[Marxism] White Oregon
mikedjyates at msn.com
Thu Jan 22 00:23:00 MST 2015
>From my book, Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate. We lived in Portland for fourteen months and then for two months a few years afterward.
The most distressing thing about Portland, and the fact that most belied its liberal image, was its racism. A writer once called Portland the “last bastion of Caucasian culture.” It is certainly a white town; less than 7 percent of the population is African-American. Even the city’s homeless are nearly all white, as are all the young people asking for money. Blacks who gravitated to Portland to work in the wartime shipyards were housed in a floodplain of the Columbia River and were soon enough driven out by high waters. The ghettoes where they were next allowed to live were destroyed by highway construction. Today the tiny black community is scattered over several mostly poor neighborhoods.
Despite the small number of black residents, whites were inordinately hostile to them. While we lived in Portland, there were several highly publicized and completely unjustified police shootings of black persons; in the six months before we left, they shot and killed a black woman and a black man. The woman and her male companion were stopped. The man, a suspected drug dealer, was taken from the car and confronted by the cops. The woman moved from the back seat to the front and got behind the steering wheel. She started the engine and was probably about to flee. She was unarmed, and the police knew who she was and where she lived. One of them tried to prevent her from leaving. He claimed that, as he put his arm in the window, he felt his life threatened. So he simply pulled out his gun and shot the woman, leaving her children without a mother. A few months later, two cops, including one who was clearly a psychopath (though presented later as an upstanding Christian by the minister of his fundamentalist church), stopped a black man for failure to use his turn signal when pulling into a strip mall. The man was apparently high on cocaine, but was unarmed and offered no resistance. Within twenty-four seconds from the time he was motioned over by the officers, he was shot dead. Most white people acted as if these killings were justified. The radio talk show hosts ranted that when a person showed anything but complete obedience to police commands, he or she deserved to get killed. And if he or she had had any previous run-ins with the law, something hard for a black person to avoid in this country, then the shooting was not only justified but a positive benefit to society. Letters to the editors of local newspapers made the same arguments.
But it wasn’t only police confrontations that got folks riled up about race. Portland has a professional basketball team. Their best player was Rasheed Wallace, an outspoken black man who led the league in technical fouls, seldom spoke with reporters, never dressed up, and made pointed remarks about racism in the National Basketball Association. When he declared in a rare interview that the league loved to recruit unsophisticated black players just out of high school because they were easier to exploit, the media went wild. How could a rich athlete make such comments? Didn’t Portland treat him and the other players like royalty? And now he spits on them. Editorialists, including former white Portland star Bill Walton, condemned him, and the sports show hosts suggested none too subtly that he be driven out of town on a rail. Interestingly, he was eventually traded to the Detroit team, and ever since has been a model citizen. It is hard to imagine two more different cities, in terms of racial mix and attitudes, than Portland and Detroit.
In our large apartment building there was one black person. Karen was talking to him and two white women on the rooftop deck of the complex. She asked him what his experiences had been being a black person in a town with such a small minority population. He answered the question matter-of-factly, but one of the women exploded. How could Karen ask this man such a question? When Karen pointed out that Portland seemed to be a city devoid of black persons and was generally lacking in diversity, the irate woman said vehemently that this was not true. It was Karen who was the racist for saying this. “Why,” the woman said, “if you want to see diversity, come clubbing with me some night at four a.m. There are all kinds of persons out then.” It was difficult to respond to such a ridiculous assertion, but the woman kept up her harangue. The other woman, who had worked in customer service for the phone company for twenty years and was now retired, expressed wonder that she had never noticed what Karen was talking about. She was genuinely surprised that almost everyone in our building was white.
There is a growing Hispanic community in both Portland and the rest of Oregon. But this community goes largely unnoticed, unless you are observant enough to see that nearly all the motel and hotel cleaners, yard-care workers, nannies, and lower-level kitchen staff in restaurants have brown faces. The odious local and now national talk show host, Lars Larson, like CNN commentator Lou Dobbs, is obsessed with these Hispanic immigrants. Larson sponsored a contest for listeners to submit a new state slogan. Among his favorites were: “Welcome to Mexico,” and “Oregon: Habla Espanol?” Not surprisingly, anti-immigrant sentiment resonated in Portland. A history of racism—Oregon had anti-miscegenation laws until the Supreme Court overturned these in the late 1960s—and high unemployment made workers susceptible to immigrant-bashing. The absence of a strong and progressive labor movement denied to working people the education needed to defeat this.
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