Portland, Niggas Be-Ore-GONE
* Signs stating, “No Negroes, Jews or Dogs.”
* “Hospitals that would only admit blacks for ‘emergencies.’”
* “The popular ‘Coon Chicken Inn’ on NE Sandy Boulevard welcomed patrons through its front doorway painted with the sausage lips of a good ole darky.”
* “Following World War II, the Mayor and the white city fathers of PDX contacted the National Urban League to determine how much it would cost to expel 10,000 unemployed Negro shipyard workers – from the state.”
* Known nationally as “the most openly racist city outside of the south.”
The above are Polaroids (from a documentary on race) of our beloved, Up-South Portland, Oregon, also known by its unofficial moniker: White Heaven.
If you’re a person of some color and happen to be shipwrecked here, one pertinent question is:
Where does virulent racism go when open expression ceases to be fashionable?
Does it evaporate like the steam from a latte and morph into a homey Shangri-La?
Does it sink into the groundwater, contaminating the communal wellspring like mercury, creating racism afflicted, thalidomide babies and adults, whose malformation and defects contort one’s spiritual innards, manifesting in racist acts – both covert and overt?
How does a city that prides itself on its progressiveness, reconcile that image with the abuse heaped on people of color? After all, in the last week, three hate crimes have been visited on the colored population of Trance-onia – one stabbing, another assault and “Aryanfest,” the summer’s local Woodstock for the blue-eyed Saxon. This, in addition to the daily indignities: the snarls, stares, the rampant indifference to the Condition Red existence of people of color. Orthodox white folks – the peace proselytizing, justice stingy, unkempt-hemp wearing set – feign cluelessness to it all, mumbling platitudes that strike the usual violin chords but signifying only their continued do-nothing-ism. No major marches or civil disobedience campaigns will be launched around this “crisis” because there is no crisis – for white folks.
I observe the bent backs, the slumped shoulders, the irrelevancy and invisibility of Portland’s Knee-grow population, a group battered into dice slinging, malt liquor guzzling, church obsessed submission. Looking black people in the eye here is met with whiplash, heads wrenched as if recoiling from a blow or chins thrust skyward to avoid eye contact with another victim of racism/white supremacy. It’s a conditioned coon response: brothas see other brothas, especially unfamiliar ones, as dangerous or perhaps rebellious, slaves who might suggest “black unity,” or escape from, or the leveling of, the plantation.
A Brief Digression: Would Jews attend an “Adolph Eichmann Public High School”? Would Cambodians consider placing their darling offspring in a “Pol Pot Middle School”? Yet, African Americans stoically shovel their precious progeny into “Thomas Jefferson High School,” in spite of Jefferson’s slaveholding, baby-raping ways. To ponder whether or not this ‘contradiction’ might somehow create subliminal academic or spiritual issues for the black students or their instructors, is laughed off as extremist. The real perversion is that black children are mired in an educational quicksand that whites would rather dismiss as proof of genetic inferiority than evidence of an indigestible, academic soufflé.
Mississippi Street is a case study in how you transform a black neighborhood into a white one and criminalize the black residents overnight. Today, black residents are treated as interlopers, spied at suspiciously, regarded warily. Not one new business is targeted towards the ‘hue-mans’ confined to the hood by racist realtors who conspired back in the 40’s to restrict blacks to Albina and Albina only; now, the hillbilly bars, upscale restaurants and granola coffee shops announce, “We Cater To White Trade Only,” just as the signs of yesteryear bleated in downtown Portland. Most whites will deny that there’s any hostility or malice involved in this “white-ification” process; yet, all over the country, blacks are being scientifically driven out of the now valuable inner cities into suburban Bantustans. Capital, community policing and lavish city services denied the previously brown neighborhoods, flows freely, miraculously, racistly, to the sullen, pink hipsters of the nation’s Albino districts.
Only pasteurized people of color are allowed to flourish in White Heaven: Colored Contortionists and Black Judas’ will always find work plentiful, where Massa needs entertainin’ and slaves need quelling. On radical radio, ‘Kizzy’ is notorious for gently caressing the conservatives who listen approvingly to her bland stew of big ‘D’ Democratic pablum, while choking on a chicken bone when anyone outflanks her on da left. Voter registration drives that plumb the electoral underbrush like a crack addict looking for a rock are the only syrup bottles this Jemima balances on her handkerchief.
On alternate Thursdays, Pocahontas spews boiling palaver beggin’ da White Man to give him his land back, chortling devoid of depth, and in spite of the fact that his personal totems are Poopsie, Debbie and Billie Jean. The self-hating sambo just shrugs, ‘Naw suh, I jes like to holla sometimes is all.’
Next, there’s the outspoken, tepid Negress known to all white Albertans: the ‘Incognegro Race Artiste’ who thrusts a strap-on Revlon mirror in their sallow, adoring masks, while literarily spanking them in postmodern ‘Blackspeak.’ Their guilt allayed, the devils marvel at her ability to denature racism with her nigga hoodoo. “Chicken George” is a “Clarence Thomas Republican,” cast his ballot for his namesake George W. and refuses to eat watermelon in public; Tom’s pockets are full o’ white money as he plays the quisling at the local nigga coffee emporium. The Portland Tribune has found their own ‘Halfrican’ columnist who buck dances the Bill O’Reilly Watusi in white face. Soon, he’ll be writing about the wonders of slavery and how lucky we were to have been plucked from the vine and regale his white readers with the story of how his people had first class passage on the Mayflower. As the Zyklon B vapors of White Heaven suffocate the black masses, I sniffle ‘We Shall Overcome’ through my harmonica.
The documentary, “The Color of Portland” provides numerous examples of the vicious racism that ‘blows the mind this time’ and how it twas openly expressed just a few short years ago. One of the most poignant recollections was of a black woman who as a child lived in Coos Bay. She told of how her family moved to the area shortly after a black man had been lynched; at her new school, for the entire year, not one student spoke to her in the classroom or played with her on the playground. For one year. This type of systematic psychological warfare, disciplined cruelty and outright torture was standard operating procedure in that era.
Today, the tactics are more sophisticated and embedded but are the results any less flagrant? Are not black people in worse shape today than before desegregation? Over one million black people are in jail today – is that by accident or design? I submit that this white culture is designed to produce inmates and quasi chattel, Toms and Tomettes, bootlickers and brown-nosers, flunkies and junkies. And where are Portland’s black and white freedom fighters who’ll tell the truth straight up with no chaser? In an orange jumpsuit, lickin’ another slogan on their bumper, lighting candles for peace or some such nonsense. My people!
This White OZ ain’t for nobody with eyeballs or intuition, and it certainly ain’t for colored folk lest you plan on doin’ a shuffle and a shimmy for chump change. I ain’t for no coonfoolery; I ain’t scratchin’ my head unless it itches and I ain’t dancin’ ‘unless I hear music. I’m not long for this cotton patch from hell.