The dream of the 1890s is alive in Portland
January 22, 2015 10:32 AM   Subscribe

As Neda Maghbouleh pointed out for an article in the January 2009 issue of Center for New Racial Studies, the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama gave Portland newspapers a striking image of its racial makeup. Just look at the photo above from Portland during Senator Obama's presidential campaign. You'd be forgiven for thinking that maybe Dave Matthews Band was about to go on stage.
There's a reason why Portland, and Oregon in general, are so whitebread: it was founded as a whites-only, racist utopia with no room for black or Asian people.
posted by MartinWisse (154 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
it was founded as a whites-only, racist utopia

And how did that work out for it?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:38 AM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


What's strange to me is that I can distinctly remember growing up in the late seventies in Portland, and the next door neighbors were Basque, two doors down was a massive extended family from Somoa (I think), and a Japanese couple on the other side of the street. My memories are a little foggy on other families on the rest of the street but the neighborhood I lived in, while majority Caucasian, had more than a few minorities. Going back over the years, the same neighborhood seems to have fewer minorities, which is at the very least, a shame. I would be curious to see the ethnic/racial breakdown of the area over the years.

Moving to the midwest was shocking to me (as a child), because all of a sudden there were *no* minorities in the neighborhoods I lived in (middle-class-ish), nor the schools I attended (public). Portland was actually quite racially diverse in comparison.
posted by combinatorial explosion at 10:51 AM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


and then they realized the delicious miracle that is kimchi pancakes and PokPok, and begged forgiveness.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:53 AM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Related MeFi post: The White City
posted by gyc at 10:54 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


There was room for Asians in Portland in the 1940s. Unfortunately it was in Japanese internment camps
posted by item at 10:56 AM on January 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


Portland was actually quite racially diverse in comparison.

Yeah, this is true for pockets of Portland. Where we live right now (Lents, sort of medium-to-deep-southeast) it actually is pretty diverse, we're one of the few white families who live in that area. Its pretty great, but this neighborhood is the exception. Portland itself has some pretty goddamn white zones though, and gentrification in Portland has been exacerbating that.

But I grew up in a suburb 10 minutes south of there, and in my entire high school, there were exactly two african american kids, a handful of latino students and maybe a dozen asian kids. Out of about 700 kids, if I remember correctly . It was beyond white.

These days, my parents (who are polite, but racist, to be frank) are FREAKING OUT over the amount of latino and african american people that are moving to the suburbs. The demographics of that school are still about 75% white; so there's been a pretty big change there…but it just highlights how white those suburbs were at one time.


and then they realized the delicious miracle that is kimchi pancakes and PokPok, and begged forgiveness.

*Sigh* Pok pok is tasty, but run by a white guy. So. That might not be the best example to pull out.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:06 AM on January 22, 2015 [22 favorites]


I was surprised at how little the story of Vanport got in the big narrative (granted, there was already so much for the author to cover for 200 years of history).

It's a great article covering information that goes way back to stuff I've never known, and likely explains the almost 90% whiteness in Oregon today. Really amazing stuff in this essay.
posted by mathowie at 11:08 AM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


There were notable exceptions, of course. Japanese internment had no security justification, but was quite effective for expropriating valuable farmland and, mostly forgotten, gutting the San Pedro fishing community.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 11:09 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's just as well that Metafilter doesn't allow images; this saves me the time it would take to get that Wonka meme photo and put

EXPLAIN TO ME AGAIN

HOW RACIST EVERYONE IS
IN THE SOUTH

on it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:09 AM on January 22, 2015 [31 favorites]


Additional information here, including the bit I was searching for:

In 1930, prominent black physician DeNorval Unthank tries to move into [SE Portland neighborhood ] Ladd’s Addition, but petitions and repeated vandalism drive him out.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 11:13 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


70%-80% of school teachers and administrators were unaware of Oregon's exclusionary policies!! That is insane.

I moved to Portland in 2010 to run the campaign of a Black woman running for office. The day I moved she picked me up at the airport and gave me a crash course on Black history. Here was Vanport and the Kaiser shipyards. Under the 405 is where they moved next. Here is Killingsworth. How do you developed an Oregon history curriculum and not go over that? How are you even unaware of it?

People like Walidah Imarisha are saints. Her Twitter account shows her packed schedule of giving that presentation to schools and government bodies.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:13 AM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yeah, it's a bit telling that some of our most iconic Asian food in town (Pok Pok, Tanuki, Biwa...) is brought to us by white folks.

It's odd that this article doesn't use the term redlining even once. The vanport-era is one that I think is pretty well known to any local that actually cares to learn anything about the history of the area.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:14 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Although I have to say that having grown up in New England, the NW has always struck me as having a bit of an a-historical vibe, with considerably more of a focus on the present/future than the past.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 11:19 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Back in the 90s, I, a white guy from Charlotte, NC, had a mostly-online long-distance relationship with a woman from Portland who was also white. We spoke on the phone a few times before exchanging pictures. When she saw my picture for the first time, she was surprised--she'd assumed I was black, because I had a southern accent. I mean, great on her, right, for not letting that be a barrier, but it's always struck me as enormously weird that someone would make that assumption.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:19 AM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Is Portlandia, then, a work of vengeance by Fred Armisen?
posted by Renoroc at 11:20 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's odd that this article doesn't use the term redlining even once. The vanport-era is one that I think is pretty well known to any local that actually cares to learn anything about the history of the area.

Speaking of which: "Why Is This the Only Place in Portland I See Black People?": Teaching young children about redlining by Katharine Johnson in Rethinking Schools
posted by RogerB at 11:23 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Last time I was in Portland visiting my wife's sister we were passing through Lake Oswego on the bus and the guy behind us regaled us with the local history including the snarky nickname "Lake No-Negro". No idea if that's really a thing or not, but that community apparently has an old-school (AKA racist-exclusionary) country club mentality.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:24 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think there is an odd effect where places that are historically such a product of racism can easily self identify as open minded. With relatively few people of color in the community, the little prejudices and casual racism can stay dormant, inactive and unexamined.
posted by idiopath at 11:25 AM on January 22, 2015 [57 favorites]


Renoroc: Is Portlandia, then, a work of vengeance by Fred Armisen?

<img src="fry_not_sure_if_serious.gif">
posted by tonycpsu at 11:30 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, idiopath, that's something we liberal southerners who no longer live in the south are well aware of.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:33 AM on January 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


The Obama campaign photo on its own is a little odd but not too terrible, but seeing it at the end of the article after all the KKK photos was really stark.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:36 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Lake No-Negro". No idea if that's really a thing or not

It's totally a thing. I think you nailed it - Lake Oswego feels like a country club writ large and is especially racist, even for Portland suburbs (and classist, but that's separate). I heard that term a lot when I lived in Portland, often from Black folks, and it was always meant to put down Lake Oswego.
posted by dialetheia at 11:37 AM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


MrMoonPie: growing up between rural VT and PDX, it actually took me too long to realize it. I think a few visits to the south, and having friends from the south, and dating women who weren't white were all necessary before I realized the true extent of the hidden hate around me.
posted by idiopath at 11:37 AM on January 22, 2015


EXPLAIN TO ME AGAIN

HOW RACIST EVERYONE IS
IN THE SOUTH


"It's the old American Double Standard, ya know: Say one thing, do somethin' different. And of course this country is founded on the double standard, that's our history! We were founded on a very basic double standard: This country was founded by slave owners who wanted to be free." - George Carlin
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:37 AM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


EXPLAIN TO ME AGAIN

HOW RACIST EVERYONE IS
IN THE SOUTH


Dude, seriously? 30 seconds with Google. To be fair, a more accurate statement would be "The South and the Rockies," but both the worst and the overall majority lie below the Mason-Dixon.
posted by Ryvar at 11:42 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Unless there's some physical Law of Conservation of Racism that I missed in science class, maybe we can forego the derail about the South. Both the South and Oregon have racist histories, and both have problems with race now. The histories and current problems are different, of course, but I don't see how "Hey, look, South-haters, Oregon is racist too!" adds much to the discussion.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:45 AM on January 22, 2015 [26 favorites]


Anyone who read the article would have picked up on the part where Oregon saw a major influx of whites fleeing the South after the Civil War to join this new racist utopia.

That, and the existence of racism outside of the South in no way makes the South less racist.
posted by explosion at 11:46 AM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


Not so much a white utopia as a non-black utopia, maybe. The history of the Asian community in Oregon is uneven at best (opium raids of stantytowns, Shanghai tunnels, interment camps) but it's important to note that while surrounding states were expelling Asian immigrants, Portland was welcoming them. In 1900, 12% of the city was Chinese, with the second largest Chinatown on the west coast. In the enthusiastic effort to paint the state as unremittingly white-racist, it's easy to ignore or suppress the history of whole classes of people. This is not the best of the internet in that respect.
posted by perhapsolutely at 11:46 AM on January 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


the Shanghai Tunnels are an overblown urban legend
posted by idiopath at 11:50 AM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Beverly Hills was explicitly chartered as a whites-only city 101 years back (and no Jews). Back then, Los Angeles strongly sold itself as a white city, where Northerners and Southerners could escape to.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:51 AM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


The degree of the activity is what is in question, not its existence.
posted by perhapsolutely at 11:52 AM on January 22, 2015


I grew up in the very deep south, and one thing about living on the west coast now is how many people are completely convinced that CA/OR is this progressive shining light where racism is not a thing. Racism is something that happened in the south, is a southern problem, and continues to happen because the south is a ignorant, backwards place filled with rednecks waving Confederate flags. The thinking is that they were The Good Guys who fought slavery, so it's only the south that has Those Problems.

Even to many supposedly liberal and open minded westerners this sometimes gets expressed along the lines of: blacks in the south are victims, blacks in the west are just lazy/thugs/whatever therefore <insert racist opinion or policy> is ok.

The south isn't perfect of course, but they had to confront and deal with their history down there. The rest of the country is largely ignorant of their past and the racism that their states and cities are built upon.
posted by bradbane at 12:01 PM on January 22, 2015 [30 favorites]


*cancels trip to Oregon*
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:02 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


I don't believe a single person in this thread has argued that the south isn't racist. Rather, we're discussing how silly it is for residents of lily-white enclaves to go on and on about how there is no racism there. Of course there have been more lynchings in the south--that's where the black people live.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:02 PM on January 22, 2015 [12 favorites]


Additionally, a significant proportion of the flag-waving southerners now established in the northwest came or are descended from people who came to the area in the 1930's/dustbowl years. It seems plausible their choice of Oregon was less racially motivated, and more based on the ready availability of agricultural and lumber work.
posted by perhapsolutely at 12:07 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


How did Washington avoid this? Seattle is actually quite diverse.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:08 PM on January 22, 2015


Apocryphon: Washington didn't have the explicit white-suprematist-utopia premise that Oregon did. It's not without racism of course, but Oregon has a quite unique foundation in prejudice. That shouldn't be used to lazily judge people who live here today though.

Brandon Blatcher: Portland is still a great place, and we would love to have you come by for one of our meetups. The state and city are not without their closet-skeletons, but they aren't simply a hate-drenched cesspit either. Now rural Idaho on the other hand...
posted by idiopath at 12:15 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Portland is not a 'lily-white enclave.' This is a really offensive characterization that ignores/erases the Latino, Asian, black, and Middle Eastern communities in the city. Can we avoid this sort of gross generalization? And 'white-bread,' Martin? Really? We can do better than this.
posted by perhapsolutely at 12:16 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


Also, Apocryphon, you're comparing it to Portland, Maine, not Portland, Oregon (at least when I follow that link).

Maybe try this one instead?
posted by benito.strauss at 12:20 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, this newspaper headline+photo (from 1921) is fucking frightening. Thanks for the post.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:22 PM on January 22, 2015


I used to work at Portland State, which at one point was the Vanport Teacher's College. Then the flood wiped away the town and they relocated the school to the south part of downtown. One can know about Vanport but you have to look a bit. (There's also an interesting display at Legacy Hospital about how adding it removed yet another historically black neighborhood.)

When I'm at a conference and people mention Portlandia, I often mention that it pulls its punches. But I don't know how much comedy can emerge from the PDX cops and their penchant for shooting minorities, or the picture of an Oregon governor hanging out with members of the KKK. Not funny, not even funny floating.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:23 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Not one mention so far that there may have been another ethnicity living in the area prior to the 1800's. Where could they have gone?
posted by sammyo at 12:24 PM on January 22, 2015 [29 favorites]


I was thinking of posting this, but found this post from a few months ago... It is an interesting history, though, and I think still evident in some ways. I am in Washington State now, and was shocked to find a "Confederate Soldier Coloring Book" in a local museum fairly recently. To me that is seriously Not Cool. It was drawn by an artist from the area and presented Confederates as honorable patriotic Americans just like Union soldiers, simply with different colored uniforms...
posted by mdn at 12:26 PM on January 22, 2015


Did I really just read an entire article about the creation of Oregon as a whites-only territory that did not mention the indigenous people who were already living there?
posted by docgonzo at 12:27 PM on January 22, 2015 [18 favorites]


Before you start analyzing why Washington is "so much more diverse" you should look at those numbers. They're not dramatically different. Seattle has twice the Asian population that Portland does (14% vs. 7%; the national average is 5.3%).

Portland is rather more Latino (9.3% vs. 6.1%) and has more of "some other race alone" whatever that means (3.1% vs. 1.5%). The Latino population is growing very rapidly in Portland too. These are 2010 numbers, and I couldn't find 2014, but statewide school entrollment gives some idea. One fourth of Oregon elementary school students and 20% of high school students are Latino, as of Feb. 2014. Latino enrollment rose more than 10% in the last four years, from 110,000 to 125,000, while white enrollment dropped from 380,000 to 364,000.

When you gawk at the white percentages for Portland, remember that most Latinos are counted as whites.
posted by msalt at 12:28 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's a creepy photo, for sure. Also a 94 year old photo. All of those people have been dead for a very long time.
posted by the jam at 12:28 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


perhapsolutely: This is a really offensive characterization that ignores/erases the Latino, Asian, black, and Middle Eastern communities in the city.

It is a statistical outlier in its whiteness among other major American cities. The fact that it is not exclusively white doesn't change that.

msalt: When you gawk at the white percentages for Portland, remember that most Latinos are counted as whites.

But that's no more true for Portland than the cities it's being compared to in its whiteness. It's very white, and it is so in great part by choice. We don't have to shy away from that fact or try to distract from it by noting the presence of some minorities or the fact that all cities have percentages of people who could check multiple boxes.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:30 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Here's a link to Professor Walidah Imarisha lecturing on "Why aren't there more black people in Oregon?"
posted by thug unicorn at 12:34 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always find it interesting when people think Washington and Oregon are bastions of granola and tolerance, and completely miss that they're talking only about Seattle and Portland. If not for these two cities, these would both be red states.

As Portland Trail Blazers player Isaiah "J.R." Rider famously said of the area, "Forty miles from here, they're probably still out hanging people from trees."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:35 PM on January 22, 2015 [15 favorites]


It is a statistical outlier in its whiteness among other major American cities.

Takes a lot longer to type that, and you don't get to call an entire city 'lily-white' or 'whitebread', but I think you'll find it an easier fall-back position to defend. That's the whole point of a motte, after all.
posted by perhapsolutely at 12:36 PM on January 22, 2015


Did I really just read an entire article about the creation of Oregon as a whites-only territory that did not mention the indigenous people who were already living there?

It did mention violence against native people in passing, but yeah.

I was just looking - here in Minnesota - at a poster copy of the documents that ceded land for the UMN in 1851 and 1867 and thinking about how all this, too, is stolen land. It wasn't ours to cede to the UMN in the first place, and I guess that's the background to all the struggles over what the university is for and who it is supposed to serve.
posted by Frowner at 12:36 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Huh, I knew some of the history, especially about Vanport as was related to me by my uncle Steve [the old hippie] who lives in Portland and is now broaching his seventies. He's lived in NE Portland, a mostly black neighborhood, on nineteenth between Ainsworth and Killingsworth for probably forty years now - so I never thought of Portland as particularly racist though redlining is pretty apparent there as it is in most cities.
The wiki says:
The census reported the city as 76.1% White (444,254 people), 7.1% Asian (41,448), 6.3% Black or African American (36,778), 1.0% Native American (5,838), 0.5% Pacific Islander (2,919), 4.7% belonging to two or more racial groups (24,437) and 5.0% from other races (28,987).[53] 9.4% were Hispanic or Latino, of any race (54,840). Whites not of Hispanic origin made up 72.2% of the total population.[53]
I've lived in more than a few cities and my experience is that the closer to the coast the less overtly racist they are.
posted by vapidave at 12:37 PM on January 22, 2015


> Also a 94 year old photo. All of those people have been dead for a very long time.

Whew, thank god! I was afraid they were going to come and get me in my sleep tonight.

But seriously, if you have a point you're trying to make with that comment, why don't you actually state it, as opposed to dropping free-floating facts and forcing the rest of us to guess?
posted by benito.strauss at 12:40 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Can confirm that this is largely the case in Ashland, Oregon, also.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:50 PM on January 22, 2015


> When you gawk at the white percentages for Portland, remember that most Latinos are counted as whites.

They count themselves, just like everyone else counts themselves in the Census:

White alone, not Hispanic or Latino, percent, 2010
Portland: 72.2%
Oregon: 78.5%

(a) Includes persons reporting only one race.
(b) Hispanics may be of any race, so also are included in applicable race categories.
posted by rtha at 12:52 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Portland is not a 'lily-white enclave.' This is a really offensive characterization that ignores/erases the Latino, Asian, black, and Middle Eastern communities in the city. Can we avoid this sort of gross generalization? And 'white-bread,' Martin? Really? We can do better than this.

How Rude! [[makes face like Michelle Tanner]]

I wouldn't call it white-bread. I'd call it saltine-american culture.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:52 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, I haven't been to Milwaukee for almost 30 years now, and that one suburb is still called "Whitefolks Bay", so this is not a shock to me. Although...

That one KKK guy looks rather Carol Channing/Mariah Carey-ish. My maternal grandma from Arkansas via Virginia had similar features to his, except her wavy hair was auburn. She wouldn't have been able to pass once she married my 100% black Alabaman grandfather, not that she tried to.

I'll be goddamned if Frederick Louis Gifford wasn't one of us, is what I'm saying - and for the times he lived in, that's not especially shocking either, just incredibly sad. I understand that no one wants to be on the bottom, but damn.

Self-hatred is the worst kind of hatred.
posted by droplet at 12:53 PM on January 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


Portland is not a 'lily-white enclave.' This is a really offensive characterization that ignores/erases the Latino, Asian, black, and Middle Eastern communities in the city. Can we avoid this sort of gross generalization?

I don't think "lily-white enclave" means "the entire population checks "White, not-Hispanic" on their census forms. Portland is pretty white. Leaving aside the discussion about whether "lily-white" is polite or not, how white should a town be before we can note and discuss its whiteness?
posted by 23skidoo at 1:04 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not one mention so far that there may have been another ethnicity living in the area prior to the 1800's. Where could they have gone?

Oklahoma.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:07 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Of course there have been more lynchings in the south--that's where the black people live.

I sorta admire Oregon's "fuck this, we don't want any of THEM around" attitude.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:11 PM on January 22, 2015


Seattle is actually quite diverse.

Uhh, no. Seattle is pretty damn white as well. It does have a larger asian population than Portland, but it's still surprisingly white for a major metropolitan area. And if you leave Seattle proper and look at the metropolitan area, it gets even whiter.
posted by aspo at 1:13 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Don't cancel your trips here. If you are shocked by Oregon's racist history and present it should just make you aware that racism is everywhere. You may not be aware of the racist history of where you live or where you visit but it is there.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:15 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


I grew up in a small town in Southern Oregon, and my husband, who is from India, was quite shocked the first time we drove up there for a visit. So very overwhelmingly white. He was browsing in a bookstore in Medford one day and was basically accosted by a young Indian woman who was so surprised and happy to see another Indian.

Well, he was also shocked by the sparseness of the population, but it took him a long time for the Bay Area not to feel creepily empty to him so Oregon was on a whole other level.
posted by JenMarie at 1:18 PM on January 22, 2015


I lived in Portland in the early 90s, in between living in Cambridge, MA and Baltimore. Gotta say, while I loved living in Portland, as a bicycling/frisbee-playing/recycling grad student on a limited income, I was definitely aware of how white the city was. It was really weird, in comparison to Cambridge. (Also in comparison to Baltimore, afterwards!)

That said, I did learn about the history of Vanport while I was there, and I knew that blacks weren't legally allowed to own property in Oregon until the 1920s. But I never learned the rest of the story told in the post. Creepy!

So thank you for posting this: I learned something.
posted by suelac at 1:19 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


The south isn't perfect of course, but they had to confront and deal with their history down there.

April is Confederate history month and cheerfully celebrated throughtout the south. They ain't dealt with shit.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:25 PM on January 22, 2015 [18 favorites]


Looking at all these statistics, the striking feature about Portland to me is how few Asian folks live there compared to the rest of the West coast, and Seattle, even.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:26 PM on January 22, 2015


Watching How the States got Their Shapes on Netflix it was fascinating to me how much of American's northern state geography was bound up in explicitly trying to counter the southern states even before the civil war.
posted by srboisvert at 1:28 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, this has been making the rounds a lot on Facebook in Portland. I think that the title is pretty attention grabbing, "White Utopia" is more than a little click-baitey. The shock of "Oregon's secret past" shouldn't be surprising - but then again it is and it makes sense. As the demographics have completely changed, particularly in NE Portland, they have been done so by mostly white, out of towners who champion liberal ideology. Portland has become this symbolic city of leftist, but more recently, artist community with a plethora of "good vibes." My only critique about this "secret history" is that it's not paying attention to the much more recent forces at play. We don't have to go back 150 years ago to see why the state/city is as it is - forgetting the importance of Vanport, red-lining, and relegating the Chinese history to a footnote is a bit of a loss.
posted by iamck at 1:44 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've lived in more than a few cities and my experience is that the closer to the coast the less overtly racist they are.

Wow, this is a whole new level of coastal snobbery. Every part of the U.S. has more than enough racism to go around, but I reject the idea that Des Moines is, by virtue of its geographical position, more racist than Birmingham or Boston.
posted by Area Man at 1:46 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


On the one hand, it would be nice if Americans from the non-South would remember that the difference in white racism between the non-South and the South is not at all the difference between "not racist" and "racist." It's the difference between "very racist" and "very very racist." I mean seriously, if you ever look at the numbers on a racial resentment scale in a survey it is somewhere between sobering and horrifying.

On the other hand, it would be nice if southerners didn't point out racism outside the South in a way that implies that whites in the South aren't, on aggregate, more racist than white non-Southerners. Because they demonstrably are.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:46 PM on January 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


How did Washington avoid this? Seattle is actually quite diverse.

We need to be careful with statistics. South of Seattle metro is diverse. The metropolitan zone and north is not diverse. Much of the racial disparity includes income disparity.

It's getting better, but Seattle is very much like Portland in terms of racial segregation, when compared with cities in the rest of the US.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:58 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


perhapsolutely: but I think you'll find it an easier fall-back position to defend.

These monikers, however uncouth, are perfectly fine ways to describe a city that's so glaringly non-diverse by comparison to its peers, and your objections to them don't seem to be coming from any position of factual disagreement with the numbers, so I really don't know what you're on about here.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:58 PM on January 22, 2015


It's great to talk about the city's whiteness and the historical reasons and the legacy of racism that contributed to that outcome. What seems slightly less fair is judging the city itself (much less its people) by its racial composition instead of the actual things happening there. The entire Pacific Northwest, not to mention the majority of the western US, is very white, and Portland isn't really a ridiculous outlier of whiteness within its regional context (and on preview, yes, Seattle is quite white as well).

I'd much rather criticize Portland for all the racist things currently happening there, like gentrification and police brutality and harassment, than snark about how there aren't many black people there so people who live there must be racist hypocrites. It starts to feel more like part of the the ongoing Portland Resentment Backlash ("they think they're sooo great") than an earnest attempt at engaging with racism.

I went to a community college in the heart of the North Portland black community, and every single day I saw police harass, search, and detain black people for no reason whatsoever. I saw black families being pushed out of their homes so that more new restaurants could open and condos could be built, black businesses that were pushed out by white businesses with better connections in local government (read: corruption and institutional racism), pervasive residential segregation, schools in black neighborhoods unfunded and uncared for by district administrators ... I could go on. For all the social justice efforts in Portland, there was very little energy being put into these issues, and hardly even any organizations to join to get involved*. I hope that has changed some since I moved away, especially with all the social justice-oriented folks moving into North Portland and being confronted with it, but I'm not particularly optimistic.

I just think we're way too hung up on simple racial composition in this thread when it would be more productive to think about about the racist institutions and attitudes currently happening in Oregon (and the Pacific Northwest, and the western US as a whole).

* When I did get involved more, I heard a lot of stories from black folks about white people coming into their communities and pulling white savior tourist bullshit, and they were rightfully extremely suspicious of any attempts at outreach from white people for that reason; many people told me that in their experience white people would only get involved in such efforts in order to pat themselves on the back, and that they would abandon the cause when it suited them. Building bridges in these situations with such a history of awful behavior by white people, even when they thought they were trying to help, is extremely difficult.
posted by dialetheia at 2:00 PM on January 22, 2015 [29 favorites]


Growing up as a white, public school kid in Phoenix and later LA, I was pretty accustomed to being in the minority in a given classroom/store/whatever. Probably didn't happen 50% of the time, but often enough that being in a white-only setting has always felt...weird. I don't think I ever experienced that until I was in the Coast Guard, and even then that was rare.

Moving to Seattle gave me the impression that yeah, this is a really white city. There is diversity. There are pockets of incredible diversity. But overall? White city, especially on the north half.

Teaching in Seattle as a sub? The way the schools here are laid out, I sometimes want to scream if anyone ever heard of Brown v Board of Education. I know it's complex. I know there are reasons behind stuff, and some are racist and some aren't, but damn.

Every trip to Portland leaves me struck with how that city feels even less racially diverse.

Anectodal, obviously, but there it is.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:07 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because they demonstrably are.

Well, they are more openly and actively racist, yeah. In terms of how people actually think/feel I'm not convinced. How substantive this difference is is something I can't really judge well as a white person. People were more comfortable saying racist things aloud/in public in the South, but if you look at peoples underlying attitudes I don't see as big a difference.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:13 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


dialetheia: I just think we're way too hung up on simple racial composition in this thread when it would be more productive to think about about the racist institutions and attitudes currently happening in Oregon (and the Pacific Northwest, and the western US as a whole).

You make many good points, but doesn't the latter follow logically from the former to some extent? If you don't have a minority community large enough to be noticed by civic institutions and the larger population, you'll have a much harder time gaining traction on social justice efforts. There are no longer legal barriers to people of color buying houses in certain neighborhoods, but when things like transit policy and zoning are debated, it's easy to forget about diversity when the starting point is so homogeneous.

I'm not by any means excusing whites for shirking their responsibility in this regard, but when you're talking about such a small minority, there's a certain "out of sight, out of mind" aspect that's hard to get past, even for people who might be receptive to more inclusive policy solutions. Like you said, building the bridges is hard, and I do think noting the racial composition as a large factor in the many things you speak of (gentrification, police brutality, etc.) is worthwhile.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:20 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, they are more openly and actively racist, yeah. In terms of how people actually think/feel I'm not convinced. How substantive this difference is is something I can't really judge well as a white person. People were more comfortable saying racist things aloud/in public in the South, but if you look at peoples underlying attitudes I don't see as big a difference.

Having lived extensively in both the west and south to me it seems more a difference in form rather than degree.

I wonder what methodology is used to "demonstrably" show racial resentment. Some of the biggest walking San Francisco liberal stereotypes I know will say things that would make a good ole southern boy blush in the same breath they will insist that of course they're not racist. Just look at any west coast discussion of #blacklivesmatter to see this in action.
posted by bradbane at 2:30 PM on January 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Additionally, the Seattle area had the highest percentage of self-identified mixed-race people of any large metropolitan area in the United States, according to the 2000 United States Census Bureau. According to a 2012 HistoryLink study, Seattle's 98118 zip code (in the Columbia City neighbourhood) was one of the most diverse ZIP Code Tabulation Areas in the United States.

Seattle also has the largest African American population of any city in the Pacific Northwest, it is largely concentrated in the Central District and Rainier Beach neighborhoods.


Still seems like an appreciable improvement. Especially considering that Seattle only has about 30k more people than Portland. I'm not saying that it's anything like the major cities in California, but that it seems like quite a contrast. And I'm curious why Washington, being formerly part of the Oregon Territory, ended up with a less bigoted and utopian group of founders.

And I'm even more further interested in contrasting both with British Columbia and Vancouver.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:44 PM on January 22, 2015


My ex was from Oregon (Albany) and he once told me that the first time he'd seen a black person in the flesh was when he arrived in Texas for college. His relatives in rural Oregon were, insofar as I could tell from our exchanges, basically interchangeable in religious and racial attitudes with my relatives from deep east Texas. When I visited Portland for the first time in the late 80s, I remember being shocked by the absolute lack of non-white people. (Particularly noticeable to my college student self: white fast food employees, which speaks to ongoing racism at home.)

I didn't know most of the history described in the article, but based on what I do know about Oregon, I wasn't shocked by it.
posted by immlass at 2:49 PM on January 22, 2015


Some of the biggest walking San Francisco liberal stereotypes I know will say things that would make a good ole southern boy blush in the same breath they will insist that of course they're not racist

Yeah, there's lots of "ironic" or unthinking racism in SF/LA/etc. Its definitely different in form than what I heard growing up in the South, but its extremely widespread.

For me its been interesting -- I grew up in a place that was 98% white and, like most white people in such places, thought nothing about it. Most of my adult life has been in California, and much of that in LA, so now when I go back to those all-white places it feels so strange, even though it was normal to me for the first half of my life.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:51 PM on January 22, 2015


And I'm even more further interested in contrasting both with British Columbia and Vancouver.

Here you go

Less than half the population is white, apparently, but I have heard plenty of racist shit from white people here, too. I'm with dialethia on this, the actual breakdown of the demographics doesn't seem to mean very much here.
posted by Hoopo at 2:59 PM on January 22, 2015


I grew up in Houston and moved to Portland in 1989. They're both cities with terrible legacies of racism, as is all of America, but it's a different kind of racism. Houston's racism against blacks is rooted in the patrician South, and slavery, and more recently anti-Latino prejudice. But it's a racism born of people living side by side. You can't live in Houston and not interact with African American and Latino people on a weekly, if not daily basis. Portland's racism is more one of genteel white liberalness simplified by the invisibility of other races. You can go weeks at a time in Portland without speaking to anyone who isn't white and the city's neighborhoods are still some of the most segregated. They're both awful.

This article is great, but doesn't go quite into enough detail about just how aggressive Oregon's constitution was. "no Negro, Chinaman, or Mulatto shall have the right of suffrage". There was plenty of debate on just which details of racism would be enshrined in the constitution, but the basic question was settled implicitly. Oregon was not particularly unusual in this way although, as the article notes, it was perhaps a little more direct and forthright about it.

America is founded on two original sins: the genocide of Native Americans and the enrichment through the slavery of Africans. We will never overcome that stain.
posted by Nelson at 3:34 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


My experience as someone who's lived in Lake Oswego, Beaverton, and Hillsboro for years.....there's a lot of unwitting racism but actually not so much witting or willful racism... the greater PDX area (or at least Washington County) is all but the bastion of 'liberal white racism'- it's really uncool to be overtly racist, but there are lots of people who just are completely ignorant and have no idea of how to interact with persons not of white or asian descent.

It may be anecdotal, but I've heard an urban legend that Hitler actually proposed to the Japanese ambassador that Oregon be made into a German Aryan colony after the Axis achieved victory in WW2. Also, supposedly, the Wehrmacht and the SS had more American volunteers from Oregon than from any other state in the USA.

There can also be a good amount of tokenism...a lot of folks that latch on to somebody who is African-American not so much because of personal amicability as it is 'see what an enlightened person I am'.

You go East, into the Columbia gorge, though, and yeesh... the Mormons of Hermiston are still running things like it's the 19th century.

Sources: I was the campaign manager for Dewey Fowler, Cameron Whitten, and Woodrow Broadnax.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 3:38 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


*cancels trip to Oregon* posted by Brandon Blatcher

There are lots of other reasons besides historical racism to cancel your trip. Perhaps you have heard; it rains out here a lot. Also, there are many bad drivers. Also, housing costs are soaring because people visit, then don't leave, as they have been instructed to do. I also heard that last year 1312 people fell off their bikes and drowned.

So, yeah, please don't move here. I hear Detroit is nice. Also Rochester.
posted by dubwisened at 3:49 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wonder what methodology is used to "demonstrably" show racial resentment.

Surveys using a fairly standard battery of questions that are basically kinda racist but still things people might say to an interviewer.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:55 PM on January 22, 2015


Going back over the years, the same neighborhood seems to have fewer minorities, which is at the very least, a shame. I would be curious to see the ethnic/racial breakdown of the area over the years.

Portlandia's mocking description of the local culture should be enough to explain a good bit even without the racist history .

It's where "young people go to retire."

If you're privileged enough that you can decide to move to an economically depressed area in order to live a particular way of life, albeit a low-key one, you're likely to move to Portland.

If you're privileged enough that you can decide to move to an economically depressed area in order to live a particular way of life, albeit a low-key one, you're likely to be white.
posted by ocschwar at 3:56 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


I know they're different states and all, buy I find it a little ironic that Hendrix was from Seattle.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:04 PM on January 22, 2015


For whatever it's worth at this point in the thread--I think I saw this here, originally, anyways--here's a breakdown of whitest cities and metro areas from the Oregonian. As a metro area, there's a few less-diverse major cities (Minneapolis, Providence, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati), but as a city proper, Portland is easily the whitest city in the US.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 4:18 PM on January 22, 2015


Wow the difference between metro area and city is so variable. Some places (Portland, LA, San Diego, etc) have very little difference, others its kind of big (NYC, St Louis, etc) and a couple are insane (Detroit! Although not surprising).
posted by thefoxgod at 4:32 PM on January 22, 2015


bradbane: "I grew up in the very deep south, and one thing about living on the west coast now is how many people are completely convinced that CA/OR is this progressive shining light where racism is not a thing. Racism is something that happened in the south, is a southern problem, and continues to happen because the south is a ignorant, backwards place filled with rednecks waving Confederate flags. The thinking is that they were The Good Guys who fought slavery, so it's only the south that has Those Problems. "

The quickest way to disabuse yourself of this notion is to mention immigration anywhere between Gilroy and Marin County and step back so you don't get hit by flying spittle.

The basic truth is that there is no safe place in America. There never has been. American culture has always been xenophobic and racist and sexist, right down to the bone. Prior to the great democratizer of the Internet, it was possible to paper it over with genteel traditions and carefully honed social rituals and "things that everyone knew" and have it more or less work.

But now ALL the rocks are getting turned over, and we're all finding out that the shit we thought only happened in that other place was in fact happening right next door to us the whole time, with tacit approval from the institutions of power.

Multiple American generations are losing their religion and being forced to deal with the fact that the good old days weren't good, and weren't particularly old. And the reaction to that readjusting of reality is going just about as well as you'd think.

When I need to feel hope, I think of the current political and social climate as the thrashing of a dying dinosaur. The dinosaur doesn't necessarily mean to destroy everything; it's just dying, and doesn't want to, and doesn't understand what's happening to it.

The white supremacist United States is dying. It is dying slowly, and badly, and very, very messily. But it is dying nonetheless. And so nothing really surprises me, because desperate, cornered people are capable of anything. It will, of course, be replaced by some other supremacy, populated by power-hungry fools who simply look more like the neighborhoods we all live in and less like a nursing home for the white and fossilized.

But that's how it goes.
posted by scrump at 4:33 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal: "For whatever it's worth at this point in the thread--I think I saw this here, originally, anyways--here's a breakdown of whitest cities and metro areas from the Oregonian. As a metro area, there's a few less-diverse major cities (Minneapolis, Providence, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati), but as a city proper, Portland is easily the whitest city in the US."

Hmm, I knew that Pittsburgh was pretty white but I didn't quite realize that we were the whitest large metro area in the US. Not really surprised though. No big shortage of racists here either.
posted by octothorpe at 5:16 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I lived in Portland in the 80s and 90s and while there were some Asians, I remember that Russians were viewed as the minority group. RUSSIANS!
posted by sweetmarie at 5:21 PM on January 22, 2015


I grew up in Portland in the 80s and 90s, went to Grant, went to summer school at Benson, and grew up with a very different viewpoint of this place. I'm white, but I used to run with the Asian gangs and sometimes go out looking for supremacists to start fights with. I never got in any of those fights, but my friend Bi did, and he got a machete through his neck in one (amazingly, Bi survived, was later shot twice by another supremacist, and survived that too.)

I remember being in Buelahland, yeah Buelahland, in 2000 or so and a bunch of skinheads came in... there was an Indian in the bar, and a huge barfight broke out over the Indian and he had to be snuck out the back and protected from being stabbed. By SHARPs, cause we had a lot of SHARPs around the city at that time cause there were so many goddamn supremacists.

When I moved to Milwaukee, WI in 2003 it was a breath of fresh air... it was racist, but that midwest racism where people just kind of mind their own and are polite about it. People would ask me about Portland and I would say "it's like Seattle, but uglier and racist."

Then, somehow, it became Punk Rock Disneyland, and then later Portlandia.

Portland is weird, and it's got a fucked history. I knew it, because I grew up there (and I'm third generation... grandparents went to Roosevelt!), but most who move there have no clue.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 5:47 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Saying a city feels weird "because it seems so white" just makes you sound like a jackass. I've lived all over the eastern seaboard, from Durham to Charlottesville to urban segments of PA and can't come close in my 20 years in Oregon to the openly hostile/racist shit I heard on a regular basis back east toward latinos, Jews, and African-Americans. I think this is an incredible article, but drawing conclusions about modern day life here when so many of our residents moved here in the last 3 decades is just asinine. In my practice we routinely see pacific islanders, eastern europeans (Ukraine and Russia mostly), Iranian, and yes, some African Americans. And believe me, patients will tell you everything they really feel in the course of a visit (or several).

Lake No Negro? yes, that was a thing in 1985.
posted by docpops at 5:50 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


there's a lot of unwitting racism but actually not so much witting or willful racism

Yeah, I've previously mooted the comparison that perhaps southern racism vs. northern racism is something like an Ask Culture vs. Guess Culture thing.
posted by dhartung at 5:50 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


docpops: Saying a city feels weird "because it seems so white" just makes you sound like a jackass.

Putting a thing in quotes that appears neither in the linked article nor the comments makes you sound like a jackass. Said article, and many of these comments, provide much more justification -- including personal experience -- for having an impression that Oregon is too white, not just that it seems that way.

Your experience is different, and that's cool, and very much worth hearing about, but burning straw men isn't going to advance the conversation.
posted by tonycpsu at 5:55 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


tonycpsu - I'm paraphrasing multiple comments from here and from the original article.
I'm really, really well aware of how monocultural Oregon seems. I'd be the first to say that I can't begin to imagine the otherness that might accompany a person adapting to this area who is of a different race. As a jew I've heard the weirdly sheltered comments that aren't really anti-semitic but more reveal a lack of awareness of the greater world. But what a lot of people seem to be equating is that a history of racism now must have simply evolved into white=racist. I'm watching firsthand every day, 20 or 30 times a day, what happens in actual lives in this state. People are mostly trying to pay their utility bill or find mental health care or get their kid through a really substandard school because we're mostly too stupid to fund our education system. Animus toward other races in the population at large (not the cops or pockets of 3rd generation morons in the sticks) is a trope for the media.
posted by docpops at 6:08 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think this is an incredible article, but drawing conclusions about modern day life here when so many of our residents moved here in the last 3 decades is just asinine.

Okay, I'll bite. How many people who are currently living in Portland weren't born in either Oregon (or, say, Washington)?
posted by 23skidoo at 6:11 PM on January 22, 2015


Stop trying to Northsplain racism to us Southerners.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:14 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Okay, I'll bite. How many people who are currently living in Portland weren't born in either Oregon (or, say, Washington)?

In my office, of the people I personally talk to on a regular basis, 1/2 are from Oregon or Washington. The rest are from Cali, or elsewhere.
posted by fiercekitten at 6:22 PM on January 22, 2015


Okay, I'll bite. How many people who are currently living in Portland weren't born in either Oregon (or, say, Washington)?

"Only about 40 percent of people who live in the Portland metro area were born in Oregon, with another 10 percent born in Washington, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The other half of us came from elsewhere, ranking Portland a transplant mecca on par with Phoenix, Miami and Denver, and with a healthy lead on the rest of the West Coast."

As a lifelong Portland-Metro area resident (except for that terrible year in Portland, Maine) it is a really weird dynamic for those of us who grew up here. Its been especially awkward and surreal for the past few years as certain low-key areas of the city are exploding. I mean, I'd rather have development than a stagnant city…but this boomtown stuff is making it really, really hard for middle and lower class anyone to get anything done.

I remember being in Buelahland, yeah Buelahland, in 2000 or so and a bunch of skinheads came in... there was an Indian in the bar, and a huge barfight broke out over the Indian and he had to be snuck out the back and protected from being stabbed. By SHARPs, cause we had a lot of SHARPs around the city at that time cause there were so many goddamn supremacists.

Yeah, the Speakeasy down on 6th and Taylor is a known haven for a crew or two of white supremacists. I used to love that place, but the owners seem perfectly fine with them hanging out there, so I haven't been back in some time. The last time I was there, we were asked to leave (by the patrons, not the bar) because of our Dominican/Native American friend who was with us.

There's plenty of overt racism in Oregon, and theres plenty of hidden racism too.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:23 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


Okay, I'll bite. How many people who are currently living in Portland weren't born in either Oregon (or, say, Washington)?

Hard to say - I bet there's census data for that. There's an informal analysis of united Van Lines that shows Oregon has some of the highest influx of retirees and people changing jobs. I see so many people migrating here for jobs or retirement from the midwest, southwest, California, practically everywhere except perhaps New England, that is seems like a unicorn sighting to meet someone under thirty who grew up here.

edit: here's the article from earlier this year:
posted by docpops at 6:28 PM on January 22, 2015


but it's important to note that while surrounding states were expelling Asian immigrants, Portland was welcoming them. In 1900, 12% of the city was Chinese, with the second largest Chinatown on the west coast.

That was the time period of the railway construction boom, which was of course when the Chinese were brought in as cheap and disposable labor, and also when they were killed and expelled all over the region. I'm not sure I'd hold that aspect of the area's history up as a model of racial harmony, even if Portland did somewhat better than the worst places. The town I am in this moment and the nearest three towns all had mass killings and/or expulsions of the Chinese during that era, and all four towns had large and active KKK memberships.

My family has been in Oregon for a long time, and for all that we are all currently nice modern progressives, I can guarantee that the racist history of the area is as embedded in my family as it is in many others. I go to Portland for work fairly often and used to live there, and many parts of the city feel incredibly white, especially compared to the recent Latino immigration in many of the agricultural areas elsewhere in the region.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:41 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm not really sure what to say in this thread (other than it's awesome to see Cameron Whitten's former campaign manager in here! Right on!) but being a transplant to Portland via Phoenix, AZ I'd say it's pretty overtly obvious what Oregon's past is and that most people are extremely self-aware of the history, but maybe that's just my personal experience because all of my friends are from Oregon and I've only dated women who are from Portland. YMMV.
posted by gucci mane at 7:14 PM on January 22, 2015


I've been in Portland for three weeks now, after 13 years in the SF Bay Area and one of the first things I noticed is that there are so many white people here.
posted by bendy at 7:24 PM on January 22, 2015


I was in Iceland the last two summers. Holy shit is it crawling with whites.
posted by docpops at 7:44 PM on January 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


April is Confederate history month and cheerfully celebrated throughtout the south.

January 19 is Confederate Heroes Day, which happened to fall on Martin Luther King Day this year. I waver between thinking the universe is indifferent and thinking the universe is actively hostile. Sometimes it looks like a practical joke. Sometimes it looks like a murder plot.
posted by byanyothername at 7:57 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I waver between thinking the universe is indifferent and thinking the universe is actively hostile.

The universe is actively indifferent to anything humanity does, which in our self absorbed asses perceive as hostile. Which isn't wrong, 'cause that means good things happen to bad people and vice versa, which actually is really fucking hostile, so eat a bag of dicks universe.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:02 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a recent (9 mo) transplant from Arlington, VA to Seattle, I will say that parts of Seattle are very diverse. I happen to live in one of them (98144). This was an explicit variable in my house search. Much of Seattle, however, is every bit as white as anything discussed in this article.

In my years of trying to be a careful observer of my own and other's privilege, I think the places that people think aren't racist are simply the ones that have the least interaction between people of different backgrounds. Racism is everywhere, even within those who consciously area aware of their own. Fear of someone different seems to be wired into our brain at a very deep level. It is our obligation to overcome it.

Once you've read this article, I recommend you go read Ta-Nehisi Coates' amazing The Case for Reparations which illuminates even more deeply the racism that was so prevalent throughout the United States.
posted by petrilli at 8:05 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, the history of Portland has been one of neighborhood segregation. I can't overstate this enough. Looking at high school enrollment demographics and picking two outliers:

Jefferson High School (NE Portland)
57% African American // 0.8% Asian American // 18.9% White

Wilson High School (SW Portland)
5% African American // 4.6% Asian American // 74.7% White

Lots of anecdotes about being in Portland and seeing loads of white people - I'll counter that there's a lot of new money and new people coming into this city too. Those last neighborhoods that had a significant African American population are changing, and everyone is getting priced out. I went to one of the more diverse high schools in this city, and I don't know a single person in our graduating class that owns a house in the city. Plenty of other people simply left - some friends went to cities where they wouldn't feel the constant pressure of being a minority.

I don't know about this White Utopia story from centuries back - I do know that inner Portland is becoming whiter. But know that non-white Portlanders did exist, and do exist. Even if there is a slow and steady push to rezone and turn the inner city into a playground for new implants.
posted by iamck at 8:06 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


> I was in Iceland the last two summers. Holy shit is it crawling with whites.

Do you think it was because of a history similar Oregon's that the article in the FPP described? If you find anything explaining Iceland's racial balance, and comparing/contrasting it with Oregon's, please post it here. It would make an interesting contribution.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:11 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm white, but I used to run with the Asian gangs

Really? OPGs or the RCBs? /derail, but familiar territory
posted by iamck at 8:15 PM on January 22, 2015


I love Portland, and am always happy when we visit, and am always very aware as we take the MAX in from the airport that the ridership gets whiter as we get closer to the city center because so many of the people who look like me get off the train before we get there.

I just did a quick looksee at the census breakdowns for the cities where I have lived the longest over the years, and yeah, Portland is noticeably white compared to them:

Portland: White alone, percent, 2010 (a) 76.1%

Boston: White alone, percent, 2010 (a) 53.9%

Washington, DC: White alone, percent, 2013 (a) 43.4%

San Francisco: White alone, percent, 2010 (a) 48.5%
posted by rtha at 8:16 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you include the metro areas, Boston looks much whiter, about on par with Portland. Part of the story with Portland has been that the city has gentrified to the point that many lower-income people are priced out of the city proper and live in the suburbs now, so the distribution of low-income people is the opposite of most cities in the east. It's obvious from that chart that many other cities are just as white, it's just that most of their white people live in the suburbs instead of downtown. I think this is also why Portland looks especially white to people visiting; the closer to the city center, the whiter it is, for the most part, so that's what you see when you visit unless you go visit Gresham or something.

Out of curiosity, should we be having this conversation about the other cities at the top of that list, too? I'm not trying to be defensive, just wondering what racial makeup is supposed to signify here exactly. I mean, Pittsburgh is 88% white, should we be wondering what's gone wrong there too? Maybe! I'm sure every city in America could fill up a similar article with its awful racist history.
posted by dialetheia at 8:34 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you include the metro areas, Boston looks much whiter, about on par with Portland.

Okay? I grew up in the Greater Boston area (Brookline), so yeah, I know. But I tried to compare apples to apples, which is not what comparing Greater Boston to Portland city would be. I got nothing against Portland - as I said, I am very fond of it. It has a particular kind of history that we see reflected in current demographics. Other cities have their demographics for their own historical reasons.
posted by rtha at 8:46 PM on January 22, 2015


But I tried to compare apples to apples, which is not what comparing Greater Boston to Portland city would be.

No, apples to apples would be to compare both metro areas, which have equal percentages of white people (78%). I guess that's my objection, is that I just don't think city proper is the right scale of analysis given the history of inner city residential segregation in many east coast cities vs. the history of gentrification in Portland. They result in opposite patterns, with white people concentrated at the center of the city in one model and white people concentrated in the suburbs in the other model, but they are overall equally white. To nitpick at Portland about its whiteness even though it's just a difference in distribution just seems kind of pointless, especially when there's so much actual racism in Oregon we could be talking about. Although I'd love to learn more about why those cities ended up distributed so differently, that would be interesting.
posted by dialetheia at 8:58 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not trying to "nitpick" Portland for its demographics. I've lived in Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine, all of which are pretty damn white. I'm trying to talk about something that was very noticeable to me, a woman of color, the first time I visited Portland, in a way that I hadn't expected at all from a city on the West coast. Sorry.
posted by rtha at 9:03 PM on January 22, 2015


(class of 2010) lake no negro is still a thing, white linn is still a thing
posted by thug unicorn at 9:49 PM on January 22, 2015


Although I have to say that having grown up in New England, the NW has always struck me as having a bit of an a-historical vibe, with considerably more of a focus on the present/future than the past.

That's partly because we* have so little past out here. I grew up in a town that was barely 50 years old; old time history was the parts of the state that had been around for just over a century. When local history is still young, and when so many people are first- or second-generation residents who moved from elsewhere, it's hard to feel a sense of continuity with the past.

Growing up in the northwest, history was something that either happened in other places (Europe or the eastern U.S.), or happened to pioneers who were so different from me as to be completely un-relatable. (I had a Washington State history class in middle school that may well have stopped when statehood began; I don't remember it covering anything 20th century.) It wasn't my history, it was someone else's.

And I think that this general disinterest in our history helps keep the horribly racist parts of that history out of sight and out of mind.

* Aside from indigenous people
posted by Banknote of the year at 9:50 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


So basically, there's just too many white people?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:50 PM on January 22, 2015


yes
posted by poffin boffin at 9:51 PM on January 22, 2015


i am contractually obligated to mention the wicker man at this point
posted by poffin boffin at 9:52 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


> So basically, there's just too many white people?

Nah, it's more of a Neapolitan ice cream thing. Folks just don't like it when the flavors are scooped so unevenly.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:05 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Petrilli! Welcome to the 98144 neighborhood!

It always sounds so weird when people say how white Seattle is, because I've lived in 98144 for nearly a generation now, and so in my daily experience Seattle seems pretty diverse. I often forget that 98144 and its immediate neighbor, 98118, are outliers, substantially more diverse than the rest of the city. But it's true. And to this day I still see newcomers being warned (even here on Ask Metafilter sometimes!) to look for housing "north of the canal." Or north of downtown, at least. It's something that you hear all the time here. When I tell people where I live, they seem shocked. "Aren't you worried about that neighborhood?" Which would be hilarious if it weren't so ignorant and sad. I live in a quiet little neighborhood that mostly feels like Ballard, circa 1990 -- just way more diverse and non-Scandinavian.
posted by litlnemo at 1:10 AM on January 23, 2015


April is Confederate history month and cheerfully celebrated throughtout the south.

I am 38 and white. I have lived my entire life in NC and GA, except for 5 years in MD. I have never before heard that April is Confederate history month, and I certainly have never observed anyone celebrating it.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:09 AM on January 23, 2015


Out of curiosity, should we be having this conversation about the other cities at the top of that list, too? I'm not trying to be defensive, just wondering what racial makeup is supposed to signify here exactly. I mean, Pittsburgh is 88% white, should we be wondering what's gone wrong there too? Maybe! I'm sure every city in America could fill up a similar article with its awful racist history.

Why do you think that discussions about the racist history and how it affects the current racism of a given state/city/area need to be completely separated from discussions about the current racial demographics of that state/city/area?

And sure, similar articles could be written about the way that the racist history of other America cities affects the current racism of that American city, but for lots and lots of cities, the response would be an overwhelming "well, duh, everyone knows that about that city."
posted by 23skidoo at 5:58 AM on January 23, 2015


Out of curiosity, should we be having this conversation about the other cities at the top of that list, too?

Sure! I think those would be really interesting discussions. There are very specific historical and contemporary reasons why Portland and this region are so white; I'd love to see a similar discussion of why Pittsburg or Boston are so white and how those patterns differ. Demographics, history, and racial patterns of urbanization are all interesting topics, and nationally you are going to see different paths taken, some of which reach numerically similar end points and others that do not.

All of which is really interesting but isn't in any way a reason to not look closely at the patterns underlying racial distribution in the northwest.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:12 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is such a weird discussion for me to read. I grew up in Portland, '79-'97 and was utterly unaware that it would be considered a overly white city. I vaguely knew that Lake Oswego was for racists who were scared of black people, but that wasn't Portland. I was born on 20th and Alberta and didn't know many other white people. I went to US Grant for high school which was depressingly segregated socially, but still pretty damn diverse. Then I left for college in Arizona and people would ask me "Portland...ya'll got a lot of black people there right?" which was utterly bizarre on so many levels...

So this entirely different view of the town I grew up in, it's super weird. Thanks for the cognitive dissonance.
posted by Shutter at 6:12 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm sure every city in America could fill up a similar article with its awful racist history.

Yup. I'd like to read a book of those, actually. The details of racism are different in different parts of the US and we can learn a lot from the diverse histories of our forefather's discrimination. This article here is a good one about the racist history of Portland. I hope folks who read it learned something. One of the burdens of white privilege is we shouldn't just get to shrug and say "he's saying mean things about this place I like, I'm going to ignore it."
posted by Nelson at 7:32 AM on January 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'm sure every city in America could fill up a similar article with its awful racist history.

The article on Minneapolis would point out that it used to be considered the most anti-Semitic city in the entire U.S. (oddly enough, St. Paul was thought to be significantly better.)
posted by Area Man at 7:42 AM on January 23, 2015


I always find it interesting when people think Washington and Oregon are bastions of granola and tolerance, and completely miss that they're talking only about Seattle and Portland. If not for these two cities, these would both be red states.

I'm Asian and I grew up in suburban/rural Washington state. Politically speaking, I'd say most of the people there are indistinguishable from the rest of suburban and rural America, and judging by my hometown friends' Facebook posts, things haven't changed much in that regard. It's only in the urban areas where things are a little different. When I moved to New Jersey/New York, one of the biggest shocks for me was the demographics, because the PNW is very white. The PNW is also viewed by many white nationalists, supremacists, etc. in America as an ideal place for relocation or even a place to begin a secessionist movement for a white homeland. All this is not coincidental.
posted by ChuckRamone at 8:40 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am 38 and white. I have lived my entire life in NC and GA, except for 5 years in MD. I have never before heard that April is Confederate history month, and I certainly have never observed anyone celebrating it.

North Carolina doesn't observe it and Georgia has only done so officially since 2009. Gosh, I wonder why they started doing it in 2009, was black guy elected President for the first time in 2008 or something?!

I lived most of my life in Maryland. The past 12 years have been spent in Savannah, GA. I was totally unaware of Confederate History Month and people celebrating it, until 2-3 years ago.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:45 AM on January 23, 2015


That is truly horrifying, Brandon Blatcher. Thanks for the links. (The good news is I spent plenty of time around the GA capitol building in April last year and never saw a single sign of anybody celebrating this.)
posted by hydropsyche at 9:41 AM on January 23, 2015


All of which is really interesting but isn't in any way a reason to not look closely at the patterns underlying racial distribution in the northwest.

I totally agree. I just think there's been sadly little discussion of the actual article here, I guess; instead everyone is very fixated on Portland's demographics, but doesn't even want to talk about the particulars of those demographics (where the white people are clustered, historical distribution patterns, etc) much less the history that led to it.

I want to be super clear that I am in no way trying to shirk the responsibility of examining our racist past, because I 100% agree that is my responsibility as a human being and it's absolutely essential to fixing things going forward. I had an earlier comment where I tried to talk about some of the racist patterns and institutions currently operating in Portland, and I absolutely 100% acknowledge that Oregon has a racist history and is still racist as hell. I just think it's regrettable that this conversation has been so shallow, and that we've been so hyperfocused on one particular metric (city limits whiteness) instead of talking about any number of other troubling things that contribute to maintaining those demographic patterns. We've barely touched on the particulars of the article itself, for one, nor have we had much discussion about overall whiteness in the West and the Pacific Northwest (because this is absolutely a region-wide problem), or the particular institutions and problems in Oregon and Portland that have led to this situation, or any discussion of people trying to address these problems now, etc etc.

I do think it's interesting that visitors see Portland as a particularly white place when compared to e.g. Boston or any of the other cities at the top of the Whitest list, and I've offered an explanation about how Portland's white people are concentrated inside the city while many other cities have their white people clustered in the suburbs. A number of people seem to be implicitly asserting that it's worse to have white people concentrated in the city instead of the suburbs but not explaining why, and it would be interesting if someone wanted to unpack that argument; does one pattern lead to worse outcomes than the other? Is one pattern more or less indicative of institutional racism than the other? Is it just historical chance? Does that pattern where visitors only see the white people help reinforce the idea that Portland is even whiter than it is and contribute to black people feeling like they aren't welcome there?

The other thing that's been neglected in this discussion is the overall whiteness of the entire western US, and particularly the Pacific Northwest, instead of just Oregon in particular. As the article asserts several times, the only way in which Oregon is a huge outlier is that they wrote their execrable racist rules down. I mean, I live in Montana right now and I would absolutely love to see the kind of diversity that I see even in Portland; it's feels like the whitest place on Earth here, and people here are about a million times more racist than they ever were in Oregon when I lived there (even though Oregon is still, again, plenty racist). It completely sucks and I can't wait to move somewhere more diverse, because the monoculture is boring and makes me feel kind of complicit in racism for even living here, but it seems like a bit of tunnel vision to talk about how racist and white Oregon is and not talk about how racist and white Idaho is, or Montana, or Utah, or even Washington (both OR and WA are basically Idaho once you get away from the interstates).

At the very least, if we're going to do the Portland Sucks thing, it would be interesting to talk about why the socially conscious people in Portland have had so little interest in any racial issues whatsoever. I lived there for ten years and knew all kinds of young people involved in food issues, environmental issues, economic issues, basically everything except racial issues. When I did get involved with efforts to stand with the black community, the only other white people around were a few other college students and older folks associated with church communities, which I found really odd and surprising. The people doing the most effective racial activism in Portland were almost all part of faith communities, and there was almost no momentum among younger people to do anything about or even so much as notice the racial disparities in the city. Has that changed in the last few years? In the wake of #BlackLivesMatter, are white social justice people in Portland redirecting some of their energy to racial issues, or are they co-opting that movement, or ignoring it altogether? Tonycpsu mentioned earlier that the smaller black population might lead to invisibility, but that doesn't match my experience; the racial issues in Portland were plenty visible, and you'd have to be willfully ignorant to live there and not know about the police brutality and harassment happening there, at a bare minimum, yet there was almost no interest in addressing these issues among young activists when I lived there. Why not?

Why do you think that discussions about the racist history and how it affects the current racism of a given state/city/area need to be completely separated from discussions about the current racial demographics of that state/city/area?

I don't think that at all, I just think we're doing the demographic discussion to the exclusion of the actual racist history and current racism covered in the article, much less any discussion of the broader regional problems in the Pacific Northwest, of which Oregon's problems are really a microcosm.
posted by dialetheia at 10:19 AM on January 23, 2015 [8 favorites]


Part of the reason people like to mention the whiteness of Portland (and where it comes from) is that for the last decade or so Portland has placed way above it's weight class as a place for young adults to live and be counter-cultural. (Ok, probably not so counter, I'm showing my age aren't I?) And honestly, the overwhelming whiteness of Portland has something to do with that. There's no question in my mind that if Portland wasn't as white it wouldn't be as much the It City that it is, but it's not really something people like to admit. See all the comments in this thread about how "well, MY Portland is diverse."
posted by aspo at 10:29 AM on January 23, 2015


The histories and current problems are different, of course, but I don't see how "Hey, look, South-haters, Oregon is racist too!" adds much to the discussion.

It's not much of a derail to notice that racism is everywhere. I went to a resort in Massachusetts when I was in the army, and they told me the membership fee covered me and my guests, and by the way, please don't bring any people of color as guests. This wasn't much more jarring than the "whites only" sign I saw in Georgia a couple of years earlier.

My in-laws live here in southern Oregon. Mostly they are caring, decent people. The comment in the essay that "racism doesn't require malice..." hits home. My SIS once told me (when I mentioned that Oregon had a racist past) that this was because there were no black people here. My MIL tells me that Native Americans are lucky, because they get to go to college free. My BIL tells me he's tired of seeing the "racist card" being played.

I can't have much of a discussion with these folks about racism for obvious reasons. The best I can do is commit to a short back and forth about using obviously racist slurs. They don't feel that they are racist, so they seem genuinely confused when I make a face at my MIL during a pinochle game, as she contemplates which card to play: "Let's see, eenie, meenie, minee mo..."

I'm not making this up.
posted by mule98J at 10:50 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not much of a derail to notice that racism is everywhere.

Yeah, that's not really the message of "tell me again how the South is racist" in a thread discussing an article that specifically details the segregationist history of Oregon. One can have a thoughtful discussion of the various specific ways in which racism are reflected in the populace of different regions, but that thoughtful discussion can't start with "neener-neener."
posted by tonycpsu at 11:03 AM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think that at all, I just think we're doing the demographic discussion to the exclusion of the actual racist history and current racism covered in the article, much less any discussion of the broader regional problems in the Pacific Northwest, of which Oregon's problems are really a microcosm.

I think we're focusing so much on the demographics because some commenters are pushing back against facts stating how many white people live in Portland. There's lots of people in this thread saying things that I'd paraphrase as "You can't call Portland really white because..." and then they finish the idea with something other than "because the percentage of white people living in Portland is actually quite low". I mean, to have a deeper conversation about the history of racism in Oregon, I think we have to accept that Oregon is really white, instead of trying to challenge that.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:25 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


dialetheia: A number of people seem to be implicitly asserting that it's worse to have white people concentrated in the city instead of the suburbs but not explaining why, and it would be interesting if someone wanted to unpack that argument; does one pattern lead to worse outcomes than the other? Is one pattern more or less indicative of institutional racism than the other? Is it just historical chance? Does that pattern where visitors only see the white people help reinforce the idea that Portland is even whiter than it is and contribute to black people feeling like they aren't welcome there?

This is an important point, and though I don't know that any of us is equipped to come up with precise answers, I think it's a good thing to dig deeper into. To that end, I put together a few screenshots from the Demographic Dot Map project of Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh. I included LA since it's an obvious example of a more diverse West Coast city, and Pittsburgh because (a) I live there, and (b) it makes a good test case for our urban core vs. MSA discussion, since it's the whitest MSA, but with a more diverse urban core than Portland (though not overwhelmingly so.)

The pattern of whiteness (blueness on the map) within the city limits of Portland is easy to see in these maps, as compared to nearby Seattle, and even more striking when compared to LA or the Rust Belt city of Pittsburgh. Looking deeper at the data, the next thing that jumps out at me is that the Asian population of the West Coast cities is significant enough that it might confound any analysis of just the raw percentage of whites vs. non-whites in the metro area, while the Hispanic population is virtually invisible on the Portland and Seattle maps. (I didn't expect either city to look like LA, but I certainly expected more than the tiny pockets of orange that are shown on the maps.)

On the general question of whether diversity in the urban core is important, or if it's okay to have a white core with diverse suburbs, I do think it's important to note the fact that cities have their own independent sphere of influence that comes from control over the services of the city core that suburbanites enjoy using, so my gut reaction (assuming that diversity everywhere isn't feasible given regional demographics) is that I would prefer a diverse city core with a ring of whiter suburbs to a whiter core with minorities farther away from the city. The problem with that logic is that in many cities where the whites are farther out, they end up finding ways to exert influence over the city government anyway (e.g. Seattle's tunnel, which will be mostly paid for by Seattle residents, but which will for the most part serve as a way for people to drive through Seattle without actually stopping there, or here in Pittsburgh, where we built a transit tunnel primarily designed to get folks to/from football games instead of to serve residents of the city.)

Anyway, I really don't have an over-arching thesis or answer to these questions, but thought linking to these maps and opening a conversation about them might be worthwhile to take us beyond the one-dimensional white vs. non-white discussion, while still keeping things in the realm of the empirically-measurable.

BTW, I also spent some time looking at maps on Social Explorer, but though the ability to show variables side-by-side (e.g. this map comparing white/non-white percentages in Portland and Seattle) is neat, I can't find a way to make it show the individual racial groups on a single map, making it not as useful (IMHO) as the Demographic Dot maps.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:24 PM on January 23, 2015 [2 favorites]


April is Confederate history month and cheerfully celebrated throughtout the south. They ain't dealt with shit.


HOLY FUCKING SHIT. This is especially horrible as lincoln was shot and killed in April. So its also a celebration of the assassination of an American President.

Fucking saltine-american culture. They get away with everything!
posted by hal_c_on at 1:13 PM on January 23, 2015


saltine-american culture

What does that phrase mean? I've never come across it and I love saltines.
posted by Area Man at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2015


I'm guessing it's a round-about way to say "crackers".
posted by benito.strauss at 1:21 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah, we'll that's lousy.

And there I was so confused because I'd never seen any connection between the saltines I love (sometimes a sleeve at a time) and Jefferson Davis & Co.
posted by Area Man at 1:23 PM on January 23, 2015


I spent my formative years in Lake Oswego and if I recall correctly, the only other Asian at my middle school was my sister (the other three Asians didn't count because they were adopted by white people and nobody ever called them racist things). I remember students calling me sushi, chink, gook, etc. And much of my experience of growing up in Portland kind of bore out the same experience, however the language was coded and the racism less overt.

I'll never watch Full Metal Jacket again because if I hear "Oh me so horny, me love you long time" one more time, I may flip.the.fuck.out!!!

Shouldn't be surprising that the Pacific Northwest is the great promised homeland for white supremacists who see it as refuge of the Aryan race when the race wars segregate people into national geographic divides.

And after having said all that, I still love Portland and want to live here forever..
posted by loquat at 1:37 PM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


the other three Asians didn't count because they were adopted by white people and nobody ever called them racist things

This is a fascinating anecdote. Merely having white parents was enough to keep them from being teased?
posted by tonycpsu at 1:42 PM on January 23, 2015


I'm guessing it's a round-about way to say "crackers".

Not to mention white, dull, flavorless, and often salty. ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:09 PM on January 23, 2015


the other three Asians didn't count because they were adopted by white people and nobody ever called them racist things

That's odd. My adopted siblings totally got called racist things. In High School, my sister also sometimes got shit from Asian students for not being Asian enough (I never understood why anyone would think being born in India would make my sister culturally Hmong or Vietnamese.)
posted by Area Man at 2:14 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thinking more about racism in Portland today, I thought the history of the Dixie Mattress Company might be an interesting thing to mention here. It was an old mattress store on close-in SE Belmont, a neighborhood that has since become a thriving young person hotspot just like many other areas of close-in East Portland. I think the store opened in the early 70s sometime.

The most notable thing about the store was that it had several confederate flags all over the storefront and signs (as you might have guessed from the "Dixie" moniker). The store was founded by a Mississippi transplant who still considered himself a southerner, and his daughters ran the place after he died. They took terrible care of the property and had huge iron bars all over the windows, and combined with the confederate flag bullshit it looked like some awful KKK mafia front right in the middle of hip progressive Belmont.

People in the neighborhood absolutely hated that store and everything about it, but apparently didn't really have any way to force them to close. It was an outrageous eyesore and everyone in the neighborhood felt weird and ashamed about it being there. I think at one point it was across the street from an organic grocery, had a hyperliberal coffee shop on one side and a yoga studio on the other - it really stuck out like a sore thumb. The store was never even open, and they seemed to keep the storefront specifically to piss off everyone around them.

They were 'vandalized' a lot while I lived there (I put scare quotes around vandalized because the vandalism was a huge improvement on the place, especially the super cool MLK makeover from that linked incident). That link has a pretty good history on the owners and its place in the neighborhood, too. Everyone in the neighborhood looked the other way about the vandalism for obvious reasons.

They finally closed up for real and sold the property in 2010. Everyone was thrilled that they closed, and there's probably a bar or record store or cupcake boutique there now. But the discourse around the place was very illuminating, and you can see it if you go back and read the articles from before they closed. Even that vandalism link starts with this "good old days" kind of tone, with lots of "respectful" language about the women who owned it, calling then "proud" and "hard working" and "working class" like their culture should provide an excuse for this kind of willful public awfulness. There weren't editorials in the newspaper about how they should change their signs or anything, and hardly any public pressure was exerted on them that I could see. While everyone I ever heard talk about it privately was very condemnatory, any public criticism was expressed in terms of the neighborhood being "growing and vital", or how the storefront was worth a lot of money, or how they should take better care of their windows, or how it would be great to have other thriving businesses in the neighborhood. Hardly anyone would come out in public and say, "uh, yeah, the confederate flag is racist and you are harming the community by displaying it."

I'm just glad the place finally closed, but it's quite instructive in Pacific Northwest racism to look at how the situation was handled. Mostly, people just wanted to look the other way and hope that the racists would just magically disappear, and they didn't want to engage directly with them or criticize them publicly. The conversation was mostly framed around free speech and the needs of the business community, with hardly a word about the response of the black community in Portland. Seriously, not one of those articles includes a quote from any black people expressing how seeing a sign like that makes them feel about living there. It almost felt like if they'd just washed their windows and sold cupcakes, nobody would have cared about the confederate flag signs.

Ironically, it was the gentrification of their formerly hardscrabble neighborhood that finally forced them out; if they had been located out in Clackamas or something, they'd probably still be in business. While white progressive young people are definitely crowding out native Portlanders, many of whom are minorities, it's worth acknowledging that the influx of progressive people is also crowding out the old super-racist confederate refugees. I just want the 'progressive' people who live now there to take racial issues more seriously than they take bike issues, and to work harder on making the city a great place for everyone to live, not just white kids. They look the other way when they need to be engaging with these problems.
posted by dialetheia at 3:10 PM on January 23, 2015 [14 favorites]


there's probably a bar or record store or cupcake boutique there now

Close enough: pizzeria
posted by RogerB at 3:26 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thanks for your thoughtful comments, dialetheia. Your Dixie Mattress story reminds me of a WTF moment I had in Portland in the mid 90s, meeting some friends at a gay bar somewhere in Old Town. A gay bar with a fucking Confederate flag flying. Maybe it was some ill-advised theme to camp up the country&western theme, but I think it was probably just stupid if not deliberately hostile. Ugh.

I grew up with Southern folks who could argue sincerely that their Confederate pride was not racist. It took me a long time to understand how deep the willful ignorance in that view goes. But that's the South's kind of race history problem, it was weird to see it imported to Oregon. The expectation there was Nazi skinheads.
posted by Nelson at 3:54 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


both OR and WA are basically Idaho once you get away from the interstates

Hey now, those are fighting words. (Really, I'd say that rural Idaho is like going back in time to what Oregon used to be like a few decades ago, still having that rough-edged separatists crossed with hippies vibe that Oregon used to have.)

I live in Montana right now and I would absolutely love to see the kind of diversity that I see even in Portland; it's feels like the whitest place on Earth here

Amazingly, there are parts of the US that are even whiter, though I agree that it's hard to believe it when you are there. (I should add that I like Montana a lot and may be working on a project there in the next year or so, but there's no getting around how openly happy some people are there about the overall whiteness.)
posted by Dip Flash at 8:28 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


This was a really informative article and thread. I'm reminded of an incident where young white men in a passing truck hollered at a friend's family while they were disposing of an x-mas tree in their driveway and told them, a 2nd/3rd gen Asian-American family, to 'go back to their country'. Yes, they live in a city that's on the outskirts of Portland and not Portland itself. So yeah, Oregon is not all that. Still, I learned a lot here and will be reading up more to know this state's history more deeply. Thanks!
posted by one teak forest at 12:43 AM on January 26, 2015


Portland has plenty of Asians, Latinos, Russians, etc. What it doesn't have is African Americans, which is as much to do with physical distance from slave states as laws from the 1850s. Outside of a handful of cities, this is true everywhere west of Missouri.

Another thing Oregon has none of whatsoever? Military bases, and jobs in defense related industries. I don't know how to test this theory but I think you'll find that the vast majority of African Americans in the Bay Area, LA and Seattle -- west of the Rockies -- migrated because of them.

Portland did have a Kaiser shipyard (as did Oakland), and that was the magnet for the vast majority of those who moved to VanPort.

Someone said Phoenix was way diverse; it has the exact same percentage of Blacks as Portland (6.3%). Lots of Latinos but it's also the playground of Joe Arpaio, one of the most openly racist political figures in the US.
posted by msalt at 5:26 PM on January 31, 2015


How Oregon's Second Largest City Vanished in a Day: A 1948 flood washed away the WWII housing project Vanport—but its history still informs Portland's diversity.
posted by Nelson at 8:30 AM on February 20, 2015


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