Words by Luke Wigren
The most time I’ve spent on 23rd & Union is waiting for the metro, so, for me, Draze’s song “Irony on 23rd” is a window into the heart of Seattle’s historically black neighborhood, and into the pain of seeing that heart gouged out by gentrification.
The song focuses on the hypocrisy of Seattle officials, who have allowed white-owned Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop to bypass state regulations and operate near a youth center, while just four years ago police were arresting African Americans selling marijuana at that very corner under the auspices of our nation’s “War on Drugs.”
Sure, it’s all legal. But when City Hall “revitalization” plans kill longtime African American businesses, and when the same Seattle Police Department who disproportionately prosecutes blacks for smoking marijuana then barricades a white-owned pot shop during a protest on 420, it does strike as a bit ironic.
Then again, there is perhaps nothing ironic about any of the events described in Draze’s song. They demonstrate, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, “our system working as intended,” that is, working in the interest of wealthy whites at the expense of poor minorities. With how unevenly laws apply in America, the fact that we call ours a justice system may be irony in the truest sense of the word.
So, with all that in mind, maybe its time we stop confusing legality with justice and begin calling the “Irony on 23rd” for what it really is: systematic racism. Of course that wouldn’t be quite as good a song title.
Thanks to Spekulation, without whose mic pass I might not have heard “Irony on 23rd,” and, of course thank you Draze for having the insight in the first place. We need more of this. Check out the rapper’s recent Seattle’s Own mixtape, here.