During my public service I heard and read about Portland’s “whiteness” over and over again. The observation was most often made as a pejorative or with great sadness by an apparently broken-hearted white person. The Atlantic even did a feature about racist Portland.
What I could not say then inside the far left bubble was that I had a pretty good idea that the reality of Portland’s racial mix was mostly about geography. Undoubtedly, like almost every city of size in America, systematic racism was, and is, a fact. And, the economic boom is now destroying the remnants of both black and blue collar inner Portland.
But as Professor Sriram Khe points out in an Oregonian Op-ed today, Portland was simply not on any of the southern migration patterns. We are a relatively isolated river town off the beaten path, and except for WWII, we didn’t have the industrial jobs to drive in migration of southern blacks.
Inside the liberal bubble I didn’t dare bring up this point about geography. And I am sure that Professor Sriram Khe will now be attacked for making a factual observation. It saddens me that on both political extremes there are thought police, hands hovering over keyboards, ready to put down uncomfortable facts. Worse, they are highly motivated to limit conversations beyond the carefully crafted dogma of their peer groups.
Having grown up in a place where one still hears as much Spanish as English, I know what a more culturally diverse home looks and feels like. I still warm quickly to the sound of spoken Spanish because it feels like home. But my world of Latinos was also about geography. 90 miles from the Mexican border, it made sense. So does Portland.
So, instead of raging about Portland’s whiteness, how about noticing how it is changing. Maybe 15 years ago I dropped in to grab a six-pack at my local 7-ll. The two clerks were speaking Spanish, a first for that location. I can still understand more Spanish than I can speak. I murdered the syntax of a couple of sentences with them and we laughed. When I got back to the car I said to my wife, “Most of Portland has no idea what is coming.” Patience Portland…patience.
And how many first languages represented in the David Douglas School District? Close to 70, I’ve heard.
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