Story by Pete Shaw
“When is history not history?” asks Walidah Imarisha, at a recent Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? presentation sponsored by the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project. Imarisha, a Portland State University and Oregon State University instructor, poses the question to our group after we have spent 90 minutes examining, wrestling with and, mostly importantly, discussing with one another the history of black people and black communities in Oregon. The question is imposing – forcing us to look to the past and present for answers, and demand an honest reckoning for the future.
There are small posters on the walls of our conference room in the Midland Branch of the Multnomah County Library, forming a timeline of history ostensibly relating to black Oregonians. On one, there is a picture of Marcus Lopes, the first person of African descent in Oregon. Another item features Alonzo Tucker, a black man who was lynched in Coos Bay. A local newspaper described the lynch mob as “quiet and orderly” and found the lynching was not an “unnecessary disturbance of the peace.”
Time may move along, but progress can seem frozen in its eddies. A law prohibiting black people from voting remained in the state constitution until 1927. A connection to the Confederacy with a law prohibiting interracial marriages, only repealed in 1951. An item about Legacy Emanuel’s 1970 expansion that ripped a hole in the Albina neighborhood, after the project lay stagnant for nearly two decades resulting in vacant lots and boarded up buildings. It is still being completed. A photo of Mulugeta Seraw, the Ethiopian graduate student and father beaten to death by two skinheads in 1988. Laws, events, customs–all the stuff not just of history, but also of resistance, achievement, and ultimately, survival.
In 1844, pre-state Oregon declared slavery illegal. But making slavery against the law and embracing a diverse society are two different items, and from its beginnings Oregon was modeled as a white homeland. That same 1844 law ordered all black people out of the Oregon Territory under threat of lashing. This “Lash Law” mandated black people be publicly flogged every six months; however, before it could be enforced, it was modified and the whippings were replaced with forced labor.
In 1849 another law excluded any more blacks from settling in the territory. The passing of the Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850, granted free land to Whites only. The 1859 constitution included in its Bill of Rights a racial exclusion clause banning black people from emigrating to Oregon, as well as prohibiting them from owning land and entering into contracts. Although the 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution rendered such exclusion illegal, it wasn’t until the 1920s that the ban was officially repealed from Oregon’s constitution.
This history, hardly exhaustive, is the substrate of the state of Oregon, and yet it tends to be seldom acknowledged, and, when recognized, usually depicted as an artifact of the past. This is one point where history is not history – when events are isolated, ignored, or otherwise relegated to a sphere where that is rarely discussed and where the societal effects of that history dwell without context. When you digest and discuss all those images and descriptions on the wall – as Imarisha encourages you to do with people whom you do not know – a narrative emerges. These snapshots that unto themselves seem aberrant, the work of vile individuals or groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, start running together, becoming a movie with obvious currents that formed with the state and flow into the present.
Measure 11, establishing mandatory minimum sentencing for several crimes, was passed 150 years after that first exclusion law. It applies to all defendants over 15 years old and require the accused of the listed crimes be tried as adults. Despite making up only 4 percent of Oregon’s youth population, black youth account for 19 percent of Measure 11 indictments. It seems William Faulkner was right: the past isn’t even past.
But if our state story reveals some of the horrific and disgusting acts committed, laws promulgated, and customs enforced, it also depicts acts of resistance that in themselves form a narrative. Resistance is a slippery concept, for its successes may come incrementally and some seem nothing more than drops upon a toxic pool.
For example, in Bend in 1925 there was a sign that read, “We Cater To White Trade Only.” The black community in Bend, already aware of the local restaurants in which they were unwelcome, protested the sign. The city council agreed to remove it and similar Jim Crow signs, with the expectation that black people would now police themselves. Though the victory may seem Pyrrhic, it was an important step for those forced to daily encounter the signs and be reminded of the ways in which they were unwanted. It took thousands of these small largely unknown victories, won by tens of thousands of people you and I will never know, that ultimately led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Many of the institutions that shape our lives today are rooted in the Oregon constitution, and the legacy of the exclusion clause can be seen by observing where those institutions grant favor. One of the most glaring examples lies in housing and development. For the black community in Oregon, it has often been a history of taking and denial. Since homeownership is a foundation of generational wealth development, it becomes clear that Oregon’s black community is being denied an opportunity to develop wealth.
The places where black people could own property were limited through extra-legal means, such as The Portland Real Estate Code of Ethics (1919), which mandated real estate agents refuse to sell to people whose race would “be determined to lower property values in that neighborhood.” During World War II, over 13,000 black people moved to Vanport to build ships for Kaiser – a sixfold increase in the number of black people in Oregon. The Vanport flood of 1948 forced integration on Portland, as black survivors moved a couple of miles north to the Albina neighborhood, the only place the city would allow them to resettle.
The 1960 construction of Memorial Coliseum resulted in the destruction of over 400 homes and many black owned businesses, and created a physical rift in the community, particularly in Jumptown, the cultural center that ran between NE Williams and King. The construction of the interstate highways destroyed over 1100 housing units in South Albina.
Banks refused mortgages to black people who tried to move outside “acceptable” boundaries, and often refused them within the red lines as well, because those loans were considered risky. More recently banks were willing to lend money in the form of subprime loans, often when people actually qualified for prime loans. These subprime loans largely targeted minority communities, and the current foreclosure crisis has hit communities of color hard. Black and Latino homeowners have been almost twice as likely as white people to lose their homes to foreclosure, a result, according to the ACLU in a recent lawsuit against Morgan Stanley, of the seemingly illegal and certainly unethical decision to encourage predatory mortgage loans to low-income African American borrowers.
Despite the trauma, a black community is still extant in Portland. As Imarisha noted when one black woman stated, “I don’t feel like I live here. I survive here,” sometimes survival is winning. “For a black community to exist here in Portland is incredible,” said Imarisha, “because it wasn’t supposed to exist at all.”
rest of the story: http://www.portlandoccupier.org/2012/11/28/why-arent-there-more-black-people-in-oregon/
For more information about the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project go to: http://oregonhumanities.org/programs/section/conversation-project/#id1056. For more information on Walidah Imarisha’s upcoming programs see: www.walidah.com.
In 2015, are there still "Whites Only"
signs in Portland, Oregon?
If so, what do they look like?
As I drove down Interstate Avenue this morning I noticed a
new yoga studio open up at the bottom of brand new multi-
story housing complex. Further toward MLK Blvd I saw a
mural of blue sky with clouds on the side of a building with
an intricate drainage system to collect rain water. This mural
and drainage system had been recently put up.
On the north side of the same building there is a mural with
faces of African American leaders and art which has dressed
the building for years.
What do a yoga studio in NE Portland and a mural of clouds say to white folks?
Do these signs of the times speak one thing to us who are white while saying
something else to African American, Indigenous, Asian American and Hispanic folks?
Many times white people move into a neighborhood because of its culture, and begin
bragging about the diverse neighborhood and the love we have for murals displaying
African American leaders and art. Yet developers and others display white only signs
in how we network, engage, support, and set up shop. Do we behave in a manner
which shows appreciation and respect for the people, history, and culture of other folks?
Do we display "We Serve Whites Only" in our actions, networks, and behavior even though
some of us live in neighborhoods which have been the home of African-American folks for
decades before we arrived? The "We Serve Whites Only" signs may have officially come
down decades ago, but the legacy of those signs remains.
Let's talk about ways white people can live in our city and avoid perpetuating "white only."
James Lopez Ericksen is a writer and community activist in Portland, Oregon.
Married to a Latina, he chooses to share the struggle and advocate for the Latino
community by engaging as an ally. As a white male, James has learned this is harder
than he thought. Language barriers, trust and relationship-building takes time and energy.
Mr. Erickson continues to listen and learn from communities of color and feels that with
respect and dignity, voices on the margins have answers for healthy Portland communities.
Obstacle to Peace: The Race Border
by Ellen Lindeen
The Summer Institute that I am attending is called “Conflict Transformation across Borders.” Although a University of Massachusetts Boston graduate course, it is offered in Ecuador, South America, because much of the classwork is about border issues between Ecuador and Colombia, including the status of the estimated 200,000 Colombians who have fled their country’s long-standing civil war in search of refuge in Ecuador. It seems that the world is witnessing a crisis in terms of borders.
The U.S. is building a wall along its southern border to keep Mexican people from coming into the country. Israel has almost completed a 26-foot high concrete wall to keep Palestinians out, although the wall violates the border recognized by the UN. Fleeing migrants in the Mediterranean and the Bay of Bengal have also captured the attention of the world. Africans from many countries, Syrians, Bangladeshis, and Rohingyas from Myanmar are escaping persecution and human rights abuses in their home countries.
However, the issue of reaching a different country safely and being granted refugee status is a complicated one. These asylum-seekers simply know they must flee to survive. Tragically, at least 1,800 people in flight have already drowned in 2015. Many of these boats are not even allowed to reach shore because if they do, the United Nations 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol will apply. These documents clarify the receiving countries’ responsibility to protect those who are threatened by persecution and need refuge. Some countries use their borders to keep citizens in while others use their borders to keep people out.
Human beings live in a world largely defined by boundaries. Geographic borders determine where people live, to what nationality they belong, and what human rights they are able to realize. Despite daunting circumstances, many people choose (or are forced) to leave their homes in hopes of being accepted in another place. However, at times the most significant borders people must negotiate are not physical at all. All of us face boundaries within our own countries, whether they are of race, gender, economic status, faith tradition, ethnicity, status of citizenship, sexual orientation, age, or ability. Any of these distinctions may challenge or obstruct a person’s ability to form healthy relationships with others—and may impact careers and even access to health care, etc. Globally, some these divisions have been used, and sadly continue to be used, to separate people, incite fear and hatred, or even start wars.
Specifically, the issue of race is getting as much attention in 2015 as it did in 2008 when Barack Obama was historically elected the first U.S. president of color. The painful legacy of racism in the U.S. seems ever-present. Recent controversies over the legality of deaths of black males by white policemen have brought this topic renewed worldwide attention. Racial tension continues over deaths in Ferguson, MO, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore, North Charleston, SC, and other places. Black teenagers at an integrated pool party in Texas ended up being pushed to the ground and had guns aimed at them by police while white teenagers were untouched. Recently, a 21-year-old white male in South Carolina walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest African-American congregation in the southern US, and killed nine people at a Bible study. These incidents speak to the racial borders that many Americans still see, although they may seem invisible.
Possibly the most egregious example of racial discrimination that separates Americans is the rate at which African-Americans are incarcerated. Although African Americans make up only 13 percent of the general population, they comprise 42 percent of the prison population. Five times as many whites are using drugs as African-Americans, yet African-Americans are sent to prison at 10 times the rate of whites. In fact, African-Americans serve basically the same amount of prison time for a drug charge (58 months), as whites do for a violent offense (61 months). Undeniably, 60 years after the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, racism remains a forceful boundary in the country. As William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Maybe the time has come to eliminate the borders between blacks and whites. What border do we need to cross? What border can we remove? Let’s abolish the border of race and join the human race.
Ellen Lindeen, is an Associate Professor of English at Waubonsee Community College where she teaches Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution and Human Rights & Social Justice. She is syndicated by PeaceVoice.
From Slavebreakers to Community Partners
By Matthew Johnson
For the longest time I could not speak about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Akai Gurley, or any of the many black men who have been slain by police in recent months. I was caught between rage and powerlessness: Is it the right time to talk about solutions when so many are in pain? Is there any way to satisfy the extremes on both sides, where violence is the chosen response? These were two questions I struggled with as a peace activist and restorative justice practitioner -- and as a white man.
What I do know is that there is something deeply wrong in this country, and I am not referring to a few bad police or misguided laws but a system infested with institutional racism and hair-trigger violence. Blacks are brazenly dehumanized; America needs re-branding campaigns like #blacklivesmatter because the United States has not evolved to end its several-hundred-year history of racial oppression. At times cops in certain segregated communities seem to function as a less crude, better equipped, and more organized version of the slave breakers of the 17th, 18th, or 19th century. How else can we explain their overreaction to demonstrations in Ferguson and elsewhere and policies like Stop and Frisk that seem to only target people of color, whether they are law abiding or not? The slave breaker mentality was in full force in the powerful film, Fruitvale Station, which documented the tragic murder of 22-year-old Oscar Grant by a white cop in 2008. To debate whether one particular cop is racist or if policing techniques are intentionally discriminatory is to miss the point.
Racism is not just about spouting epithets and wearing black face, it's about incarcerating blacks at such disproportionate rates that even apartheid South Africa would blush. It's about discriminatory housing polices forcing blacks into blighted inner cities and away from white neighborhoods. It's about keeping blacks from holding decent jobs, owning land, or accessing higher education. It's about holding a deep-seated fear of black men and justifying it based on lies, distortions, and stereotypes. And, yes, it's about murdering them and getting away with it -- whether you are George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson, Roy Bryant or hundreds of other armed white assailants of unarmed African Americans. It is systemic, statistically overwhelming, embedded in our structures.
But even the history and reality of institutional racism is not enough to explain the extreme violence used by police in situations where words or inaction may have sufficed. The lack of basic conflict resolution skills exhibited by police in those cases is appalling. Is this evidence of a deficit in training, competence, decency, or a combination of the three?
I have not yet decided, although I will say that -- as a trained mediator -- while decency cannot so easily be taught, training in areas that people take for granted as intuitive is essential. At a minimum, before an officer is ever taught to use a gun, he should be taught to use his common sense. Most hurtful are the officers who use decent de-escalation techniques except with African Americans.
In an ideal world we would not need a gun at all to defuse potentially violent situations. The organization Cure Violence, which views violence as the public health pandemic that it is and treats it through nonviolence, is representative of this ideal, and the proposal that standout police officers be trained as violence interrupters within their own units is the best solution I have heard thus far. If protesters can police themselves, albeit imperfectly, why can't the police? Even if some departments were willing to submit to such reforms voluntarily, federal involvement is necessary given the power of police unions and the conservatism of local police not only in small, southern towns but also in 'liberal' cities like Portland.
The question that remains, though, is what to do when there is another instance of police brutality that threatens to tear apart yet another community -- or even the whole country? I am so bold as to offer dialogue as the solution, which I know will disappoint both the revolutionaries and reactionaries alike. It does not require teargas, armored personnel carriers, or military-style assault weapons -- nor does it require blocking traffic, destruction of property, or looting businesses. It proved to be transformative for the police and concerned citizens of Seattle when John T. Williams, a First Nations woodcarver, was needlessly shot down in 2010. While, as is almost always the case, the officer was not convicted for the killing, the restorative justice process used allowed for healing, understanding, and other forms of accountability that benefited not only those close to the matter but also the community as a whole. No process can raise the dead or erase a history of oppression, but a restorative approach costs no additional lives and very little in financial terms while building a more equitable future.
This approach may not sound glamorous or lend itself to TV news in the way that a violent protest and the ensuing police crackdown do, but it requires more courage, creativity, and perseverance than both. I can only hope that this large, diverse, and divided community known as the United States can come to the table.
Matthew Johnson writes for PeaceVoice is a social justice activist and restorative justice scholar-practitioner in the Washington, D.C. area. More of his writing can be found at: http://writingonthewall275.wordpress.com/
It is quite easy for a white man to pretend that racism in America is exaggerated...
and also a relatively meaningless statement. Denial is a dangerous thing...
"Most Americans, white and black, see racism as a lingering problem in the United States,
and many say they know people who are racist, according to a new poll"
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation
where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the
content of their character." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Racism is alive and well in America. It cannot be legislated away or
wished away. It is fortunate, however, that at least a slim majority of
Americans now embrace all members of the human family.
"It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but
it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The residual racism, leftover hatred, antagonism, envy, and animosity... are
fading. And various forms of incipient racism, can be nipped in the bud.
"Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects
revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Racism is an insidious disease, which can be extinguished by education
and moral compunction.
"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final
word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger
than evil triumphant."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
We have made much progress, as a people. But we are a young nation.
Too many are too eager, too often, to claim victory after the first battle is won.
We have a long, hard road ahead of us.
"I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth.
There will be still rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment.
There will be inevitable setbacks here and there. There will be those moments when|
the buoyancy of hope will be transformed into the fatigue of despair." Dr. King
If Martin were here to witness our valiant struggle, he would be torn
between wistfulness and pride; confounded by righteous anger concerning
how little progress some have made, and he might find a redemptive joy in
how far we have come.
"Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated."
Martin Luther King Jr
We can confront hatred, fear-mongering, greed, discord, and inequity,
with love, courage, charity, compassion, and joy. Racism is a stubborn
foe, but we will win. Fear will yield to courage and hate will yield to love.
"I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love, I'm talking about a strong, demanding love."
Martin Luther King Jr
It is quite easy for a white man to pretend that racism in America is exaggerated...
and also a relatively meaningless statement. Denial is a dangerous thing...
"Most Americans, white and black, see racism as a lingering problem in the United States, and many say they know people who are racist, according to a new poll"
There is a deep cultural malady in white America, a kind of delusional disease that prevents them from seeing reality, as it is. They know that racism exists, but deny any role in it. They recognize that systemic prejudice has societal effects, but claim they play no part in the process. They realize that the Republican Party is the party of racism, but vote for it, anyway. White folks have an unexamined problem. Theyt ought to stop looking at us Black folks, as if we are the flawed specimens, and take care of their own contradictions.
For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Glen Ford.