Killing Us Softly in PDX

Two black women, surveilled on the job like a pair of plantation conspiracists. A lawsuit against the city agency of their employ, the Bureau of Development Services, leads to an award of $50,000 to each ‘victim.’ The case comes before the city council – composed of five white men – who proceed to throw out the judgment, each mumbling that an unnamed, undoubtedly white city lawyer made them do it. One of the plaintiff’s asks, “Why is it that they can’t realize that racism exists here in Portland?”

Welcome to Portland, Oregon, land of a thousand nicknames: Bridgetown, The Rose City, Little Beirut. One nickname that gets little press, but is more apt, is “White Heaven.” Take it from a black resident: Portland is the most liberally racist city in these United States. Haven for delusional hippies, radical ne’er-do-wells and nihilistic trailer trash, White Heaven imports yuppie street-sweepers by the bushel. Like a white tsunami, these gold prospectors make Katrina look like an open fire hydrant.

I moved here in 2000, lured by an article in Utne Reader on the ‘most progressive cities in the United States.’ The best part of my Portland experience has been my daughter, Nora, who was born here in 2002. The rest, well…walking down Portland Boulevard in broad daylight, with a white friend and her stroller-strapped three year old, a black two-door sedan slows to welcome me to the ‘second most progressive city in America’: “NIGGER!!!” Following September 11th, a friend Joanne, pulled into a parking lot followed by a white pickup driver who snarled, “why don’t you go back where you came from?!” This to a woman born of a white and black parent. In the United States of America.

The flag waving racists who call out black folks in the Rose City are in fact the ministers of the white faith, purveyors of the unspoken gospel; “Portland is ‘OUR TOWN’; black people must be seen barely seen and heard not at all; a niggas altitude is shackled by the controlling white authority; when white folks want what you have, you’ve got to give it up.”

The misery and rage of black Portland is invisible to the pearly whites who extol the virtues of their fair city. “It goes against my grain to appeal,” (Randy) Leonard said of his vote to deny the black women their court victory. ” . . . It wasn’t done lightly. But I’m comfortable.” I’m glad commissioner Leonard is comfortable; it’s unfortunate that two of his black constituents at large cannot say the same. ‘But, I’m comfortable.’

Like the ‘Do-Rag Caper” at Lloyd Center several years ago when black youth were racially profiled and expelled from the mall for wearing ‘aggressive’ head gear, 24/7 would best describe the frequency of the cold slaps in the face blacks receive by white hands . These are the belches of smoke, the glistening red lava spewed from the racist Mount St. Helens called PDX. There’s the garden variety poor service in the coffee shop that ‘happens to everybody,’ except it happens to you all the time, the lost reservation at the restaurant and the order that never comes. Shopping, walking and driving, all ‘While Black,’ is documented in Portland’s ‘Word of Mouth Rough Guide’ featuring handcuffs, tazers and gunplay. RIP Kendra. Whether on the job or on the corner: Niggas are exiled to the margins of White Heaven and should not attempt to extend themselves beyond their assigned place. Or else.

This be the ‘Promised Land’ ya’ll, oh say amen, somebody!

A wise black woman once said, “to understand the intent, look at the affect.” All one need do is look at the cultural genocide taking place along NE Alberta and Killingsworth. Mississipi Ave. is a classic example of white capital ushering white folks in and flushing black folks down the drain. Not one new business created on The Ave. is geared toward the formerly black neighborhood and its besieged, holdout residents. Each new enterprise anticipates and welcomes the “new homeowners” with the cash for overpriced boutiques, faux antiques and rebuilding refuse. The blacks are non-resident strangers-in-their-own-land.

The flipside of the welcome extended to gray folks, is the “Stop, In The Name of White Love” spat in the face of the black Portlandian. I’ve walked down these streets many times, though this could be DC, Baltimore or Oakland. It’s Manifest Destiny on the micro-brew scale: Whites are entitled to these Post-Black spaces. Blacks are the interlopers, viewed warily by the white colonist. The niggas in the hood are the barbarian hordes to be controlled by the boys in blue. Neighborhood association meetings are commandeered and become conspiratorial instruments furthering the whitewash. “The neighborhood is changing” is the muzak white realtors coo throughout the ‘wilderness,’ code to indicate that it won’t be long now, WINK!

Have any of you paid attention how people of color interact in city spaces? On the margins, shuffling, heads bowed, no eye contact. (The only ones who don’t scrape and bow are the youth, liquored up on hiphop bravado) Portland is like a ‘Sundown Town;’ we disappear like roaches to the light switch.

“It is an uncomfortable issue,” said Mayor Tom Potter, who’s made improved city diversity a core part of his first term. “I recognize that we are five white males. And I cannot begin to understand all the issues that confront people of color, women, gays and lesbians every day.”

Actually, it’s uncomfortable for us, too, Mr. Mayor. But, you can ‘begin to understand’ as well as DO things to address the rampant racism in this city by, first acknowledging its existence, not practicing or supporting the practice of racism, as Council’s appeal in this court case does, making a “real” commitment to address what’s happening and convening a “real” summit meeting on race in Portland, minus the toms and tommettes who stifle, rather than further the dialogue.

My question is, “will you try,” beyond paying lip service or creating a ‘diversity salad, with a dash of pepper here and there and calling it a job well done. PuhLEASE! Black folks are being driven from this city in droves, this candy cane heaven for white folks and dogs, and living hell for black people.

14 Responses to “Killing Us Softly in PDX”

  1. Well yes … this is the impression I have. I also get the impression Seattle is even moreso … but this is very very impressionistic. What do you think?

  2. What many don’t see is that it’s no picnic for most white people either. This smiling city has taken everything from me.


  3. LA, is it that its no picnic for white folks, or for those white folks who reject “whiteness,” who reject “white privilege?” Personally, I don’t see too many white folks in that camp and you, in my opinion, are hyphenated racially – if not a white nigga, thus your heightened sensitivity and discontent.

  4. Hi,

    I was thinking of all the white people who live outside the perimeter, beyond 82nd. The flats of P-town where the families seem to be riddled with many of the same ills, the same “symptoms of oppression”–unemployment or shitty pay, meth, under-funded schools, shunned by other whites for their poverty, broken homes, social workers knocking, babies taken away, loved ones in jail, etc… They are oppressed by the same source.

    I’m not in this category. My losses are even a product of my white privilege–I CHOOSE not to play the game–yet could breezily choose to resume when my pennies finally run out. My struggle has an escape hatch. THAT is privilege. I’m not sure I deserve your high accolade just yet. 🙂 Time will tell how far I walk my talk.


  5. Portland is the most liberally racist city in these United States.
    This statement presumes that being libral and being racist are mutually exclusive.

    MOST well meaning liberals, in my experience, have been H*LLLLLLLA racist.

    Their racism is inversely related to how progressive they are.

    The more progressive they are, the less racist they are likely to be.

    IM (NOT SO) HO.

  6. Ren: I didn’t presume; I made a statement of fact. Also, from my Portland experience, the more progressive/the more racist.

    LA: I agree, those folks on the perimeter are as niggerized in reality as the real thing. Do you think white privilege consoles them in their functional negritude? What contains them?

  7. I think some cling to their whiteness as a badge of honor, at least one privilege at their disposal. Plus, the powers that be pit them against people of color as a diversionary tactic.

    I was recently taught to see how poor whites get the bum rap for being the most racist because their acts are more the “overt”, blatant style–because they don’t have the veils of privilege that mid-class/wealthy whites use to obscure their racism. White collar crime and heninous acts of old-boy govt’s & corporations do WAY more racist damage across the planet. We white people often look in the wrong direction for the source of our pain.

  8. I am from up your way, well I spent my formative years up there, and have to say had one of the more outstanding experiences of racial hatred in Oregon. Not that Oregon stands alone, nor Portland, as progressive centers filled with racial hatred. Equally, FU-ed stuff happens up here in the Bay Area bubble.

    A simple, and I am sure all to familiar story — My husband and I were driving up to see some family and picked up a truck of rednecks on the I-5 between Eugene and Portland who took offense that a black man and white woman were together. Nothing like being followed for miles have racist comments spewed forth – an uh, yah, we were in an open top convertible… we finally found a car of black folks who we followed off the I-5 to a gas station…

    I was just ranting and blogging, against racism and progressives today.

  9. Bitchwhoblogs, that is a scary stretch of road. I think the town of Albany is an epicenter. I’m white, but not blond/blue, and got taken for ‘Hispanic’, and was glad to have a car to jump into and roar away.

    MJ, I think what contains them is isolation, and poverty. And I suspect, not realizing fully, or not able to admit that they are oppressed. Telling people ‘at least you’re white’ is a way to keep them from being more critical of the system, I theorize.

  10. I want to see this town turn around.

  11. Totally agree with the post. I thought that your points were spot on !

  12. I found this after a spending two solid days at work researching oregons history, primarily, Portlands racist history, and founding. I agree with everything! I am a Portland native and remember spending months learning about Portlands history, never this history. I was shocked the more I read and found about what went on and how the “southern racist mentality” was brought to Oregon with the Lewis and Clark exposition, and was founded on these principles. As much as is sickens me, the more it made sense as to why still to this day there is so much ignorance and racism in this state. Or how the majority of blacks live in one part of town, you go into the rural areas, just minutes outside and racisim seems to be in its prime. It angers me that this dark history is not taught as part of Oregons history, much as many of the united states real history is also left out.

  13. Portland is incapable of keeping educated, professional Blacks from leaving. After a few years here I am more than ready to leave by summer’s end. I would not recommend this city to anyone of color.

  14. I’m glad I read this entry. One of my best friends got a job offer in Portland last year. But right before she took it, an employer in Dallas offered her a job. Thank God!

    From reading this, I know she would have been miserable in Portland. It would have only been a matter of time before she returned to Texas. (Not that Texas is too much better. But at least it’s a bunch of us here to connect with.)

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