I’ve never actually watched the show “Portlandia,” but I figured since I now live in this infamous city, that the title of this post was fitting. I live in Portland, which has been named
one of THE whitest major city in America. It’s super progressive, but still super white, which I’ll touch on later.
I’ve been grappling with this reality for a while now and am becoming more and more aware that I am the overwhelming minority everywhere I go. (You know the universal head nod that black people give each other? Well where I live, I want to take it one step further and just straight up hug any melaninated strangers.) Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. There are black people here. But coming from Atlanta, the demographics here have taken a bigger toll on me than I expected. At the same time, I’m thankful. I love my city. And I love all the people I’ve met. My friends (mostly white because duh) are so genuine and I wouldn’t want to do this season of life without them.
That being said, I still have some qualms I need to work through in this new environment. This is not meant to be passive aggressive. Take it more as perspective or better yet, an open letter to my white friends in Portland and beyond:
Dear White People (whom I love very much),
Let’s start light. Firstly, I may say it’s okay to touch my hair, but it’s not. I may smile and nod when you generalize Africa because of your one missions trip experience, but let me remind you that Africa is a very diverse continent, not a country. Oh and I care about your sunburns (kind of), but just know I can’t relate or contribute to those daily conversations about how much sun you got.
Whew okay so now on to the real stuff. I love that you’re progressive, but just know that you live in a bubble. A very white bubble.
Your protests are great. Your “wokeness” is cute. But what are you fighting for if you aren’t challenged to live out your fight daily? I say this in love, BUT you’re not even around people of color enough to even practice racial reconciliation. You march down the very streets and shop at the very “hip” stores that were once black-owned (*cough cough gentrification*). I love Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Alberta Street as much as the next person but I’m also acutely aware that most of those establishments have displaced people like me and pushed them out of the city. What good is progress when it contributes to the cycle of injustice?
Dear White people, know that as a black woman, I don’t feel safe everywhere. That I’m going to be unapologetically me. Know that a lot of times I’m uncomfortable. And yet I feel like I have to be more comfortable in my skin than the average white person just to prove myself. Like I have to either stand out by the mere color of my skin or stand out on purpose based on how I act, dress, etc. Talk about unnecessary added pressure. Know that my story looks a lot different than yours. That I’m happy to share my experiences, but also not willing to be a token friend. Know that I’ll rock overalls and plaid shirts, but also big hoop earrings and box braids. Know that I love all people, but will never stop fighting for my people and other oppressed people.
So now for some encouragement. Keep learning about different cultures. Keep uplifting others. Keep being allies. Keep caring about the environment. Keep trying to be the best you you can be. But don’t forget that there’s more to do. That your hipster culture and progressive utopia aren’t perfect. That you have neighbors that don’t look like you that might not feel welcome in your spaces.
Progress doesn’t look like multiracial relationships, naming a street after Martin Luther King Jr. or putting black art in your restaurants. Progress looks like going the extra mile to include others. Caring as much about preserving black culture in your city as you did about protesting the transition of the first black president.
I love you Portland in all your white glory (lol) but being the majority means having power and as the great Ben Parker once said (well not in the most recent Spiderman movie but still relevant), “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.”
Oregon, much like the U.S. as a whole, hasn’t been very kind to black people in the past and the present. But you can still do something about the future. Use your power wisely.
A fellow (Black) Portlander