‘Slut’ is attacking women for their right to say yes. ‘Friend Zone’ is attacking women for their right to say no.
— “… and ‘Bitch’ is attacking women for their right to call you on it.” (via moldyvoldie)
The sad fact was the Congress had declined as a political party. It had no real programme. It had become a coalition of competing economic interests, who needed a populist-type leader at the top to maintain a contact with the people…How long would the people keep their seatbelts fastened? For that is where ultimate power resides. It is the people of India who can make and explode dynasties. A large section of them may be illiterate, but they are not ignorant. They will have the last word. For despite all it is they who are modern India. It is they who suffer the rancid rhetoric of corrupt politicians. One day they will want their revenge.
— Tariq Ali, An Indian Dynasty
The Myths of Portlandia
I have lived in Portland Oregon for virtually my entire life. During that time, I have had my fair share of encounters with its “portlandia” aspects. Growing up in SE, my world extended from downtown to Mount Tabor, from Sellwood to Hawthorne. The world tends to view Portland as a hipster paradise, an environmentalist haven, a progressive utopia, or any combination of these things. This view is perpetuated not only by shows like “Portlandia” but also many people who live here. For if you live in the area that I grew up in (or many others like it), that is the Portland you know. Portland, looked at through that narrow lens, escapes many criticisms it deserves.
There is another Portland. It is an injustice in itself that it is almost totally absent from most people’s perceptions. I currently work at David Douglas High School. It is the largest high school in the state of Oregon. The David Douglas District has an astronomically high poverty rate, with 80% of students last year qualifying for free or reduced lunch. The district has 67 languages represented, and its demographics don’t match up at all with those of affluent Portland.
Portland is a profoundly segregated city. In some ways, it is the worst kind of segregation, the kind where groups are totally alienated from each other -for the most part, there is little to no interaction between my neighbors and the kids I see every day. In my experience, Portland is also a haven for liberal racism. The dominant liberal narrative emphasizes “acceptance” and “colorblindness” but too often is silent on police brutality, gentrification, and segregation. The things that affluent Portlanders enjoy—bike access on all major streets, coffee shops on every corner, beautiful green lining the streets, the natural world built into the city—are virtually absent from the lives of low income Portlanders (which often include residents of color). The neighborhoods they live in don’t look anything like Portlandia—they look like their counterparts in all other major cities, with lots of police and a general lack of greenery. Some places don’t even have sidewalks. The gentrification of North Portland perfectly exemplifies the dominant colorblind mentality: the new coffee shops, organic groceries and artistic enclaves are considered exciting and liberal, and as people of color are forced out of their communities and neighborhoods, many Portlanders are silent.
Things like the show Portlandia really get to me. When people ask me “is that what Portland is really like?,” the answer is yes and no. Yes, it is Portlandia in the place I grew up. But when I think about my students watching it, or the countless others who face their same reality, it infuriates me. That is not their Portland. They, by no choice of their own, get something else. The answer for them is no, this is not Portland. This is Portland for the white and wealthy, and the other Portland merely sits in its shadow unnoticed not only by the rest of the world, but by the residents of those living the “dream of the ‘90’s.”
In an interview, Fred Armisen claims that “it’s a TV show, not a documentary.” Of course the TV show is not the source of the problem, but it is one representation in a sea of many more that chooses to be silent and to represent Portland the only way it is every represented—as a liberal utopia.
All of this is nothing new, Portland and Oregon as a whole have a long history of vicious racism. The segregation goes back to the founding of the state. A process known as redlining defined the way neighborhoods were formed in Portland, a process which excluded blacks and other people of color from buying houses in certain neighborhoods. [If you are interested, there is a good article on redlining in Portland from Rethinking Schools here.]
A lot could be said about “soft” or “liberal” racism in Portland (“Diversity is great in theory” “though I am only surrounded by white people, I’m not a racist”). A lot could also be said about our terrible track record with housing justice, with almost 2,000 people homeless (That number doesn’t count those who are staying in shelters). Data shows that that homelessness is increasing. Those fighting for justice in these areas run into obstacles, contrary to the dominant narrative about Portland’s progressiveness. (Check out Right to Dream Too )
Of course, these problems are present everywhere in the U.S. But in a city like Portland, they are often glossed over. There is an “ignorance is bliss” mentality, which must be countered in order to address inequality and racism in Portland. Thankfully, there are people who are fighting for social and economic justice, and I feel very lucky to know many of them. In order to continue this work, I think the liberal-utopia-myth needs to be countered at every turn. Having lived with it as the norm for so long, I understand how pervasive (and misleading) it can be. Being passively racist doesn’t make one less racist. Accepting the segregation of our cities is harmful to all people.
(This wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive explanation of all of these issues, it is more me presenting my frustration, as someone who sees the struggles of those whose experience don’t fit the common narrative. As of now, their experiences don’t count—for many people, they (and their families and neighborhoods) are out of sight and out of mind.)
we must get justice for kimani gray, trayvon martin, and all of the others who have died because of a system built on racism