By Jesse Turner
We all know Portland is white. Very white. I am white. I grew up in a very white neighborhood and went to some of, if not the, whitest public schools in Portland. And for years I was told that Portland was “politely racist.” None of us are openly racist, because different races live in different worlds. There’s no opportunity to be “openly racist” as a white person because you rarely ever encounter a non-white person. I didn’t learn until I was in college that black people were not legally allowed in Oregon under the state constitution until 1926 when the clause was finally repealed.
I now work in the juvenile correctional system, which means I work with a lot of young men who claim gang affiliation. I will now tell you just how white I am and admit that the other day I googled, “gangs in Portland” because although I had heard of several gangs in conversation with the youth I work with, I knew nothing of their history, nor could I keep them all straight. I grew up in Portland, I have lived here for 21 years, and a few days ago was the first time I had ever heard of Lil’ Smurf or Kerby Blocc or vice nights. Because I live in a completely different world. Gangs have only recently become a part of my reality, and only because I work with people who are a part of them.
I also work at a residential home for formerly incarcerated young men. One of the housemates, one who is gang affiliated, was recently arrested for armed robbery and because he is 19, he will go to prison. This person is Latino and so is the man he was arrested with. Their mugshots are featured on the Oregon Live article about their arrest. And I am not exaggerating when I say that every public comment on the article is race-related, the vast majority of which are negative. The top comment is “Jeez, Maybe Trump is right….” Another person says “this is why we need Trump to build the wall.” Scroll a little further down and you read “Dreamers. They’re just here to work.” A couple people call out these racist comments and they are bombarded with comments of being too “sensitive” and needing a “safe-space,” the argument of people with no empathy.
These are internet trolls and likely not an accurate representation of the whole of Portland. But I would encourage you to question the nature of “Portland Polite” when it comes to race. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.