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Spokane Shock 

Get outside your culture to be able to decide what's in it

  • Caleb Walsh illustration

No, this is not an ode to our small but mighty football team. I'm talking about culture shock here. Most don't have to think too much to recall their own startling evidence of Spokane's unique yet oddly opaque mores. Like fish that don't realize they are swimming in water, sometimes we fail to give ourselves credit for our more delightful quirks, or are too comfortable swimming around in the status quo to know we can do better. By reflecting on what is surprising about the Spokane experience, we can decide what stays, what goes, and realize that with awareness we have the power to determine just what kind of city we'd ultimately like to become.

click to enlarge mariahmckay.jpg

A simple example of Spokane shock might be: You have out-of-town guests over for Bloomsday weekend. The race cannon goes off and in a flash of adrenaline you strip off your shirt and hurl it into a nearby tree to your guest's utter and total astonishment. I was once on the receiving end of such a Spokane moment when I attended my first Zags game with a family of die-hard fans. Realizing that basketball is an institution here, I was eager to understand what was happening on the court. After one too many questions, my date's dad snapped and whirled around in his seat. "Are you even from around here?" he growled. "Born and raised," I said defensively, knowing no further explanation would be required.

Beyond simple examples of shared experience, what we expect to be surprising tells us about where we're at and where we're going. Would you be shocked to hear that Spokane was just named by the Wall Street Journal as one of six "mid-size cities with king-size appetites" for our burgeoning local food scene? I'm not.

Were you shocked when widely respected local NAACP President Rachel Dolezal recently received targeted racist hate mail at her home? I wish I could say I was. I'm impatient to live in a community where we can all take for granted an assumption that doesn't happen to anyone. The meaningful conversations that have been taking place on race recently directly threaten old systems of ignorance and ingrained bias. While there is a long history of racism in our city, the sands of consciousness are shifting and we are getting ready to redefine "business as usual" and "the way it has always been done."

Would you think I was in [insert your favorite other city] if I told you I was in a dazzling warehouse last Friday, bedecked with thousands of paper flowers, a full symphony orchestra, acclaimed authors, hip-hop and rock bands, nearly a dozen live painters and what felt like a thousand of my closest friends?

Never doubt where or who you are, Spokane. Claim it, know it, own it and contribute with all you've got. And when you have the choice, remain humble enough so that when your own definition of shock and awe becomes routine, you might retain a bit of that healthy surprise every time. ♦

Mariah McKay is a fourth-generation daughter of Spokane and a community organizer campaigning for racial, social and economic justice. She has worked in biotech and government and currently serves as a public health advocate.

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