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.