July 29, 2016 8:40 AM

Racism: It's also an upper left coast thing

Oregon man is facing criminal charges for allegedly threatening an African-American man to the point the victim no longer feels safe living in his neighborhood, KEZI reports. Police told the station that Rodney Blomberg was among four men that approached the victim in a truck with a Confederate flag attached to it…. Blomberg is currently free after posting his $2,000 bond and has been charged with second-¬≠degree intimidation….[he’s] accused of directing racial slurs at the victim and telling him to leave. The victim said he no longer feels safe in Creswell, a rural community south of Eugene. The victim told police Blomberg told him that black people “get hung in these parts.”

I know; another example of an ignorant, knuckle-dragging Bubba and self-anointed avatar for the Master Race. Yawn…. This sort of thing is hardly newsworthy anymore; it’s just another day in Louisiana…or Alabama…or Floriduh…or Mississippi…or somewhere in the South, right?

Except that this incident didn’t happen south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the region most closely associated with ignorance, rednecks, and racism. This disturbing episode occurred right here in Oregon, which unbeknownst to most Americans (and most Oregonians) has a long and not-so-very distinguished history of virulent racism.

Having lived in Portland for most of the past 30+ years (I’ve left and returned on four occasions), I can attest to the reality that Portland’s reputation for being not exactly on the cutting edge of diversity to be well-deserved (The Atlantic calls Portland “The Whitest City in America.”) Stumptown is noted for leaning well to the left of the ideological center, but most of us don’t quite know what to do when a black face comes into view. Calling Portland “racist” would be inaccurate and unfair…but neither are we comfortable around African-Americans.

I live in north Portland, which has a much higher (though still small) African-American population, but it can still be jarring to see a black face in our neighborhood. With the crime rate in this part of town feeling as if it’s higher than other areas, that trepidation is also based to no small degree on self-preservation. I’m not proud of that, but it would be dishonest to sugar-coat the truth.

We denizens of Puddletown live in a lily-White bubble, secure in our privilege and blissfully unaware of how the other half lives…which is pretty consistent across the city. Let’s face it, while Portlanders believe in diversity in theory, we live in a place whose unofficial nickname could (and probably should) be Vanillatown.

In fact, and here’s something most long-term residents and even natives don’t know: Oregon was founded to be a racist utopia:

When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there [Ed. note: Emphasis mine]. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon’s founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.

Waddles Coffee Shop in Portland, Oregon was a popular restaurant in the 1950s for both locals and travelers alike. The drive-in catered to America’s postwar obsession with car culture, allowing people to get coffee and a slice of pie without even leaving their vehicle. But if you happened to be black, the owners of Waddles implored you to keep on driving. The restaurant had a sign outside with a very clear message: “White Trade Only — Please.”….

Even before it was a state, those in power in Oregon were trying to keep out non-white people. In the summer of 1844, for example, the Legislative Committee passed a provision that said any free black people who were in the state would be subject to flogging if they didn’t leave within two years. The floggings were supposed to continue every six months until they left the territory. That provision was revised in December of 1845 to remove the flogging part. Instead, free black people who remained would be offered up “publicly for hire” to any white person who would remove them from the territory.

This part of my adopted home state’s history is seldom discussed in polite company, and if it’s taught in Oregon schools at all, it’s glossed over. No one really wants to acknowledge the unfortunate and inconvenient historical truth: racism in Oregon has deep roots. It’s not at all unusual to see Confederate battle flags flying in rural parts of the state and even in some places in the Willamette Valley. “Bubbas” like Rodney Blomberg aren’t rare birds.

Oregon’s racism and racist history traces back to the state’s original Constitution:

No free negro, or mulatto, not residing in this State at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate, or make any contracts, or maintain any suit therein; and the Legislative Assembly shall provide by penal laws, for the removal, by public officers, of all such negroes, and mulattoes, and for their effectual exclusion from the State, and for the punishment of persons who shall bring them into the state, or employ, or harbor them.

It’s not exactly breaking news that the demographic composition of a population is a product of its history…which explains why Portland (and Oregon) is so overwhelmingly White. I could go into greater detail about our racial history, but instead of duplicating labor, I’d highly recommend perusing Matt Novak’s excellent piece on the subject. You might also want to take a look at Walidah Imarisha’s take on Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? A Hidden History.

The truth is that most Oregonians are completely unaware of this unsavory aspect of our history. It certainly doesn’t mesh with the Portlandia vision of a quirky hamlet with decidedly Liberal sensitivities and a collectively oddball take on life.

Sometimes history can be SO inconvenient, knowhutimean??

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Cluth published on July 29, 2016 8:40 AM.

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