually found outside the parade’s workshop space, a “BLACK LIVES MATTER” sign propped up against it.

Eight days later, Pride was interrupted for 30 minutes by a (real) Black Lives Matter sit-in. The duration was intentional, meant to represent the 30 years Charleena Lyles had been alive before dying in a police shooting at her apartment the previous Sunday.  

The interruption apparently wasn’t known in advance to Pride officials, but they did nothing to prevent or stop it. It ended as scheduled, and the parade resumed its 2.5-hour run from Westlake Park to Seattle Center.

A few days before the parade, Seattle Pride co-sponsored a workshop to help identify and undo white privilege within the various GLBTQ subcultures. The workshop’s facilitators confessed that “progressive” white Seattle residents, including those in the queer communities, have a ways to go in regard to accepting and welcoming people from other ethnic backgrounds — even as they themselves demand to be accepted and welcomed in the larger society.

It’s not easy to admit that you’re not as open minded as you believe yourself to be. 

But as the strands of identity politics mesh into an intersectional movement of united action toward a better world, we must admit our own failings, and work to do, and be, better.