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Monday, December 11, 2006

I don't think so

would portland be the same city if it were only 7 percent white?

The question is asked today (amidst some smart observations, as usual) by that black girl.

Comments (23)


I grew up in North Portland in the 80's and early 90's and was one of the only white kids on my block.

Now I live in Washington DC, another Chocolate City. And while there are a lot of Black Professionals in DC, there are also a lot of black homeless people and a large black middle class.

Where you live is always a matter of perception. I'm not sure I get her point.

I don't know about you, but I concluded long ago that our apparent fixation on race is about as helpful as any kind of severe obsessive-compulsive behavior.

You're not a 35-year-old black woman in an interracial marriage in Portland, Oregon.

You're not a 35-year-old black woman in an interracial marriage in Portland, Oregon.


As sad as the truth is, it would be a different city. The highest percentage of blacks in cities in America are:
Gary, Indiana 84%
Detroit 82%
Birmingham 73%

All are in the top 10 of the most dangerous cities in America. All have terrible public school systems and I don't think you would choose to live in either one.

I think she's got a good point, but as I commented on her blog, there's a strange social isolation to PDX even within all the whitewash. It's not that we're unfriendly, but maybe not very gregarious or outgoing.

Our busy lives have intruded on basic friendliness. We are so absorbed with the multi-tasking culture we have created that we have forgotten some important and simple acts of generosity. This is a great time of year to start some positive behavioral changes. Try removing your ear from the cell phone while in a crowded environment. Smile warmly and greet strangers with a hello or howdy. If you have a little time while waiting to accomplish your important tasks, start a conversation with those in your presence. You will be amazed at the reception. While instant communication is an efficiency boon, it can lead to isolation and interfere with live communication. Dont let it.
Practice reaching beyond your self interest and show some interest in others. It's contageous. Happy holidays.

everywhere they go, there are their people. [emphasis hers]

Seeing THEIR people and OUR people is the problem, and its on both sides, folks.

and it's not that i wanted attention

I call B.S.

Joe12pack nailed it. The fixation on race is the problem. It shouldnt matter. But unfortunately those who benefit from it wont let it go.

Nobody benefits from it - but many are affected by it in their day-to-day lives. Once you get struck by lightning, you pay more attention to gathering clouds.

It depends on who you are and where you are.

Nobody benefits from it

Uh huh... Jesse Jackson, nuff said.

genop comments ..."We are so absorbed with the multi-tasking culture we have created"....

Flip that just a bit....too many folks are burning way too many cycles "multi-culture tasking"...white navel/black navel gazing.

Get over it....get a life....live it.

The most interesting aspect of her post is her observations on Atlanta. While many cities have a black middle class and at least some black professionals, none compare to the thriving African American community in Atlanta. There was just an article in the NYT talking about young African Americans leaving New York, Philly, and Boston (etc) for Atlanta because of what That Black Girl describes as feeling SO "in place", and vast amounts of opportunity.

Is Portland’s African American community less visible than in other cities? Probably, yet I grew up in a city that was 22% African American (Grand Rapids MI-Born in Det.) and its community was nearly as invisible. They same could be said of Milwaukee, Seattle, Denver, and countless other cities. I think how special Atlanta is in terms of a VERY strong African American community is the real story here.

Didn't the Washington Post have an article a while back about working class blacks moving out of north Portland to the suburbs because of gentrification?

As a former Atlantan, I didn't agree with her assessment of anybody "dismissing" the other. One of Atlanta's strengths is the fact that one community cannot isolate itself from another - if you want to do business in the self-proclaimed "City Too Busy to Hate," you have to be able to forge relationships with people who don't look just like you. With some odd exceptions (Freaknik comes to mind, before it got booted out of town, and the anniversary showing of "Gone With the Wind" at the Fox Theater, complete with plantation-era gowns), for the most part Atlanta's cultural and professional worlds are welcoming, friendly, and more or less integrated.

As a result, you are far more likely to see an integrated table in a high-end Atlanta restaurant or soul-food joint than you are here in PDX.

I'm sorry that she feels dismissed here, but that was not my experience in Atlanta.


I thought the question was whether Portland would be the same city if it were 7% white.

Sebastian, I noticed your post there about the social isolation you perceive here in PDX.

What's interesting is, I perceive the exact opposite. People here seem quite friendly to me, chatting with strangers on the bus and thanking the driver when getting off, for example.

To me, Portland seems a lot friendlier than other places I've lived (Central FL; Southern CA).

FYI, Atlanta is the rape capital of North America... in fact there are so many rapes the Atlanta police do not even investigate them much anymore unless the evidence is stacked up by the door, in plastic zip-locked bags and is properly identified: Evidence 1, Evidence 2, etc,...

Don't believe me? Get a cute gal, any color, set her up in a Buckhead or Midtown apartment, leave the window open a bit on a hot summer night and the "men" (I use the term loosely) will come calling.. and crawling... through her window... knives at the ready.

Heck, there will be so many rapists, you may have to give out numbers, like at the bakery!

Atlanta? No thanks.

i am white and have only lived in either majority black or majority hispanic neighborhoods for the last, i dunno 10-15 years. ever since i have chosen where i have lived. frankly because these neighborhoods have lower rents/lower prices.

i have never felt alienation. on the contrary, when i hear mariachi music i feel "at home". when i see dudes selling mixtapes at the corner store i think the same thing.

i think the feeling of alientation that african americans feel around white people is particular to the black experience in this country, and not really fundamental to "race".

Just a preface with my background ideology: I think blacks and american indians have gotten the shaft because the political left, seeking constituencies, has tried to pander to ALL minorities from all countries, and of all races, even if the "wrongs" against them are minimal. So, relatively speaking, we ignore blacks and indians and deny them the proportionate due we owe both groups.

Yes, of course, the goal is equal treatment of everyone. But as to the #1 and #2 groups to whom we should target the vast majority of our "reparations"-type resources, we should keep that focussed on blacks and indians.

That said, like others have expressed above, I've also lived in cities an neighborhoods where I've been a minority. Portland blacks behavior is still deferential and somewhat obsequious, whereas LA, for example, has a thriving black middle class, and blacks don't anymore maintain any sort of overly polite demeandor. Here in Portland, though, many blacks are either just withdrawn and distant, or maintain that 50's (and before) era overpoliteness, a very necessary protective and defense mechanism (at least in earlier times.)

So it seemed like going back in history when I would come back to Portland and be reminded of the dramatic behavior difference.

I think that outward demeandor must mean something, or it would have evaporated by now. As an adult, I think I've been able to see more racism here than when I was young. (My family and family friends environment was pretty much colorblind). I think there is a very tiny, and very scattered, black middle class here, and so socially, you just don't get a level of social confidence that you see expressed for blacks in general. Here, they seem to maintain the reserved social facade passed down by their parents and elders.

Taking George's post a bit further:

is racism in the eye of the beholder?


Or never?

I'm with Sebastian on the social-isolation thing. Like he said, it's not unfriendly per se, but there's a definite coldness there that goes beyond "you mind your business and I'll mind mine."

Not long ago, I interviewed a charming, gregarious woman who had started a social org in Portland because she had lived here for more than a year and had yet to make a single friend. I know what she means; this is the only town, large or small, where I don't know the name of one person in my building, and I've lived in big cities and small towns. It's just odd.

Don't really understand why the conversation drifted off into criminality when thatblackgirl was talking about social isolation rather than crime, but whatever.

"but there's a definite coldness there that goes beyond "you mind your business and I'll mind mine."

The whole social isolation thing that some claim to be 'endemic' to PDX is something that a lot of the recent transplants here seem to dwell on.
It can be baffling at times.
One way I look at it is,
I grew up here, have tons of friends here, and still- with work/family/etc- I don't have enough time to spend with the people I already know.
Thus, I'm not exactly volunteering to drive the welcome wagon out to do a meet and greet for everybody who just moved here. Nothing personal. If you stop me on the street and ask directions, I'm more than happy to oblige. If you move next door to me, over time maybe we'll become pals, who knows.
Oddly, when people remark about the coldness perceived among PDXrs, I wonder if the person who was cold to them wasn't also someone who just moved here. Not too far off given the growth in population around here in recent times.
The big key is buy some wool socks and learn to smile as you walk around in the rain- somebody'll buy you a beer or a cup o' joe.

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