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The hidden history of African Americans in Oregon Why race matters—even though it shouldn’t What is keeping us from being one America? Interracial love and marriage before civil rights
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edit or Kathleen Holt a rt Di r ect or Jen Wick com m u n icat ions co or di nat or Ben Waterhouse cop y edit or Alex Behr editor i a l a dv isory boa r d Tom Booth Brian Doyle Debra Gwartney Julia Heydon Guy Maynard Win McCormack Greg Netzer Camela Raymond Kate Sage Rich Wandschneider Dave Weich
Summer 2013 Skin
4 Editor’s Note 6 Field Work Oregon Jewish Museum’s Settling In exhibit ✢ Humanity Walking ✢ College 101 ✢ Letter from the Director ✢ OH News ✢ Conversation Project catalog 2013–15 ✢ Donor profile of Ulrich Hardt 11 Profile Western Oregon University professor Kimberly Jensen and her book on Esther Pohl Lovejoy 40 Posts Readers write about “Skin” 44 Read. Talk. Think. The Stud Book by Monica Drake ✢ Understory by Paulann Petersen ✢ Dandelion Hunter by Rebecca Lerner ✢ Arming Mother Nature by Jacob Darwin Hamblin ✢ Keeping the Swarm by George Venn ✢ We Heard the Heavens Then by Aria Minu-Sepher 46 Croppings Washed Ashore at Harbortown Event Center in Bandon
12 A Hidden History
Why aren’t there more black people in Oregon? This timeline offers some insights. 20 Dangerous Subjects
by wa l i da h I m a r i sh a
An excerpt from a new book looks back at Oregon’s history of exclusionary laws. 24 More Than Skin Deep Why race still matters—even though it shouldn’t. 28 One America?
by n aom i z ac k
by R . Gr e g ory Nok e s
A conversation between T Óm a s J i m é n e z a n d Gr e g ory Rodr igu e z
To these Think & Drink speakers race and immigration are red herrings in any discussion about what really divides Americans. 32 Picture Their Hearts
Interracial love and marriage before civil rights 36 Being Brown
by dion i si a mor a l e s
When skin lies and when it tells the truth
by b obbi e w i l l i s s oe b y
Residents gather on high ground to watch floods destroy Vanport City in Portland in 1948. Image © Thomas Robinson Cover photo by Kurt Hettle
S BROW N, COV ER ED IN FR ECK LES A N D MOLES and age spots. Like many people, my skin is darker in the summer, lighter in the winter. Light enough that when I visit my family in Hawaii, my sisters spend a good hour teasing me about how white I am. They don’t just mean my skin. They mean my everything: my handbag and shoes, my words, my gestures, the food I eat, the music I listen to, my job, my husband, my kids. They worry I’ve been on the mainland too long. They’re right: I’ve been here in Oregon for many more years than I lived in Hawaii. When I first moved here to go to college, strangers regularly stopped me on the street or in the grocery store and asked, “Where are you from?” I was baffled the first few times this happened. In Hawaii, where nearly everyone is some shade of brown, the color of my skin and hair drew little attention. People in my small hometown might have asked what my last name or racial background was, but I remembered those interactions as friendly attempts to find common ground. I know the impulse behind “Where are you from?” is similar, but its effect on me ranges from amusement on a good day to devastation on a bad one, because the question implies that I am not—could not be—from here. True: I’m from Hawaii and my ancestors are from the Polynesian Islands, Korea, Japan, perhaps China, Spain, and England, too. The cultural chasm between the islands and the mainland sometimes seems wider than the Pacific Ocean. But I grew up reading American magazines and listening to American pop music; my first language is English; my favorite books are written by American writers. America is all I know, yet, even to this day, my brown skin and dark hair suggest that I am from somewhere else, that my cultural experiences are exotic and different and foreign. I was so distressed by those early interactions with strangers that I barraged my college roommate—a blonde, blue-eyed, fair-skinned girl from St. Paul, Oregon—with ludicrous questions that she struggled to answer: “Do I look more Asian or Hawaiian?” “Are my eyes really slanted or just more almondshaped?” I wondered aloud how to change my hair, wear
The Skin I’m In
makeup, or dress in ways that would help me blend in. I’m still asked “Where are you from?” today, though not as often. Whether this marks a societal shift over the past two decades or something about how I interact in the world, I’m not sure. My older child, my tawny-skinned, caramel-eyed daughter, has also fielded this question from curious children and adults alike. “Are we Hawaiian?” she asked me one day. “Are we Japanese?” she asked me another. Yes, I explained each time, some of our ancestors are from those places, but we are American. That is not a race; it is a nationality, and that is maybe more important than race. It pains me that she, too, may have to go through the experience of feeling forever foreign in her homeland, of having to prove her nationality because the color of her skin and hair and the shape of her eyes suggest she is from elsewhere. Like me, America is all she knows. We Americans continue to grapple with race. We tell ourselves it shouldn’t matter anymore, yet questions of racial and ethnic identity surfaced often this year in high-profile crimes, like the George Zimmerman trial in Florida and the Boston Marathon bombings, as well as in Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action and the National Indian Child Welfare Act. Even our biracial president openly struggles to walk the fine line between reminding citizens of the troubled history of Americans of color and reassuring citizens that he is everyone’s president, regardless of his color or theirs. Judging by the active discourse happening in public life and attendance at Oregon Humanities programs about race, it seems that many of us are craving opportunities to learn about and discuss this topic as it plays out both in personal ways and through policies and practices in our community. I hope this issue of the magazine—which offers historical and cultural context, as well as personal stories of other Oregonians’ struggles with race—can be a starting point for these explorations and discussions. k athle en Holt, Editor
Summer 2013 Skin
Oregon’s home of craft-brewed conversation.
humanities across ore gon
Ree Ma and Family, 2012
An exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum finds common themes in waves of immigration a century apart.
Coming to America
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N E V E R S ION OF T H E OR E G ON story is that of migration, of leaving everything behind and enduring great hardship to arrive on the West Coast. The story doesn’t end with the wagon trains, but continues to the present, as new generations of immigrants come to make their homes in the Pacific Northwest. Settling In, a new exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum, compares the experiences of Russian and Eastern European Jewish
immigrants who passed through the Neighborhood House settlement organization in the early twentieth century with those of contemporary immigrants, and finds common themes. “When we were first conceiving the exhibit I thought it was going to be a story about contrasts. I really hadn’t imagined how parallel the stories would be,” says Judith Margles, the museum’s director. “Whether they came on a ship by steerage and took twelve days to get to Ellis Island and weren’t sure whether they were going to pass the inspections, or whether they were in a refugee camp for a few months before they could get here, these are really hard situations.”
CHRISTIE HA ZEN, PIXEL LIGHT STUDIO (COURTESY OF OREGON JEWISH MUSEUM)
Summer 2013 Skin
Letter from the Executive Director
The concept for Settling In came from Craig Wollner, a former OJM board president and associate dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs at Portland State University, to whom the exhibit is dedicated. (Wollner passed away in 2010.) “He thought it was one of the last opportunities we might have to really get at the Jewish immigrants who went through the Neighborhood House,” Margles says. The exhibit, which runs through September 29 and is funded in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities, pairs immigration stories drawn from OJM’s oral history collection with interviews with present-day immigrants from Burma, Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, and Somalia. The contemporary stories come from clients of Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization, a Portland nonprofit that supports contemporary immigrants in building community and adjusting to life in the United States. Photos and artifacts from both groups illustrate common themes of difficult journeys, culture shock, and adaptation. “It puts a more human face on the immigration story,” says Shoshanna Lansberg, curator of exhibits at OJM. “It makes it much more difficult to be judgmental once you hear their stories and understand how it relates to other stories that have occurred that have similar themes.”
B en Waterh o us e
A Jackson County program harnesses the power of walking and talking
EING A BLE TO MOV E M A K E S A big difference in how people can attune to and absorb information,” says Michele Morales, addiction services manger for Jackson County Health and Human Services. Looking for a way to combine her interest in kinesthetic learning with the known health benefits of walking, Morales teamed up with the United Way of Jackson County to create Humanity Walking. This six-part series, which runs through September and is supported by an Oregon Humanities grant, combines the benefits of walking with opportunities to learn from and talk with experts on issues important to the community. To date, walks have covered such topics as health, education, faith, and veterans’ experiences. Ashland resident Martha Hutchison, who has walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, served as a panelist on the “Walk of Faith” program in June, which brought walkers from Temple Emek Shalom, the United Church of Christ, and Trinity Episcopal Church. “Walking creates a different kind of conversation,” says Hutchison. “Facing the same
I have long admired the work of Oregon Humanities, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to join the staff and board in supporting thoughtful, fresh, open conversation throughout and beyond Oregon. What we need more than anything right now is increased commitment to really seeing, hearing, and engaging with others—especially those who are different from us or with whom we are likely to disagree. Talking with one another—raising and exploring questions and surprising ourselves and one another with our responses—is and has to be the foundation for all the worthwhile things we do and might do together. This is where Oregon can lead by example, and I’m very excited to join an institution that has already done so much in this regard. I hope to meet readers of this magazine, participants in our programs, and supporters of this organization. Please email, call, or stop by to tell me what you hope for from OH, what you are thinking about, or even just to say hello. I look forward to meeting you and talking with you soon, and thank you for the warm welcome and the much-appreciated support of Oregon Humanities.
Participants at Walk of Faith in Jackson County
Oregon Humanities News
LAST CHANCE TO THINK & DRINK IN 2013 The final conversation of the 2013 Think & Drink series, How to Love America, will take place Thursday, October 23, at the Mission Theater in Portland. “Serve Your Country” will feature Karl Marlantes, author of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War and What It Is Like to Go to War, and Cameron Smith, director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. OREGON HUMANITIES NOMINATED FOR UTNE AWARD We are grateful to all the fine writers who contribute to Oregon Humanities and were thrilled to learn earlier this spring that readers outside of Oregon think our writers are pretty swell, too: Oregon Humanities magazine was one of four publications nominated by Utne Reader editors in the Best Writing category of the 2013 Utne Media Awards. Congratulations to The New Inquiry, which won the category. CONGRATULATIONS, HUMANITY IN PERSPECTIVE GRADUATES Humanity in Perspective, a free humanities course offered by Oregon Humanities in partnership with Reed College for Portlandarea adults living on low incomes, graduated thirteen students from its 2013 class on April 14 at Reed College. Nigel Nicholson, Walter Mintz Professor of Classics and Humanities at Reed College, delivered the commencement address. WELCOME, JEANETTE LEWIS The Oregon Humanities board elected one new member at its spring 2013 meeting: Jeanette Lewis is principal of JHL Consulting, a public relations and communications company. She has previously worked with the Association of Small Foundations, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, and the British Virgin Islands Ministry of Finance.
Humanity in Perspective graduate Deneen Elizabeth on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene
direction, moving in the same direction, you have a sense of being aware of the other person, of having a shared experience.” That’s exactly the kind of community-building Morales is hoping for. She says the goal is not to create solutions, but rather, “the conditions in which solutions can emerge.”
El ois e H o llan d
Humanity in Perspective graduate gives back
A ST M A RCH, DENEEN ELIZA BETH visited the 2013 Humanity in Perspective class to cover the nuts and bolts of paying for a college education. While she talked about financial aid, scholarships, and budgeting, her key message was one of perseverance. “Don’t give up,” she told the HIP students, “find your resources, and remember there are many of us available to support you.” HIP is Oregon Humanities’ free college course for low-income adults offered in partnership with Reed College. Course Director Sarah Van Winkle developed the College 101 workshop to help HIP students consider their options and immediately thought of Elizabeth because she had successfully transitioned from HIP to college and had done so without accumulating debt. “She’s done
Summer 2013 Skin
an amazing job,” Van Winkle says, “and she has a lot of knowledge to share.” Elizabeth is on track to graduate from the University of Oregon next spring with a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, adult learners are more likely to work full time, to be single parents, and to have commitments outside of school. These factors mean they have more planning to do to ensure their success as college students. “Now that I have found my way through the process,” says Elizabeth, “offering that support to people like me feels like a natural expression of the cycle of receiving and giving.”
— El ois e H o llan d
TIM L ABARGE
Donor Ulrich Hardt has spent his career promoting the humanities.
In the Blood
LR ICH H A R DT IS A BUSY M A N. A professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University, Hardt is chair of the Oregon Writing Festival, co-editor of the Oregon Encyclopedia Project, and, for twenty-five years, the editor of the Oregon English Journal. In 2012 he was awarded the Walt Morey Young Readers Literary Legacy Award at the Oregon Book Awards in recognition of his contributions to the state’s literary community. “My entire life has been devoted to promoting the value of education, especially the arts and the humanities,” Hardt says. “It’s in my blood—the importance of the arts, literature, and history.” That devotion to the humanities has driven a long career of innovation. The Oregon Writing Festival, which Hardt cofounded, brings eight to nine hundred students in eighth through twelfth grades to Portland State University for a day-long writing workshop each May. The festival will celebrate its thirtieth anniversary in 2014. Hardt has also been involved with the Oregon Encyclopedia “from the beginning,” he says, and has remained one of the project’s most
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Oregon Humanities donor Ulrich Hardt
enthusiastic boosters. “I think I probably have held more community meetings around the state than anybody else,” he says. In October he will travel to far-eastern Oregon for a week to collect local histories in Vale and Ontario. Though he also supports science, technology, math, and engineering disciplines as well, Hardt donates to Oregon Humanities because, he says, “the ability to read and write and to understand complexities of the world and to be able to think historically” are essential.
— B e n Wate r hous e
Conversation Project Programs 2013–15
Oregon Humanities is proud to announce that its 2013–15 Conversation Project catalog of programs is now available at oregonhumanities.org. The Conversation Project offers Oregon nonprofits free, humanities-based public discussion programs on topics such as race, land-use planning, gender, and war. The season starts November 2013 and features the twenty-two discussion programs listed below; programs new to the catalog are highlighted in bold. All Conversation Project leaders are experts in their field and trained as conversation facilitators. Oregon nonprofits can request programs during three applications cycles; the first cycle is open now and closes on September 30, 2013, for programs scheduled between November 1, 2013, and February 28, 2014. Please visit oregonhumanities.org for more information and for a full description of programs. • A City’s Center: Rethinking Downtown by Nan Laurence • American Character: The Power of Individualism and Volunteerism by Prakash Chenjeri and Daniel Morris • The Art of the Possible: Jazz and Community-Building by Tim DuRoche • Beyond Bars: Reenvisioning the Prison System by Walidah Imarisha • Beyond Human? Science, Technology, and the Future of Human Nature by Prakash Chenjeri • Church and State: Religion and Politics in America by Courtney Campbell • From Print to Pixels: The Act of Reading in the Digital Age by Mark Cunningham • Grave Matters: Reflections on Life and Death across Cultures and Traditions by Courtney Campbell • Lessons from Lincoln: Is Political Bipartisanship Possible? By Dick Etulain • Life after War: Photography and Oral Histories of Coming Home by Jim Lommasson • Mind the Gaps: How Gender Shapes our Lives by Jade Aguilar • S/he-bop: Making Sense of Gender in American Pop Music by Sarah Dougher • Something Old, Something New: Exploring the State of Marriage by Leslie Dunlap • A State of Change: Oregon’s Evolving Identities by Dick Etulain • To Cut or Not to Cut: Censorship in Literature by Pancho Savery • Toward One Oregon: Bridging Oregon’s Urban and Rural Communities by Mike Hibbard, Ethan Seltzer, and Bruce Weber • The Truths We Hold: The Poetry and Lessons of the Declaration of Independence by Wendy Willis • We Are What We Eat: Connecting Food and Citizenship by Wendy Willis • White Out? The Future of Racial Diversity in Oregon by Emily Drew • Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? A Hidden History by Walidah Imarisha • Yesterday’s News: The Future of Local Information by Michael Andersen • Your Land, My Land: Using and Preserving Oregon’s Natural Resources by Veronica Dujon
Summer 2013 Skin
The Good Doctor
Kimberly Jensen sheds new light on the life of Esther Pohl Lovejoy, an Oregon activist whose legacy continues well beyond the campaign for suffrage.
B en Waterhouse
HEN THE NINETEENTH Amendment was ratified in 1920, bringing to an end the seventy-year movement for women’s suffrage, what became of the activist energy that won America’s women the vote? “Prior to the last ten years or so, there was a sense that women achieved the vote in 1920—in Oregon eight years earlier—and then activism fizzled away,” says Kimberly Jensen, a professor of history and gender studies at Western Oregon University. “[But] many activists went transnational and thought, okay, it’s really across and above nation states where we can really have the power to change things.” In her recently published biography of Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Oregon’s Doctor to the World: Esther Pohl Lovejoy and a Life in Activism (University of Washington Press, 2012), Jensen describes the pioneering work of one of Oregon’s greatest progressives. Born Esther Clayson in a small logging town on Puget Sound in 1869, Lovejoy, along with her mother and sister, left Washington at the age of thirteen to escape her abusive father, eventually settling in Portland. She was one of the first women to enroll in the University of Oregon’s Medical Department, the first appointed to serve as Portland’s city health officer, and the first woman to stand for election to the US Congress in Oregon. She was the first president of the Medical Women’s International Association and served forty-eight years as chair of the international service organization American Women’s Hospitals. Jensen, whose research has focused on the history of American women’s transnational activism, first wrote about Lovejoy in her 2008 book Mobilizing Minerva: American Women in the First World War. “She had a minor role in that narrative because she represented US women positions in World War I,” Jensen says. “When I found that her papers had been donated fairly recently to Oregon Health and
Science University, I went to see them and got really excited.” With the help of a research grant from Oregon Humanities, Jensen traveled to archives in Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and London in search of the letters, newspaper clippings, and other writings that would illuminate Lovejoy’s life. As a condition of the grant, Jensen also spoke to Oregon groups about her research. “That was fantastic,” she says. “It came at a time when I was doing my research and starting to formulate ideas, and whether it was at libraries or women’s groups where I spoke, the [audience] asked great questions.” Lovejoy’s international medical aid work was just as transformative as her activism for suffrage. “What Lovejoy did was to say, we don’t want to go and say, here, look what we’re bringing you,” Jensen says. “But rather, if we’ve got healthcare professionals on the ground, if they’re working with local communities, we can find out what their needs are, what their priorities are. [Lovejoy advocated using] what she called the ‘corporate structure’ to help. Well, that’s what international medical humanitarian relief is all about right now.” “I see Lovejoy as taking progressive era ideas and just moving out with them,” Jensen says. “There were many, many people who did that—we just don’t know about them yet. It helps to see that they didn’t just quit and go home and eat chocolates.”
Photos, top, of Esther Pohl Lovejoy (courtesy of Oregon Health and Science University); bottom, Kimberly Jensen
A HIDDEN HISTORY
A Conversation Project program reveals the stories and struggles of Oregon’s African American communities.
B y Walidah Imarisha
E Y E D T H E T H I RT Y C H A I R S SET U P I N SM A L L circles around the top-floor room of North Portland Library and frowned. That Sunday in February 2012, I would be leading my Conversation Project program “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? A Hidden History” for only the second time. The first was at Hollywood Library, where we reached the forty-person room capacity and had to turn folks away. So I figured we’d need a few more chairs at North Portland. But as people poured into the large, open room, librarian Patricia Welch and I realized there wouldn’t be enough seats for all these folks even if we grabbed every chair in the library. Finally, with the room at maximum capacity, Welch regretfully started turning people away. That was a year and a half ago, and since then I’ve facilitated the program with more than a thousand Oregonians across the state. I developed my program and a timeline, excerpted on the pages that follow, to explore the history and living legacy of race, identity, and power in this state and this nation. Race is not a topic we often discuss in public settings, at least not explicitly. We are told we are in a “postracial” landscape, yet race is the number one determinant of access to health care, home ownership, graduation rates, and income, as the data from the Urban League of Portland (page 19) show. We can’t understand these disparities without understanding history. I didn’t grow up in Oregon; I moved here to attend high school. It wasn’t until I had the privilege of attending a presentation by Darrell Millner, founder of Portland State University’s Black Studies Department, that I learned Oregon was created as a white utopian homeland. That Oregon was the only state that entered the Union with a clause in its constitution forbidding Black people to live here. That the punishment originally
meted out for violating this exclusionary law was the “Lash Law”: public whipping every six months until the Black person left the state. That this ideology shaped Oregon’s entire history and was reflected in the larger history of this nation. My goal with this program and timeline is not just to recount all the horrific wrongs done to Black people and other people of color; it is to showcase communities of color as active agents in their destinies. The only reason a Black community exists in Oregon is because of determination, creativity, and community-building. There are so many stories: from the Black community in Salem raising money for a school in 1867 when their children were barred from attending white schools, to North Williams Avenue as a 1930s underground jazz gem, to the 2001 repeal of the state constitution’s exclusionary language that was led by community leaders and organizers and supported by allies. This is a history not of victimization, but of strength and hope. One of my greatest joys has been creating a public space for people who have lived in this community all their lives to tell their stories, to be seen as the experts and change makers they are. I always end the program with a list of organizations working across this state for racial justice, a list that grows with every program I do. Each of us has the power to learn these hidden histories, and each of us has the right and the responsibility to create the kind of state, nation, and world we all want to live in.
Walidah Imarisha is a writer, organizer, and spoken word artist who has taught at Portland State University, Oregon State University, and Southern New Hampshire University. She leads two Conversation Project programs for Oregon Humanities: “Beyond Bars: Reenvisioning the Prison System” and “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? A Hidden History.”
Summer 2013 Skin
York, William Clark’s slave, is part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the first American expedition to the Pacific Northwest. Native nations treat York with respect, and he “played a key role in diplomatic relations.” Upon returning east, Clark describes York as “insolent and sulky” in a letter to his brother, whips and jails him, and threatens to sell him. York’s fate is unknown; some historians believe he escaped slavery and lived with the Crow in Wyoming.
Oregon becames the only state admitted to the union with an exclusion law written into its state constitution. It bans any “free negro, mulatto, not residing in this State at the time” from living, holding real estate, and making any contracts within the state. The 1860 census shows 124 Black people living in the state. The law is repealed in 1926. The language however is not removed from the constitution until 2001. As historian Egbert Oliver writes in Oregon Historical Society Quarterly, “African Americans were essentially illegal aliens in Oregon.” Abstract of votes in Polk County from the 1857 referendum on the Oregon Constitution and the prohibition of slavery and “free negroes.”
MICHAEL HAYNES MHAYNESART.COM
OREGON SECRETARY OF STATE
LIBR ARY OF CONGRESS
When William Brown’s children are refused access to public school because they are Black, Salem’s Black community raises $427.50 to operate a school for six months. After Brown files a lawsuit, the school district agrees to fund the school, opening Little Central School to serve the district’s sixteen Black school-age children. Portland Public Schools also institutionalizes segregation in 1867.
OREGON STATE LIBR ARY
The Provisional Government of Oregon enacts the region’s first exclusion law against Blacks. This law included the infamous “Lash Law,” which required that Black people—whether free or enslaved—be whipped twice a year “until he or she shall quit the territory.” This penalty is later changed to forced labor. Jacob Vanderpool, a Black saloonkeeper living in Salem, is the only person known to be expelled from the state.
The Fifteenth Amendment, which outlaws voting discrimination based on race, is added to the US Constitution, despite failing to pass in both Oregon and California. This federal law supersedes a clause in the Oregon State Constitution explicitly banning Black suffrage, but the language is not removed from the constitution until 1927 and the Fifteenth Amendment is not ratified in Oregon until 1959.
OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIET Y, #BB0 02122
The completion of the transcontinental railroad brings the first large influx of Black people to Oregon. Willie Richardson, president of the Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers, credits Black railroad workers for building a community in Portland: “Because they stayed, they allowed a whole new generation to come in and succeed.” In 1906 Black businessman W. D. Allen opens the Golden West Hotel, which becomes the center of a thriving Black-owned business district. The hotel is designed primarily to serve Black railway employees, who are denied accommodations in Portland’s white-owned hotels.
Beatrice Cannady helps found the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. An outspoken Black civil rights activist, she is the editor and owner of The Advocate, Portland’s only Black newspaper. She works to repeal Oregon’s notorious “Black Laws,” which prohibit African Americans from settling in Oregon and deny voting rights to people of color.
OREGON DIGITAL NEWSPAPER PROGR AM
Alonzo Tucker, a Black man in Coos Bay (then called Marshfield), is charged with raping a white woman. He is released from jail and hunted by two hundred armed white men. Tucker is shot twice and then hung off a bridge. The Coast Mail describes the lynch mob as “quiet and orderly” and reports the lynching as follows: “No such lawless proceeding was ever conducted with less unnecessary disturbance of the peace.” Going further, the Oregon Journal calls Tucker a “black fiend” who got the death “he so thoroughly deserved.” No one is indicted for Tucker’s brutal murder. This is the only officially recorded lynching in Oregon, though Black community members say many more went uninvestigated.
“THE FIRST VOTE,” A .R. WAUD
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The Portland Real Estate Board’s Code of Ethics mandates that real estate agents not sell to individuals whose race would “greatly depreciate, in the public mind, surrounding property values.” 1938 Portland Residential Security Map
OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIET Y, #899 6 8
MA X VILLE HERITAGE ARCHIVES
The Ku Klux Klan establishes its Oregon chapter. At the height of its popularity, the Klan claims that 15 percent of eligible Americans (white men) are members. Some of the individuals pictured above include the Portland police chief, a district attorney, a US attorney, a Multnomah County sheriff, and the Portland mayor. The Klan’s reign in Oregon is brief, but notorious. Among other things, the organization influences the election of 1922, unseating the gubernatorial incumbent, Ben Olcott, who is an outspoken critic of the Klan.
PORTL AND TELEGR AM, AUGUST 2, 1921
Sixty skilled Black workers from the South move their families to Maxville, a town run by Bower-Hicks Lumber Company in Wallowa County. In 2007, filmmaker Gwen Trice, whose family lived in Maxville until 1943 when it was dismantled, founds the Maxville Project, which later becomes the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center, a nonprofit organization that collects and preserves the history of multicultural logging communities in the Pacific Northwest.
THE PIE SHOPS COLLECTION
Oregon passes the Compulsory Education Act, making it mandatory for every child to attend public school, with the goal of shutting down Catholic and other private schools. One of the act’s chief supporters is Governor Walter Pierce, who is backed by the Ku Klux Klan. Its members see the law as a way to further white supremacy through assimilating and Americanizing Catholic immigrants and Oregon youth. In 1925, the Supreme Court deems the act unconstitutional before it can be enacted.
Coon Chicken Inn, an American chain of restaurants, opens in Salt Lake City. Diners enter through a door that portrays the mouth of a smiling blackface caricature. The chain’s third restaurant opens in 1930 in Portland’s Hollywood District. A restaurant with a similar history, Lil Sambo’s (formerly Lil Black Sambo’s), still operates today in Lincoln City.
PORTL AND STATE UNIVERSIT Y
OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIET Y, #ORHI250 4 3
Jazz is popular in Portland as early as the 1930s, but flourishes after World War II because of the influx of Black people drawn by wartime industries. North Williams Avenue becomes the heart of the Portland jazz scene and the heart of the Black community. In a city considered one of the most discriminatory north of the Mason-Dixon line, clubs line Williams, offering jazz twenty-four hours a day, every day of the week.
Voters approve construction of Memorial Coliseum in the Eliot neighborhood, resulting in the teardown of more than 450 Albina homes and businesses. At the time, four out of five people in this thriving, close-knit community are Black. Many are former inhabitants of Vanport because redlining policies limited where they could live. This same year, federal officials also approve highway construction funds that would pave Interstates 5 and 99 through South Albina, destroying more than eleven hundred homes.
A political rally releases the frustrations of Black youth in Portland’s Albina neighborhood and the streets explode in an urban uprising, sparked by discontentment with treatment by the police. Between two and three hundred people throw bottles and rocks at cars, while a few hurl firebombs through store windows, causing $20,000 in damage at one grocery store and damaging dozens of others. On the first day of the Albina riot, Detroit, Michigan, also experiences devastating race riots that claim forty-one lives and cause damage estimated at more than $500 million. Another riot in the same Portland neighborhood happens in 1969.
© THOMAS ROBINSON
Vanport City is hastily constructed between Portland and the Columbia River to house wartime Kaiser Shipyards workers. Southern Blacks are recruited in large numbers to work in the shipyards. At its peak, the city houses one hundred thousand people, 40 percent of whom are Black. It becomes Oregon’s second-largest city, containing the largest US public housing project.
The Columbia River floods and the dike protecting Vanport breaks. Because Vanport was built on reclaimed lowlands along the Columbia River, the city was vulnerable to flooding. In addition, it was built quickly with temporary housing. During the flood, fifteen people are killed, the entire city is underwater, and nearly eighteen thousand people, many of them Black, are left homeless.
© THOMAS ROBINSON
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Cover of Willamette Bridge, January 14, 1970.
Kent Ford and others establish the Portland chapter of the Black Panther Party, with support from Reed College students. The Panthers run a free children’s breakfast program for five years, feeding up to 125 children a day. They operate the Fred Hampton Memorial People’s Health Clinic, which grows to twenty-seven doctors and becomes one of the longest-running Panther health clinics in the country. In 1970, they founded the Panther Dental Clinic. Portland Panthers experience the same targeting by law enforcement as Panthers nationally, and members of the Portland Panthers face multiple false arrests and trials.
The Black United Front protests the closure of predominantly Black Harriet Tubman Middle School by organizing a one-day boycott with four thousand students. The closure follows Portland schools’ mandatory busing program throughout the 1960s and ’70s that sent Black students to schools far from their homes to attend integrated schools; most white students attended their closest neighborhood school.
The Black community protests the expansion of Emanuel Hospital, funded by federal money earmarked for urban renewal. The expansion demolishes nearly three hundred homes in North Portland. Residents are given ninety days to move. Homeowners are compensated with a maximum $15,000 payment, and renters receive $4,000. The federal construction funds run out after the homes are demolished but before construction is finished. The expansion takes decades to complete.
Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian student and father, is killed in Portland by three skinheads affiliated with the White Aryan Resistance. He is beaten with a bat and left in a puddle of his own blood. Tom Metzger, leader of WAR, calls the killing a “civic duty.” The community organizes rallies and educational events, and starts organizations in the wake of this attack. In 1990, a fifteen-hundred-person rally in memory of Seraw takes place along the South Park Blocks.
The name of Union Avenue, the main street through the heart of the historic Black community, is changed to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. A coalition opposing the name change gets enough signatures (6 percent of Oregon’s population) to put the name change on the ballot. The Oregon Supreme Court blocks the initiative challenge by ruling the name change is an administrative decision and therefore not subject to voting by citizens.
Measure 11 passes, which establishes mandatory minimum sentencing for several crimes. It removes judges’ discretion in sentencing. The measure requires juveniles over the age of fifteen who are charged with these crimes to be tried as adults. As much as 41 percent of Oregon’s prison population growth is attributable to Measure 11. A 2011 report by the Partnership for Safety and Justice says Black people account for just 4 percent of the state’s youth population, but they represent 19 percent of Measure 11 indictments.
TR ACIE HALL (FLICKR: TR ACIE7779)
PORTL AND STATE UNIVERSIT Y
In response to complaints of neighborhood activists and the recommendations of a citywide task force report on abandoned housing, the City of Portland begins revitalizing the Albina neighborhood, using building code enforcement to confront the extreme level of housing abandonment. Whites buy homes, displacing many low-income Black families to relatively far-flung areas where they can afford the rents. By 1999, Blacks own 36 percent fewer homes in the neighborhood than a decade prior, while whites own 43 percent more.
Activist, community organizer, and former politician Avel Louise Gordly becomes the first Black woman to be elected to the Oregon State Senate. Her legislative record eventually includes initiatives that focus on cultural competency in education, mental health, and criminal justice. She also achieves notable reform in the state senate caucus system and briefly secures press access for meetings that are usually closed.
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STATE OF BLACK OREGON
Median income Black-headed households: $30,000 Median income White-headed households: $46,800 Percentage of Black adults with no checking account: 20% Percentage of White adults with no checking account: 7% 38% of Black children live in households with income below the poverty line
2009 STATISTICS From the Urban League of Portland
White households who own their home: 68%
Black households who own their home: 37%
Black students who meet or exceed the 10th grade reading benchmark: 38%
White students who meet or exceed the 10th grade reading benchmark: 68%
Black students are twice as likely to be suspended or expelled as White students Black students dropout rates are twice that of White students Black students who graduate on time: 68% White students who graduate on time: 85%
Black incarceration rates are 6 times that of whites.
Black babies are 50% more likely to be born with low birth weight
Black babies are 50% more likely to suffer infant mortality
A look at the history of Oregon’s exclusion laws
R . G re gor y N okes
This passage is excerpted from Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory, published by OSU Press, reprinted with permission
regon’s1844exclusionlawwasatleastinpartaknee-jerk response to a perceived threat of racial violence—how large a part is debatable. The threat allegedly came from a free black named James Saules, who had been arrested for his role in what became known as the Cockstock Affair. Saules had been a cook, or a cabin boy, on the USS Peacock, a sloop-of-war used as an exploration ship that broke up on the Columbia River bar near Astoria in July 1841. The entire crew was saved. Saules chose to stay in Oregon where he subsequently married a Native American woman. In 1844, Saules and a Native American named Cockstock—a member of the Wasco tribe—fell into an angry dispute over a horse. The horse allegedly had been promised to Cockstock by another free black, Winslow Anderson, as payment for work on Anderson’s farm; Anderson was a former fur trapper who had lived in Oregon since 1834. However, Anderson sold his farm and horse to Saules, who declined to turn the horse over to Cockstock. The dispute escalated into violence when Cockstock appeared near Oregon City with several tribal members on or about March 4, 1844, and a fight broke out, involving arrows and guns. Cockstock and two white men, Sterling Rogers and George LeBreton, were killed. LeBreton was clerk and recorder for the provisional government. According to one version, Cockstock may have been killed by Anderson. Local whites blamed Saules and Anderson for the incident and threatened Saules’ life. Saules was taken into custody and both he and Anderson were “encouraged” to leave the area. They
moved to Clatsop County in northwestern Oregon. Yet another version—the facts are impossible to pin down—was that Saules threatened to incite his wife’s people to “a great interracial war” unless he was released. That Saules on his own could rally Native Americans to such violence is, in retrospect, improbable. But improbability was beside the point. According to historian Gordon B. Dodds, the incident “triggered further racist sentiment” among settlers already hostile toward blacks. The Cockstock affair and other incidents in which Saules was involved led the resident Indian agent, Elijah White, to recommend to his supporters in Washington, DC, that African Americans be banned from Oregon as “dangerous subjects.” Writing on May 1, 1844, to Secretary of War J. M. Porter, White noted that he had sent—in effect, banished—Saules to live in presentday Clatsop County following the Cockstock incident. White said that although Saules remains in that vicinity with his Indian wife and family, conducting [behaving], as yet, in a quiet manner, but doubtless ought to be transported, together with every other negro, being in our condition dangerous subjects. Until we have some further means of protection their immigration ought to be prohibited. Can this be done? [Historian Eugene Berwanger] has written that while the Cockstock incident itself was the “immediate impetus” for the 1844 exclusion law, the greater influence was probably White’s
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letter urging action to exclude blacks. The law was enacted in June, three months after the incident. In the words of Quintard Taylor, a University of Washington historian, the significance of the exclusion law should be seen more “as a symbol of the evolving attitude toward future black migration, than as a measure that would immediately eliminate or reduce the ‘troublesome’ black population.” That Anderson and Saules could avoid punishment by moving to a less populated area illustrated the ineffectiveness of provisional laws. A LT HOUGH T H E L E GI S L AT I V E C OM M I T T E E abolished the 1844 exclusion law in 1845, the first territorial legislature enacted a new exclusion law in September 1849. Once again, fear of an alliance between blacks and the tribes was a contributing cause, or at least an excuse. Fear of the tribes was heightened by the massacre of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, and eleven others, on November 29, 1847, by members of the Cayuse tribe at the Whitman mission near Walla Walla. The preamble to the new law declared it would be “highly dangerous to allow free Negroes and mulattoes to reside in the Territory, or to intermix with Indians, instilling into their minds feelings of hostility toward the white race.” The law easily passed the House of Representatives by a vote of twelve to four on September 19, but it was challenged in the nine-member Council. Wilson Blain of the then-Tuality County objected to even considering the bill. However, it was narrowly approved by a vote of five to four on September 21, 1849. Nathaniel Ford cast one of the five votes in favor. The 1849 law did not apply to African Americans already in the territory, but newcomers would have to leave. Section one stipulated: [I]t shall not be lawful for any negro or mulatto to enter into, or reside within the limits of this Territory. Providing that nothing in this act shall ... apply to any negro or mulatto now resident in this Territory, nor shall it apply to the offspring of any such as are residents. A first violation would result in arrest; a second violation could cause the “negro or mulatto,” if convicted, to “be fined and imprisoned at the discretion of the court.” Black seamen were singled out for special mention. Ships frequently included African Americans as crewmen, and the framers of the law clearly didn’t want them jumping ship in Oregon. “Masters and owners of vessels” were made responsible for the conduct of black seamen “and shall be liable to any person aggrieved by such negro or mulatto.” Masters and owners had forty days to remove them from Oregon, or face possible imprisonment and a fine of up to $500. The provision aimed at black crewmen was probably influenced by the behavior of the former seaman, James Saules, who continued to pose problems. The Oregon Spectator [an Oregon City newspaper] reported on December 24, 1846, that Saules had been charged
with murdering his Native American wife, but “is at large and likely to remain so,” suggesting that authorities were reluctant, or unable, to track him down. T H E R E WA S O N E K N O W N E X P U L S I O N O F A N African American under Oregon’s exclusion laws, although there may well have been others not recorded. The expulsion was of Jacob Vanderpool, said to be a sailor from the West Indies who arrived by ship in 1850 and took up residence in Oregon City, where he apparently operated a boarding house. Vanderpool was arrested and jailed in August 1851 on a charge of violating “the statutes and laws of the territory,” specifically the 1849 exclusion act. The complaint was brought by Theophilus Magruder, who had served briefly as the territorial secretary of state in 1849, and, at the time he brought his complaint, was proprietor of the Main Street House, a well-known hostelry in Oregon City. Magruder may have sought to remove a business competitor. The Vanderpool case went to trial in Oregon City on August 25, 1851, before Judge Nelson, the same Territorial Supreme Court justice who, the following year, would be the first to hear the suit brought by [Missouri slaves] Robin Holmes against Nathaniel Ford. Vanderpool’s lawyer, A. Holbrook, mounted an aggressive, but unsuccessful, defense. He argued that the 1849 exclusion law violated several provisions of the US Constitution, including Article 4, Section 2, which said, “The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.” He also contended enactment of the legislation was “not within the jurisdiction of the Legislative Assembly of Oregon” and, moreover, had been improperly executed. Three witnesses spoke to Vanderpool’s good character. Judge Nelson issued his one paragraph ruling the following day, on August 26, finding Vanderpool guilty of violating the 1849 exclusion law, and ordering him “removed from the said territory within thirty days.” Nelson didn’t address any of Holbrook’s arguments. The outcome was reported in the Spectator on September 2, 1851, with the newspaper’s explanation to readers that since the 1849 law was on the books, it should be enforced: There is a statute prohibiting the introduction of negroes in Oregon. A misdemeanor committed by one Vanderpool was the cause of bringing this individual before his Honor Judge Nelson and a decision called for respecting the enforcement of that law; [Judge Nelson] decided that the statute should be immediately enforced, and the negro shall be banished forthwith from the Territory. There is no use of enacting laws if they are to remain a dead letter on our statute book. A notorious villain, who calls himself Winslow, has cursed this community with his presence for a number of years. All manner of crimes have been laid to his charge—we shall rejoice at his removal. Thirty days are allowed them to clear the Territory.
The reference to Winslow was no doubt to the same Winslow Anderson involved in the Cockstock incident. It is unlikely Anderson was threatened with expulsion—he was a resident of Oregon before enactment of the 1849 law, which was not retroactive. The newspaper’s editor must have been expressing his wish that a way could be found to expel him. Instead, Anderson would meet with a violent death in July of 1853 in what a jury ruled was “death by violence ... a blow to the side of the head.” Apparently, no one was held accountable. In its article on the Vanderpool case, the Oregon Statesman said Nelson ruled that the 1849 exclusion law was “constitutional” and “the reaffirmation of a well-settled doctrine.” There was at least one other expulsion order, this one directed at O. B. Francis and probably also his brother, Abner Hunt Francis, a well-known abolitionist. Recently arrived in Oregon, the brothers, both free blacks, had opened a mercantile store in downtown Portland in 185l. Abner Francis had been an anti-slavery activist in Buffalo, New York, before coming to Portland. He was also a friend of prominent black abolitionist Frederick Douglass and contributed articles to Frederick Douglass’ Paper. Francis’ background and connections to the abolitionist movement may have aroused concern among Portland’s anti-black whites, or perhaps the new store alarmed a white competitor. Whatever the motivation, O. B. Francis was arrested while Abner was out of town and charged with violating Oregon’s exclusion law. A justice of the peace ordered O. B. to leave Oregon within six months. Judge O. C. Pratt of Oregon’s Territorial Supreme Court upheld the order after hearing the case on appeal on September 16, 1851, even reducing the time Francis could remain in Oregon to four months. In a letter to Frederick Douglass on October 30, 1851, Abner Francis suggested the exclusion order also applied to him. He wrote that they had been expertly defended by Frank Tilford, a former San Francisco judge, who argued that under the U.S. Constitution “citizens of one state had a right to enjoy the same privileges that the same class of citizens enjoy in the state which they visit” and, moreover, that the law was unconstitutional because it lacked a provision for a trial by Jury. Judge Pratt disregarded these arguments, Francis said, and “we now stand condemned under his decision, which is to close up business and leave the territory within four months.” In his letter, published in Douglass’ newspaper on December 11, 1851, Francis said he wanted to alert people that even in the so-called free territory of Oregon, the colored American citizen, though he may possess all the qualities and qualifications which make a man a good citizen is driven out like a beast in the forest, made to sacrifice every interest dear to him, and forbidden the privilege to take the portion of the soil which the government says every citizen shall enjoy.
The exclusion order brought an outpouring of support for the Francises. In December, a petition with two hundred and eleven signatures urged the territorial legislature to repeal or modify the law. It said, in part: There are frequently coming into the Territory a class of men to whom this law will apply. They have proved themselves to be moral, industrious, and civil. Having no knowledge of this law some of them have spent their all by purchasing property, or entering into business to gain an honest living. We see and feel this injustice done them, by more unworthy and designing men lodging complaint against them under this law, and they thus [were] ordered at great sacrifice to leave the Territory. The lengthy petition went on to say that the reason for the law, the alleged “dangers arising from a colored population instilling hostility into the minds of the Indians, has ceased.” It urged “that a special act may be passed at the earliest period possible, permitting O. B. and A. H. Francis, citizens from the state of New York, located in business in Portland[,] to remain, having committed no crime.” Representative John Anderson of Clatsop County introduced a bill on December 9, 1851, to allow blacks to remain in Oregon if they posted a bond and pledged that the “Negro or mulatto will ... conduct himself as a good and law-abiding citizen of the Territory.” However, the Legislature declined to modify the law. It’s not clear that the legislature voted on the appeal for the Francises. However, they were allowed to stay. Abner Francis and his wife, Lynda, remained in Portland until 1860, when they moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where Abner was elected in 1865 as the city’s first black city councilman. He died in 1872. Another attempt to enforce the law in 1854 was aimed at Morris Thomas of Portland and his family. Thomas, “a free man of color,” was married to Jane Snowden, a servant in the household of Andrew Skidmore—the Skidmores were a prominent Portland family. A petition with one hundred and twenty-seven signatures was sent to the legislature seeking to give Thomas an exemption. It said Thomas was “an industrious, peaceable, well-disposed mulatto man” for whom the exemption “will be of no detriment to the welfare of the Territory or the interests of any citizen.” An exemption bill was introduced in the House on January 25, 1854. It passed the House by a vote of nineteen to three, but the Council deadlocked four to four, after which it was tabled, with no further action. However, Thomas remained in Oregon—it isn’t clear why. Perhaps authorities chose to look the other way. Another possibility is that the legislators anticipated that the 1849 exclusion law was about to be repealed in a new legal code. ON E A FR ICA N A MER ICA N EMIGR A N T DETER R ED by Oregon’s first exclusion law was George Washington Bush,
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“Not many men of color left a slave state so well-to-do, and so generally respected. But it was not in the nature of things that [Bush] should be permitted to forget his color.”
a Pennsylvania-born free black who had been a prosperous farmer in Missouri. Bush and his family were among six families who were part of the Gilliam wagon train that left from St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1844. They called themselves “the Independent Colony” and were headed by William Simmons, a close Bush friend and second in command to Gilliam. John Minto, who also traveled with the Gilliam party, became an admirer of Bush and his accomplishments: “Not many men of color left a slave state so well-to-do, and so generally respected,” he wrote. “But it was not in the nature of things that he should be permitted to forget his color.” Minto said Bush confided during the trip that “if he could not have a free man’s rights” in Oregon, “he would seek the protection of the Mexican government in California or New Mexico.” After arriving in Oregon, Bush stayed the winter in The Dalles to take care of the emigrants’ livestock, after which he turned north, not south in 1845, becoming one of the first American settlers, and probably the first black settler, north of the Columbia River. Bush moved with Simmons and others to the south end of Puget Sound, near present-day Olympia. It placed Bush beyond the reach of the provisional exclusion law, as the region north of the Columbia was then under the nominal control of the British government. Bush may have been influenced in his choice of destination by Dr. John McLoughlin, chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Up to that point, the powerful British company had discouraged Americans from settling north of the Columbia. However, McLoughlin was said to be sympathetic to Bush’s situation. Bush became a successful farmer, homesteading six hundred and forty acres near present-day Tumwater. One account said he introduced the first mower and reaper to farmers in the region. [The late journalist Fred Lockley wrote in 1916 that] by dint of [Bush’s] status as a leading citizen, he also inspired in others
OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIET Y, #11917- A
George Washington Bush and his dog
“a respect for color” that extended well beyond his own community. He had helped several white families buy provisions and outfits for the journey west in 1844. And after they arrived, he continued to help some neighbors who became destitute. Bush’s widespread support in the white community became apparent when he was threatened with the loss of his land. After Washington was organized as a territory in 1853, Bush’s homestead was in jeopardy, as the Donation Land Act of 1850 excluded blacks from obtaining the free land. However, fifty-five citizens signed a petition urging an exemption. The appeal was endorsed by the Washington Territorial Legislature and forwarded to Congress, which approved the exemption in 1855. Today’s Bush Prairie is named for Bush.
R. Gregory Nokes has traveled the world as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press and the Oregonian. This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory (OSU Press). Nokes is also the author of Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hells Canyon.
More Than Skin Deep
How and why race still matters
naomi z ack
ILLUSTR ATION BY JEN WICK STUDIO
Minister Silvio Berlusconi referred to President Barack Obama as “suntanned,” Italians and Americans considered it a racist gaffe. Obama’s skin hue could be identical to that of a white person who has a suntan, but calling Obama “sun-tanned” disregards an ancestry and self-identification that has resulted in his African American identity.
N 2 0 0 8 , W H E N I TA LY ’ S P R I M E
It is provocative to refer to race simply in regards to skin color. Skin color does have a lot to do with race, but skin color differences aren’t socially neutral variations in the same way that differences in hair or eye color often are. Instead, skin color can be used as shorthand for the idea of race as a system of biological human types. People think that race must be biological because members of different races have different physical traits that they inherit from their parents, and biology includes the study of heredity. However, if by the term race we mean a system of human types that differ in objective physical ways that scientists can study, this system has no foundation in biology. There is no single gene that determines a person’s race, and the combinations of genes that are more frequent in each of the major racial groups are not present in all members of those groups. Scientists have in the past differed on where to draw the line between races, coming up with anywhere between three and sixty human races. The mapping of the human genome in the early twenty-first century yielded no data about race. In short, as far as biological science is concerned, there are no general physical determinants that line up with each of the major races. W hat it comes down to is that people resemble their parents
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if their parents resemble one another. If parents have different skin colors associated with different races, the child is multiracial and may not resemble either parent. The possibility that people could identify as more than one race was officially ignored by the US Census Bureau until 2000, which was the first year that respondents were allowed to check as many boxes for race as applied to them. But ever since 1967 when the Supreme Court, in Loving v. Virginia, struck down antimiscegenation laws that prohibited racial intermarriage, mixed-race babies have been the fastest growing racial segment in national birth rates. The growth and official recognition of multiracial populations destabilize older beliefs that only three or four human races exist. All of the possible permutations of racial identity afforded by the census results in more than sixty different racial identities—far more than the average person can easily use when trying to identify the race of another person. Yet, the complexity of what it means to be multiracial has not dislodged commonly held ideas about race as an objective biological foundation for human difference. But although race is not a legitimate subject for biological study, it remains an important and legitimate subject for the social sciences and humanities. Race is a social construction, or a changing idea and system of behavior that human beings invent and reinvent about themselves and others, usually to organize society for their own benefit. The irony is that groups that have been racialized and who have been harmed by racism—African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, for example—sometimes use, as a source of pride and protest, the very identities that were originally imposed to crush them and keep them down. For instance, W. E. B. Dubois, who founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909, wrote about the “destiny of the Negro race” to demonstrate the excellence of black people in the face of the extreme racism of his day, which included lynching and segregation. Today, some people of color strongly resist giving up the idea of race and may remain deeply suspicious of the idea of a color-blind society because they are concerned that they will have no basis, no identity, from which to resist or politically protest racial discrimination by white people. Because ideas about differences in race continue to have powerful effects in ordinary life, it is important to know the history of these ideas. With the European colonization of other parts of the world beginning in the early 1400s, race as a form of human difference became attached to heredity. This attachment offered justification for why it was acceptable to enslave people who were seen as inferior and ineligible for freedom and equality—beliefs in universal human equality were lauded during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ Age of Enlightenment. Europeans and Americans who economically benefitted from colonizing Africa, India, the Americas, and parts of Southeast Asia—and slave owners and their advocates—all found this justification useful. Although for many years historians lamented that blacks were enslaved because they were a different race, systematic ideas of black racial inferiority actually developed concurrently with the period
of American slavery. It is more accurate to say that blacks in America became known as a different race because of the institution of slavery. Under slavery, the children of slaves were automatically slaves, even if only one parent, almost always the mother, was a slave. The full-blown theory of human race came into existence only when biology emerged as a science in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Samuel George Morton in the early 1800s built on a long tradition of racial pseudoscience (which included works by the philosopher Immanuel Kant and the French writer Arthur de Gobineau) and developed a complex system based on the skull and brain sizes of different races, concluding blacks had the smallest brains, thus making them inferior to other races. His ideas were later supported by speculations about white racial superiority and ideologies of white supremacy, such as Madison Grant’s 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race. By the 1940s, such theories were discredited by American cultural anthropologist Franz Boas and in the 1950s, by his students, who included Claude Lévi-Strauss and Margaret Mead. Ideas of racial biological inferiority were further challenged after World War II through the Statement on the Nature of Race and Race Differences published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Heredity, Race, and Society by Theodosius Dobzhansky and L. C. Dunn. And Stephen Jay Gould, in his 1981 book, The Mismeasure of Man, explains how Morton had falsified his data. The main idea shared in these works is that social differences among human groups are the result of culture and history, not biology. The racialization of blacks was not a unique historical phenomenon. For instance, Arab Americans and Middle Eastern Americans were officially categorized as racially white in the census during the twentieth century, but after
As far as biological science is concerned, there are no general physical determinants that line up with each of the major races.
the events of 9/11, fear of terrorist acts by members of these groups led some people to think about them as a race, based on the color of their skin. In another example, Mexican Americans are an ethnic or cultural group and not a race, according to the US Census Bureau. But fear of illegal immigrants has led to some police in southwestern border states profiling people who “look Mexican” and requesting proof of legal residence without evidence of criminal behavior. Patterns of racialization in the United States have not been limited to those who are today considered racial or ethnic minorities. When English colonizers and settlers were the dominant group in the American colonies, Irish immigrants were disparaged as members of a less-refined race. Benjamin Franklin expressed fear of the cultural influence of German immigrants, referring to the dark complexions of those from southern Germany. At the turn of the twentieth century, even Franz Boas, the progressive Jewish American anthropologist who spread the idea that culture is not inherited and did so much to debunk old theories of racial hierarchies, warned his colleagues about the effects on US society of a huge influx of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, referring to the new arrivals as “types distinct from our own.” Italians, Poles, Germans, and some Scandinavian groups were all considered dangerous nonwhites at different times and were feared
by “native-born” Americans as job competitors or proponents of socialism, communism, and other radical ideas. For instance, the Socialist Party of Oregon was formed in 1904, but by 1908 to 1910—the heyday of the national Socialist Party—the federal government investigated the so-called Red Finns of Astoria for their dangerous, radical ideas; all “dangerous radicals” were at that time subject to being rounded up and deported. On the eve of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson and members of Congress spoke out against foreign language newspapers, cultural organizations, and schools, many of which were German American. Under that pressure, most of those presses and the ethnic organizations they represented quietly folded. Secondand third-generation European immigrants then focused their energy on full cultural assimilation to dominant Anglo-America. By World War II, most descendants of the European so-called nonwhite races had assimilated to the dominant Anglo-American culture. Their parents and grandparents had worked hard and long at jobs that native-born Americans did not want, and they made sure that their offspring had good educations. Fearing integration, many third-generation European immigrants left American cities to live in the suburbs after racial segregation in schools became illegal with the 1954 US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. There they often shed their ethnic backgrounds to become not only fully American, but generically white. This process of white flight intensified after the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s. Blacks moved from the South to the large northern cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, as did recent immigrants from Asia and South and Central America (after quotas on immigration were relaxed in 1965), who set up ethnic enclaves in the more impoverished areas of inner cities. Skin color, combined with poverty and cultural difference,
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continues to set racial and ethnic minorities apart from the more affluent society. This economic separation of racial and ethnic minorities from what is a predominantly white middle-class and/or affluent population can be explained by what is called structural racism in sociology and institutional racism in the humanities. It works like this: If someone’s family is poor because his or her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were not permitted, because of racially discriminatory policies, to attain college degrees or work in professions that would allow them to accumulate wealth, that person starts out in life without an economic and mainstream cultural foundation. Similarly, if discriminatory housing practices like redlining have prevented a person’s parents or grandparents from buying a home in neighborhoods populated by whites, that creates residential segregation with people of color living in poorer neighborhoods. The United States has a higher rate of residential racial segregation in the early twenty-first century than it did in the 1970s; this matters because K–12 schools in the United States are funded on a local level through property taxes, which are based on property values. Simply put, school districts with more funding can provide better educational opportunities than those that are underfunded. The funding for schools in rich white neighborhoods, where every child has a computer and there are opportunities for foreign travel, may be a thousand times greater than that for schools in poor neighborhoods where many residents are people of color. Equal educational opportunities are important because, since the late twentieth century, the single most reliable predictor of an individual’s socioeconomic success relative to his or her parents’ is standardized test scores in middle school. It doesn’t matter whether the tests are measuring the right things in human value terms or even in broad cognitive skills. In our present system, although race influences a young person’s chances in life, high scores on standardized tests matter more. Higher scores open the doors of socioeconomic mobility more effectively than privilege because of race (being white) or gender (being male) because high school teachers and college admissions officers tend to favor and support students with high test scores. Yet, because of factors attributable to institutional racism, racial minorities are disproportionately represented in low scores on standardized tests. Institutional racism can explain why blacks are more than twice as likely to be poor than whites in the United States, even though numerically, there are more poor whites than blacks. It can also explain why blacks also disproportionately populate the criminal justice system. In every measure of human well-being— health, life expectancy, infant survival, education, employment, and stress—blacks and Hispanics fare poorly compared to whites. The mainstream press has made a big deal of the fact that Hispanics are the fastest growing minority and that at some time in the twenty-first century, whites will be a numerical minority in the United States. However, the term minority can be misleading. Minority means a smaller number, but throughout history,
small, powerful elites have oppressed a larger number of citizens or residents (for instance, in South Africa during apartheid or in parts of the US South during slavery). Population numbers alone may seem to represent power in a democracy, but this is true only if those large in number understand their political system and can vote together for the benefit of their group. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, whites in some parts of the United States feared the impact of high numbers of minority voters, so they instituted poll taxes, burdensome literacy requirements, and gerrymandering. In the twenty-first century, there has been fraud in counting votes from districts largely occupied by racial minorities. In other words, the right to vote is a powerful tool for racial minorities but the implementation of this right has been an ongoing struggle. Institutional racism and its impact on the quality of life and political power of people of color is evidence that race still matters. Some believe that racial equality is apparent in the success of some blacks and Hispanics in politics, entertainment, and sports. These critics have a point. Although race matters in terms of the kind of success that most Americans value, it is not the only thing that matters. Upward socioeconomic mobility is of course possible and accessible to those who begin life with disadvantages associated with minority racial identity, but such individuals are numerical minorities in any racial group. What this means in terms of social justice is that if our society values equal opportunity so individuals can strive for the American Dream— whatever its specific forms—then we need to fully support equality in K–12 education. This does not mean, of course, that we should ignore real differences in IQ and aptitude, but it does mean that we have to correct those inequalities in grade school that are unfairly associated with race. We like to say that every adult who makes a mistake and wants to change deserves a second chance, but we also need to remember that every child deserves a first chance.
Naomi Zack has been a professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon since 2001. She teaches courses on race, feminism, disaster, and the history of philosophy. Her recent books include The Ethics and Mores of Race (2011) and the short textbook Thinking About Race (2006).
A conversation between Gregory Rodriquez and Tomás Jiménez
Photos by Tim L a B a rge
regon Humanities’ May 2013 Think & Drink program, part of this year’s How to Love America series, featured Gregory Rodriguez, founder and executive director of Zócolo Public Square in Los Angeles, and Tomás Jiménez, fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavior Sciences at Stanford and the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. The conversation explored American identity, particularly as it is affected by race, immigration, and ideology. Wendy Willis, executive director of the Policy Consensus Initiative and director of research and development for the National Policy Consensus Center at Portland State University, moderated the conversation. Early in the conversation, Rodriguez and Jiménez expressed their sense that Americans have traditionally united against a common enemy and, in the absence of one, are finding themselves divided along cultural and ideological lines, not because of race, ethnicity, or nationality. They discussed how race and immigration are red herrings that distract from these other divides, how elusive national cohesion seems, and how the idea of whiteness has come to mean something beyond skin color. Some of their conversation has been excerpted and adapted here.
Tomás Jiménez: It is human nature to categorize. It’s human nature to think of insiders and outsiders. As Gregory’s trying to point out, there are lots of ways of thinking about insiders and outsiders. Immigration’s been a prominent one. The dividing lines are not necessarily between people of different racial and ethnic groups. We marvel at the diversity in metropolitan America and even in rural America. When you go to these places and talk to people about what it means to belong, they don’t necessarily cue in on ethnic and racial markers. They often cue in on the differences between native-born people and foreign-born people. For example, if you live in Cupertino, California—a major high-skilled immigrant gateway, also a place that’s majority Asian—and you talk to the people who’ve lived there a long time, the key distinction is between people who speak English and people who don’t; people who’ve lived in my neighborhood and people who don’t. It’s not necessarily between Asians and whites, even if they frame it that way. You talk to Asian Americans whose families have been in the
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United States for a long time, and they’ll say, “I don’t really identify with the folks who just came here. I feel a lot more like I’m an established person.” Gregory Rodriguez: We’re saying similar things in different ways. ... My wife is German born, and we live in Koreatown in the middle of Los Angeles, which is [mostly] Latino. I’m the only American-born [person] in five square miles. Do I love all my neighbors? Not a chance. Do I try to pick fights with them every day? No. The first piece I wrote was for the Nation. I was young, I was terrified. I was reading all these New York Times articles about blacks and Latinos in south LA trying to kill each other. Well, the journalists were going to talk to gangbangers; they want to kill anyone! You go door to door with decent people—decent people who work hard and try to raise their kids—and guess what? Just like anyone else, a decent person wants to bring up their kids safe and would rather get along with their neighbor, whatever their color, than not. American journalism has screwed up the story for so long. They’ve taken the most aberrant, dysfunctional, and criminal elements of populations and used them as representative. That’s like me describing the white population by interviewing Timothy McVeigh. TJ: If you talk to people who come from other countries, one of the things they marvel at is how well people get along here. I know Portland is known for getting along really well. But it’s actually surprising how little interethnic, interracial conflict there is given the tremendous diversity. I’m studying a place that used to be majority African Americans, now majority Latino. And they say the same thing as the folks say in Cupertino, where the homes sell for $1.4 million, and a place that used to be the murder capital of the country. They say the same things about what it means to be a neighbor. It means you invite people over. It means you’ve lived here a while. It means you look after each other’s yards and homes when you’re out of town, and that can cross ethnic and racial lines. People still lament the fact that there have been all these changes, but the relevant dividing lines for them are “Can I talk to you?” And, “Have you lived here a long time?” Wendy Willis: Talking about Cupertino and LA is one thing, but how does this play in red America? Is there a different narrative that’s taking place in other parts of the United States? TJ: The media have done the same thing with
blacks and Latinos in LA that they’ve done with rural America. One of the reasons that immigration is such a big deal is because it’s everywhere. There’s no corner of the national map that is not touched by immigration. You have small carpet-making towns in northern Georgia and beef-packing towns in Iowa that almost overnight become a quarter foreign-born in a decade. Everyone’s grappling with these changes. And it turns out that even in red America, after periods of initial conflict, people start
“If you talk to people who come from other countries, one of the things they marvel at is how well people get along here.”
getting along pretty well, and lo and behold there are Mexican immigrants being elected to the school board and the city council because they’ve lived there a long time, because we’re used to them. I don’t want to create too rosy of a picture. I’ve studied a town that can’t serve as an example for everything, but I studied a beef-packing town in southwestern Kansas, where half the population is Hispanic now, and they’ve elected a Mexican immigrant mayor. The majority of the city council at one point was Mexican or Mexican American. Rural America is undergoing changes. Red America is undergoing a lot of changes. In some ways it doesn’t seem all that different from where we live. ... GR: And the conflict is between established and newcomer. It sometimes takes on racial forms. One of the first people I ever interviewed was an African American woman who set up Spanish classes in South LA. She was eighty-two and she started this center and she was teaching elderly African Americans how to speak Spanish. I thought she was such a do-gooder. I asked, “Why did you do this?” And she said, “Because I wanted to learn to tell my neighbors to keep their damn chickens off my lawn!” I live across the street from a Korean karaoke place. At 3:00 a.m. do you think I love those Koreans? Can I blame all Koreans? There
are clashes but it’s not racial, per se; it’s newcomer, it’s difference. I grew up in a town, Glendale, California. When I was born, it was the whitest city in LA County. The KKK Party was briefly there, the Nazi Party was there as late as 1965. By the time I graduated from high school, it was the largest Armenian colony outside of Armenia. That informed my whole view of race. I was a kid in an all-white school, and they called me the n–word. But by the time I was in high school, they hated the Armenians and I was cool: “Mexicans? You’re in. Don’t worry about it.” Talk about WWII for instance. The Japanese were out, the Chinese were in. In LA County there were plenty of old buttons that Chinese Americans would wear in public: “I’m not Japanese.” During times of war, some people are pulled in and some people are pushed out as enemy. W W: W H A T A R E T H E C H A L L E N G E S T O S O C I A L cohesion and to an America that deals with questions of pluralism in a sensible way as we go forward? TJ: I think it has to do with the tenor of the debate. I’m going to parrot something Gregory said earlier, which is this notion that it’s either right or wrong, that you’re either for or against, and again, if you look at the immigration debate, that doesn’t work out at all: We want to blend in, but maintain our traditions; we should close the border, but we should legalize folks. Clearly people’s thinking is all over the map. It’s complicated. So if we can
“We have to integrate a not insignificant sector of the white population to make them feel part of the country.”
have a discussion in whatever form that takes that into account, I think we’ll be much better off. It’s about the tenor of the debate. Cable news does a horrible job of setting the tone. Our political leaders do a terrible job of setting the tone, so maybe it’s left up to people to have good discussions with their neighbors, or good discussions at events like this. GR: I used to be an optimist. I’m getting less and less optimistic about the country and about its ability to cohere. Forty years ago we saw black Americans as a threat to the whole. There was a movement to secede on some level. Years of rejection had created an ideology of removal, of against, of counterculture. Now we’re seeing that among whites. We’re seeing the counterculture, the secession talk, is among a critical mass of white Americans. ... That’s the core of a lot of the Tea Party activity. It’s the core of a lot of the early hatred of Obama. That’s really the topic and the real threat to the cohesion of the country. TJ: I’m going to be super-provocative, but there are some people who’d say, “We don’t need [social cohesion].” So if we weren’t [already] a cohesive country, then we would have massive chaos. … And one of the primary outcomes would be crime rates. So over the very period where people said we’ve become less cohesive, we’ve become more diverse, we have more vague notions about what it means to be American, and crime in the United States has plummeted. GR: Right, but then we have the sequester. And we have a government that can’t pass budgets. That’s what I’m talking about. We can’t just blame our politicians; they’re reflecting a fragmented country. That’s where I disagree. Fragmentation is leading to the inability to lead the country in a coherent way. That’s my fear. We’re not building anything. Look at our education system. You’re right: We don’t need 100 percent engagement; we don’t need to be fully cohesive. TJ: I don’t even know if I believe that. I’m just trying to be provocative. GR: Well, you got me riled! What’s happening on the political level is a bad thing. And I think it’s too lazy to blame it on politicians. They’re reflecting the people of the United States. And I don’t have a good prediction. I think we’re at the beginning of this very bad period. … WW: What’s the source of this deep fragmentation that causes such consternation? GR: I would say it’s the confluence of the unending culture wars that started in the
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1960s (which already has a fragmented white population, in many cases) hitting the growing nonwhite presence in the country. It’s a destabilized segment of the white population that is very upset. … It’s too many white folk feeling displaced. People say that Republicans have a Latino problem. They don’t. They have a white problem. This is going to sound silly to you, but we have to integrate a not insignificant sector of the white population to make them feel part of the country. Right now, we don’t have one white Protestant member of the Supreme Court. Is that smart? Think about it. If you think it’s okay we should have a Jewish member, a black member, a Hispanic member, why can’t there be a white Protestant member? Politically if you believe that these bodies should be representative, maybe that’s an oversight. And maybe white Protestants are beginning to think like minorities. I’m not saying it’s right. But there’s a lot of people pissed off and our politics is now being driven by those pissed off people. TJ: There was a poll that came out a couple of years ago, and that showed majority or very close to a majority of whites that believe they suffer from racial discrimination. Part of the dislocation comes from the decoupling of race and class in the United States. This goes back to a theme I’ve been hammering for the last hour. In many ways, some of the most significant differences exist within racial groups: generational differences, tremendous class differences. That means that when people rely on a basic instinct to categorize, that the old notions of categorization don’t really hold. And I don’t just mean, “Oh, look at all the multiracial folks in the United States,” though that’s part of it. I mean that the leader of the free world is black. And that shocks folks. We are “the man” in some ways now. And that’s the sense when people say, “I want my country back,” that’s what they’re talking about. GR: Tell them about your Cupertino project. It’s fascinating. TJ: Cupertino has always been an uppermiddle-class town that is known for its schools and has been home to early Silicon Valley engineers, professors. In 1980 it was 95 percent white. Today, it’s half foreign-born and nearly 70 percent Asian. The Asians who come there are high-skilled immigrants. Their children do exceedingly well in school. They do so well that achievement in school is defined in ethno-racial terms. “Acting white” is a term that kids throw
“Some of the most significant differences exist within racial groups: generational differences, tremendous class differences. That means that when people rely on a basic instinct to categorize, the old notions don’t really hold.”
around a lot. They don’t say, “Are you doing well or not?” they say, “Are you white or are you Asian?” White kids can act Asian and Asian kids can act white and that is all dependent on how well you do in school. “Acting white” in the school there means you’re more likely to sit in the back of the classroom, to not do as well in school, to play sports, to drink and maybe smoke a little dope on the weekends. All things that upper-middle-class kids in Cupertino have been doing for a long time. So the idea of what it means to be white—not in all dimensions of life: we are a people who value education—has been turned on its head.
Think & Drink is a quarterly happy-hour conversation series offered by Oregon Humanities that brings Portlanders together to discuss provocative ideas. Audio of Think & Drink conversations are streamed live and available at the Oregon Humanities website: oregonhumanities.org.
Picture Their Hearts
ILLUSTR ATION BY DYL AN MECONIS
A woman looks back at her parents’ interracial marriage before the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
“ Yo u k n o w illegal, right?”
yo u ’r e
OU K NOW YOU’R E ILLEGA L , R IGHT? ” That’s what a big kid—in second or third grade—said to me when I was in kindergarten. It was 1971 in New York City, and we sat waiting for our parents to pick us up after school. I didn’t know what she was talking about so I ignored her. “Do you even know you’re illegal?” Her tone was matter-of-fact, like a grown-up’s, like she knew something I didn’t. I stared at my shoes and reviewed my day in my head: Had I done something wrong? Cut the lunch line or hogged the swings? Pushed somebody in the playground? Refused to share the markers? Finally, I looked up at her without saying a word, hoping she’d see I was a good girl. “Hasn’t anyone ever told you you were illegal?” If at first she seemed smarter because she was bigger, now I just thought she was being mean. I turned to see whether one of my parents had arrived to rescue me, but only the school doorman stood in the entryway, examining his hands. I was on my own. It was up to me to set her right. As the youngest in my family with two older brothers, I had some practice standing my ground.
“I haven’t done anything bad,” I said. When the girl didn’t immediately reply, I thought I’d put an end to things. But then, instead of contradicting me, she said, “Your mommy’s white and your daddy’s black, and that makes you illegal.” A lot of things went through my mind as the heat began to rise in my cheeks—like how many times I could punch her before she punched me back and how far I could make it running down the street before the doorman caught me. But I was afraid to move, afraid to stir the air between us. Sitting there wrapped up in my hurt, one question rooted me in place: why had my parents never told me they weren’t the same color? In a picture from my parents’ honeymoon, my mother stands by the stone seawall at Morro Castle in Havana’s harbor. In a dark, short-sleeved dress that accentuates her fair complexion, there is no look of defiance on her face, only joy. She appears confident and in high spirits, the thick walls of the fortress rising behind her. Her chin is lifted slightly, as if she has been caught midlaugh. She faces the camera squarely, her gaze seeming to account only for
“I haven’t done anything bad,” I said.
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the distance between her and my father, who is taking the picture. I can imagine him in pleated white pants and a softly patterned pastel shirt set against his dark brown skin. The sun is high in the afternoon sky, casting no shadows. My mother’s expression is striking and gleeful. She is a newlywed of just a few days. My parents were married in New York on February 15, 1950. They didn’t want to appear overly sentimental by having their wedding on Valentine’s Day, so they waited an additional twentyfour hours. Regardless of the date, only romance of the most idealistic kind could have moved them to join in matrimony as an interracial couple before the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of their friends fell away under the weight of prejudice during their courtship. Others grew weary when their sober warnings were ignored, and my parents did not stop to dwell on the challenges that they or their mixed-race children might face. Only a small core of friends remained when, after the wedding, it was clear that my parents intended to stand by their so-called illjudgment. My grandparents, however, offered their support from the start and hid any worries they may have had. And while it was a comfort to know that someone was on their side, my parents never asked for anyone’s blessings. Their union was a bare test of loyalty, separating those who would accept them from those who would not. They were lucky to meet and fall in love in New York, one of only nine states never to enact antimiscegenation laws. First introduced in colonial Virginia and Maryland legislatures, the laws criminalized marriage between whites and enslaved blacks. But even after the abolition of slavery, states continued to adopt the laws in a legal move to restrict marriage based on race. Although some states permanently repealed the laws during Reconstruction, their constitutionality became widely questioned only after the Second World War when, in 1948, the California Supreme Court ruled that its statute against interracial marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment. California became the first state to repeal such a law since 1887, and it was the first in a wave of other states that in the 1950s acknowledged the equal rights of people of all races to marry one another. Sixteen states would continue to enforce their laws against the “cohabitation” of whites and blacks until 1967, when the US Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional. By then my parents already had three children and had long since become accustomed to the limbo between what is legal in the eyes of the state and irrelevant in matters of the heart. But I doubt they ever thought in such dramatic terms. Not long ago, I pressed my mother for stories about the early years of her marriage. Since my father’s death, she had become the executor of these memories. Because he had been the great storyteller of the family, she sometimes looked burdened with the responsibility of carrying on in his place. I braced myself for raw tales of denied apartment rental applications and racial slurs shouted from open car windows. But she struggled to recall anything that lived up to my expectations of ugliness. I caught myself trying to coach her.
“You never felt people were judging you and Dad?” “I suppose,” she said. “Didn’t people ever give you nasty looks?” “I’m sure they did.” Her answers were frustratingly succinct. She remembered only a time when a taxi driver refused to pick them up. They were with her parents, and my grandfather was outraged by the slight. A Jewish Ukrainian immigrant, my grandfather held high ideals of justice in his adopted land. He took down the taxi’s medallion number and found a police officer to stand with them until they could hail another cab. A few months later, he took the offending driver to court. My mother couldn’t recall what had come of the charge. “That’s it?” I said. My mother’s eyes narrowed. She looked surprised by my disappointment. “I mean, it must have been hard dealing with what people thought,” I said.
She didn’t hesitate in replying: “If we’d cared what other people thought, we wouldn’t have gotten married.”
This no-nonsense remark was a variation on a theme she often repeated: “Why dwell on things that were never important in the first place?” Perhaps because the incident at my elementary school had been important to me, I had a difficult time believing that she and my father had never dwelled on the racial discrimination of the time. My brief exchange with that little girl had opened my eyes to differences I had not previously considered—not just that my parents were a different color from each other, but that I was a different color from other children. At five years old, I didn’t know what, if anything, those differences could or should mean; I knew only they could be used to hurt your feelings. It would be years before I learned they could also be used to reject, target, and terrorize. Young children learn social norms from adults, which leads me to suspect that the girl from my school had drawn her conclusions about my “legality” based on the opinions of her parents, who, as my parents’ peers, were a small sampling of post-World War II attitudes about race in America. The fact that I can recall no other discriminatory incidents during my elementary school years says something about the softening of racial prejudice in the twenty years following my parents’ wedding. Either that, or people had learned to better conceal their contempt. Whichever it was, I have little doubt that when my parents were first married their relationship was viewed with vitriol. In an effort to understand my mother’s unwillingness to discuss such things, I had to sort history and logic from sentiment and survival. I believe that when times are hardest, when we feel most isolated and threatened, we hold tight to those most dear to us and shut out the rest of the world. Maybe that is what my mother was really trying tell me with her concise answers to my loaded questions: “We loved each other. Period.” Fewer than a dozen pictures survive of the two months my parents spent in Cuba for their honeymoon. My mother keeps them together in a small plastic photo album in a drawer in the living room. Flipping through them, I noticed a conspicuous absence of shots of my parents together. Instead, the photos are companion pieces—my mother in front of the castle, my father in front of the castle; my mother beside the seawall in the harbor, and then my father in her place. It’s as if they never thought to ask someone to snap a picture of them standing with each other. “We didn’t speak much Spanish,” my mother said, reaching across the table to stroke the pages of the little book. “Or maybe
expressions are as familiar as they are strange; these are the early versions of them, before they carried evidence of children and age in soft layers around their middles and circled darkly under their eyes. I liked seeing them like this, but the difference was enough to make me ask, Are these really the same people who raised me? Do I detect my mother’s lifelong fear of deep water in the face of this young woman casting a nervous, sideways glance at the sea? Am I correct in noting a flash of my father’s melodrama in the way he plants his hand on his hip? What would I have noticed if, as a child, I had seen a picture of them standing together on their honeymoon? His brown arm reaching around her slim waist to grasp her fair hand. Would the difference in their races have been more obvious in a two-dimensional comparison than it was sitting with them at the dinner table?
your father was afraid someone would steal the camera.” She laughed. “Who remembers anymore?” I looked more closely at the photos. My parents’ fresh, seeking
“How come we never talked about race at home?” I said. “What would have been the point?” she said. This comment seemed as much about the past as it was about our present conversation, so I turned a page in the little book and
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asked her to tell me stories about the honeymoon. For the next hour we relaxed into a reverie of a pre-Castro tropical paradise. Around the time I had this conversation with my mother, I read a New York Times article by Aliyah Baruchin, a woman of Greek and Russian Jewish descent who is married to a Sierra Leonean. In the article she chronicles the efforts she and her husband have made to help their daughter see their biracial union as the norm. As a toddler, Baruchin’s daughter was oblivious to the curiosity (at best) and racial prejudice (at worst) whispered behind her back. I also don’t recall being aware of such whispers as a young child, nor do I remember the stares my parents and I likely got. Baruchin describes the conscious decisions she and her husband have made—in terms of where they live, where their daughter attends school, how they celebrate holidays—to create an atmosphere of diversity. When I was in kindergarten, the language of diversity was not as well realized as it is today. Today, we speak of racial and ethnic differences as a civic strength, and even if communities give only lip service to cultural inclusion, it is still in sharp contrast to the 1960s and ’70s, when biracialism was much less discussed. Given this social perspective, I can accept my parents’ reticence on the topic of race as a sign of the times, and I honor their decision—whether it was intentional or not—to model acceptance instead of talk about it. Baruchin describes a family life where cultural differences are more explicitly explored than they were in my family. And yet many of the challenges—despite the span of decades—remain the same. Baruchin describes an incident in a clothing store when two white children hide their toy purses because they say, looking over at Baruchin’s light-brown-skinned daughter, “She will take it.” When I read this, it conjured that old elementary school hurt; it was like pressing on a bruise, one that you thought had long since healed. By the time my children were born, my father was ill with Alzheimer’s and, for the last nine months of his life, my parents lived with us. One afternoon, as my mother helped my father into his wheelchair, my four-year-old pulled me aside and said: “Grandma and Grandpa aren’t the same color, right?” She asked as though it was the first time she’d noticed, and it possibly was. “That’s right,” I said. “Why?” I was nervous to hear her response. “No reason,” she said. Four years after he passed away, I sat with my mother watching the election returns for the 2008 presidential race. My mother bought a chocolate cake in anticipation of Barack Obama’s victory. “I wish your father had lived to see this,” she said. I wished he had too. We picked frosting from around the edges of the cake, too superstitious to have a celebratory slice until the race officially was called. I thought back to their honeymoon itinerary. They’d flown to Havana with a layover in Miami, a city where, at the time,
interracial marriage was punishable by law. Could anyone in that airport have imagined that a person of biracial background would ever hold the highest political post in the nation? My children were unfazed by Mr. Obama’s mixed race and his victory. “What’s the big deal?” my son said. “He got the most votes, right?” The sight of so many people crying during the inaugu-
ration confused my daughter, who asked, “Are they worried he might not do a good job?” Later, I decided to frame Obama’s victory in terms of my parents’ wedding and asked my mother if I could show the children the honeymoon album. She keeps it in a chest of drawers in the living room, where she now also stores a copy of the front page of our local newspaper from the day after the election. The headline reads “Change Has Come.” The little plastic album, with a yellowed line drawing of a garden on the cover, is tucked neatly in the opposite corner of the drawer, where it makes its own quiet claim on history.
Dionisia Morales is a publishing manager with Oregon State University’s department of Extension and Experiment Station Communications. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Hunger Mountain, cream city review, CALYX , South Dakota Review, and elsewhere.
When skin lies, when skin tells the truth
B y B obbie W illis So eby
stand in the cosmetics aisle at the Rite-Aid on Coburg Road, in my hometown of Eugene, considering options for a tinted moisturizer. I’ve worn eye makeup and a slick of lipstick or gloss since high school, but in my thirties and forties, my aging skin, or maybe my aging psyche, seems to need that sheer wash of camouflage and sheen. I scan the section of Cover Girl products, looking for the right shade of CG Smoothers. There is Light Ivory, Creamy Ivory, Natural Ivory, Medium Light, Beige, Creamy Beige, Soft Honey. I grimace at the sample dots of color on the makeup packages; then I look at the back of my hand. I pull the darkest shade from the shelf, Soft Honey, and hold it to my wrist. It is dusky pink next to my olive-brown skin. I need Wheat Toast or Strong Coffee with
Cream or Autumn Leaf or Bronze Medal, something deep with an undertone of yellow. I am not white or pink or beige. I am brown, and this store doesn’t have it. I leave empty-handed, my face flushed with self-consciousness and defeat.
I MOVED TO EUGENE in 1996, after spending most of my life in Southern California and then the four years after college teaching middle school and high school in American Samoa, where my parents are from. I moved to Eugene for love: In 1992, my best friend in college had invited me on her family’s annual Memorial Day rafting trip on the Santiam River in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, out near Scio, and I was smitten. On that trip, I fell head over heels for a Northwest boy, now my husband, and with the Pacific Northwest itself.
ILLUSTR ATION BY JEN WICK STUDIO
Summer 2013 Skin
My skin says that I am unusual, that I am mysterious, that I am exotic. But I am not.
Here was a place that was clean, safe, slowpaced, and stunningly beautiful. But Eugene is also overwhelmingly white. The 2010 US Census Bureau reports that the city, with its population of about 157,000 people, was 85.8 percent white. The same report shows that Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, including Samoans like myself, make up just 0.2 percent of the population. That’s point two percent. Before my husband and I had kids, I used to entertain the idea of leaving Eugene for more racially diverse digs, for a place where I would see more black hair, more black and brown and tan skin. But then I would tell myself that brown people deserve this place, too; that if I leave, it is just one less person of color in the mix, one more person of color who loses out. All of this probably has something to do with the uncontrollable urge I have to scan for and count any brown-skinned faces I can find in Eugene. I never know what to do when I see them; I know only that I feel relief and comfort when I find them.
JUST BEFORE THE HOLIDAYS a few years ago, a coworker enters my office. She wants to show me a project her husband has done for our department. “He likes to design, and he loves playing with Photoshop,” she says with both excitement and pride. She unrolls a poster and hands it to me.
Each person in our department has been rendered as a cartoon caricature in an icy blue winter landscape. We are ice-skating and sledding and skiing under a happy-holidays banner headline. My coworkers are drawn, for the most part, in similar shades of pink and peach and cream. I, however—being the only brown person in the department—have been drawn darker. In fact, I have been drawn in a shade twice, maybe three times, as dark as my actual skin. My caricature is the same color as a dark chocolate chip, and my features, save the whites of my eyes and teeth, are practically indiscernible. I think for just a second of blackface. I open my mouth to say something. Then I close it. She has no idea there is a problem, though in my peripheral vision, I see my caricature as a black splotch on the poster. I don’t have the heart to embarrass her. “Isn’t it great?” she asks. “I’ve already passed out copies to all the other departments. They’re posted throughout the building!” This time I can’t even open my mouth. I swallow my humiliation. I bite the inside of my lip and force back the urge to cry. She leaves and when a friend from another department comes by and sees the poster, she asks, “Why are you drawn like Whoopi Goldberg?” I start to feel angry. I am angry that I am embarrassed to be drawn with darker skin than I have. It makes me wonder if I’m the racist. Still another friend, a young black man from another department, comes by, and on seeing the poster goes fully ballistic. “That is completely, blatantly, inappropriately racist. It’s blackface. And you’re not even black!” he fumes. Suddenly those tears are back, stinging my eyes and rolling down my cheeks in relief. I am relieved that I am not crazy to feel violated, to feel singled out by the one thing—my skin color— that makes me different, despite all things I do to be exactly like everyone around me. My skin says that I am unusual, that I am mysterious, that I am exotic. But I am not. Growing up, my dad played Samoan pop music by The Five Stars and Papase’ea on the stereo, while my mother cooked tuna and chicken casseroles from recipes in Good Housekeeping magazine. My mother washed and peeled taro and green bananas for family feasts, while my brothers and I sat with Saturday cartoons and
Summer 2013 Skin
Beverly Cleary library books. I spent my childhood roller-skating and skateboarding and riding bikes in a sunny, Southern California cul-de-sac. I spent my school years in marching band and AP classes and pizza parlors with classmates named Juliana Yasinski, Kent Ishii, Frankie Cordova, Sandy Nguyen, Hoang Tran—not a melting pot, but a patchwork quilt. Our names and our skin color announced it: everyone was different. And in that way, we were the same.
W HEN M Y OLDER SON WA S J UST THR EE ,
we were sitting together and he looked at his arm, then at my arm. “Mommy,” he said, “my skin is white, my brother’s skin is white, and Daddy’s skin is white. You are the only one who is brown.” “Yes,” I murmured. “That’s true. I am brown like Grandpa Joe and Uncle Mark and Uncle Brian and like many of my aunties and uncles and cousins.” “Because you’re Samoan?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered. “Because I’m Samoan.” “I don’t know if I’m Samoan,” he said. “My skin is white.” Before I had kids with my white husband, I had simply assumed that our children would be dark, like me. I assumed, based solely on what I could remember from high school biology, that dark skin was dominant and light skin was recessive. Truth be told, I’d fantasized about the beautiful dark-skinned, blue-eyed babies we would make. In fact, the genetics of skin color is a little more complex, determined by three sets of genes on chromosomes 1, 2, and 4. If the genes A, B, and C are dominant alleles for dark skin, and genes a, b, and c are recessive alleles for light skin, then an AABBCC would be someone with very dark skin, and an aabbcc would be someone with very light skin. But unlike traits such as eye color or ear lobe attachment, where the dominant trait wins out and covers up the recessive, combined alleles in skin color can result in intermediate shades of darkness. So, while I had assumed that I had the dominant genetics to make our kids’ skin dark, it is more likely that my dark-skinned father and my lighter-skinned mother, whose own father was Chinese, produced in me a combination something like AaBbCc. And when that came together with what I assume is my husband’s
aabbcc combination, well, let’s just say our sons are fascinating science experiments with results I did not expect. Our older son is pinkcheeked, fair, and velvety as a rose petal. His hair is thick, straight, black. His eyes are dark and shiny as roasted coffee beans. Our younger son is tawny. His hair is curly and light-brown tinged with copper. His eyes are the color of well-steeped tea, clear and amber, flecked with gold. Perfect strangers remark on their handsomeness, their beauty. Sometimes I think they look nothing like me at all.
I AM GETTING OLD IN EUGENE. I FINISHED
my twenties, unfurled in my thirties, and am basking in my forties. Today, at forty-two, my skin has loosened a little between my chin and my neck; patches are soft as bread dough behind my upper arms and around my navel. There’s something dark and shadowy in the delicate skin around my eyes and mouth, something I can’t see directly in the mirror, but that shows up in photographs. The brown in my skin is less golden on my good days, more sallow on my tired days. But I don’t worry too much about aging. My beautiful mother taught me there is little to be done about it. I will get old. My skin will age and wrinkle. The best I can do is to seek joy, cultivate laugh lines, and avoid frown lines. The best I can do is to keep carving out my spot and to keep settling in. The best I can do is to keep working at both fitting in and distinguishing myself beyond just my skin color.
Bobbie Willis Soeby is a writer and teacher who lives in Eugene with her husband and two young sons.
Reader s write ab out SK IN
HE RANDOM BANTER OF A RECENT car trip. I don’t remember whether it was whose hand we’d grab in a tornado, who we’d bring in the bunker when North Korea strikes, or what. I wasn’t paying attention until Tian chose my brother—her uncle—before us. In the car with her: mom, dad, sister. I protested. My husband cried, “Come on! You have to choose us first! Skin of your skin, blood of your blood!” Tian is adopted. “Your immediate family,” Scott added quickly, “Not, you know, your extended family.” I wondered if the skin expression had registered. I could have asked but would that have been to address something that bugged her or just to bug her? Tian was two when we first discussed adoption. The books say to mention the birthmother, even if she’s unknown. Everybody comes from somebody. Every body comes from some body. Sitting next to Tian, though, the terms felt too adult, too obscure. So I called the birthmother her “first mom” and the foster mother her “second mom.” Simple, chronological. But when I got to me, this approach no longer seemed like clever improvisation but a pernicious ranking system. Third mom? The bronze-medal mom? Also, once you get to three, haven’t you created a series, one that could go on and on? What if she wondered whether there’d be a fourth mother, a fifth, a sixth? “After your second mom, there’s me.” Pause. “Your mom mom. Your mother mother.” I had thrown disproportionate energy into the first half of each doubling: “Your mom mom. Your mother mother.” Tian is eight. Early on, I thought that it would be exciting if Tian wanted to find her birthmother. We visit China every few years, we speak some Mandarin, so it would be very difficult but maybe not impossible. An incredible adventure! It is humbling to ref lect on an earlier
Skin of My Skin, Blood of My Blood
iteration of one’s self and think, What a freaking idiot. We’re going to China this year and Tian says she wants to meet her “second mom,” the foster mother, while there. Is it only a matter of time until she wants to look for the other woman? It is, right? She’ll want to see her face, her eyes, her body, and compare it to her own, won’t she? I will help her but I will be raging inside, What is blood? What is skin? JENNIFER RU T H , Portland
What the Flesh Wants
DAY BEFORE THE WOMAN WAS DUE, the intrauterine chaos of fetal movement, the preparation for the first caterwaul, stopped. She waited a minute for it to start up again. When it didn’t, she prayed. She believed in a kind, just God, in a world beyond the flesh. The next morning, when she wouldn’t speak and wouldn’t get out of bed, her husband called her obstetrician and drove her to Good Sisters in downtown Portland, where the wheels of medicine took over. The doctors wasted no time; just before she closed her eyes, she saw silhouettes of heads in hot white halos. A wide smile was cut across her bikini line; they lifted out the lifeless boy and went to work on him. That was two years ago. I met her a year later, in the crisis assessment and treatment center in Portland, where I worked as a mental health nurse. In that year she had never forgiven herself. She wept easily and fiercely in shame; she was bent in half by guilt and grief. There was no questioning the day her baby died. Her husband brought her to us because she wasn’t eating; her flesh hung in folds over her abdomen; she was exhausted. She didn’t want medication. She wanted to die. During her intake she told me she missed the tight skin, the pain of it, the threat it would split open and there would be her baby. She spoke of her fear that day, of faith as the only
Summer 2013 Skin
path back, of dying. It’s difficult to keep secrets of your own when faced by the very heart of human tragedy. I became pregnant when I was forty in the midst of marital ruin. We decided to stay together and have a child. It was a high-risk pregnancy. I was an elderly prima gravida. I knew the tightness of the skin. I understood that pain and desire. I’d come to enjoy resting my hands on that firm, round signature. When I saw a drop of blood on the bathroom floor in my fifth month, I had an ultrasound. It was a picture of dark sky with smudges of distant light, like nebulae. There was no fetus, only placenta. We moved on, my husband and I. My skin finally adhered to what was now empty. I could not offer that to my patient, that our flesh wants what it wants. E V ELYN SHAR EN OV, Portland
It is very difficult to keep secrets of your own when faced by the very heart of human tragedy.
Y DAUGHTER HAS MY HAIR. BABYfine and afro curly. When people see her and see me, they know we are related. But it is our skin that connects us, two people on the same footing. Our thin skin. We share stories every week of someone who touched us, someone whose happiness or sadness passed right through our too-thin skin, more like lace than membrane. She tells me about the worries of a child in the kindergarten class she helps out in. I tell her about a neighbor who lost her mother. She tells me about a hike she took and how her companion was so happy just to be outside. I tell her about a new friend at work. Sometimes we talk about the deaths of two boys from her high school, and we cry again. Sometimes we talk about how good walking feels. Our skin, hers and mine, is fragile. The dermatologist says our skin lacks integrity, although that is not the clinical name for this condition. When my daughter was little and tried to wear the clear plastic sparkly shoes, her skin broke down wherever the shoe rubbed, leaving scars that were visible for years. Labels in shirts are a problem—the edges chafe, if we are lucky, or cut if we aren’t. Sores underneath watches, bracelets, seams along pant legs. We have tried olive oil, pure vitamin E, cocoa butter, Vaseline, goat’s milk—and everything else we can find. At times one or the other of us has developed an infection starting on the surface
of our skin that needed to be healed from the inside out. Most of the time we talk about the details of our lives and the people we know. But sometimes we talk about our skin. I tell her that I have a new pair of tennis shoes that feel very smooth on the inside. She tells me that her fingers cracked and bled while she was on a rafting trip. It does not feel like an analogy or a metaphor to either of us. It feels like how we are in the world. We are very annoyed that something as basic as skin is insufficient to keep out the world with all its rough edges and hard places. But we are grateful to feel how we are connected to the world and to each other. NAN L AUR ENCE, Eugene
Waiting for Normal
VERY SIX MONTHS, I PULLED MY sleeve over the four needle holes pierced in my tender skin, hiding my inner wrist. Testing for tuberculosis began as soon as my father received his diagnosis and continued on a regular basis through childhood. We waited three days for the skin to swell, a wave of red rash to rise and expand, but I remained nonreactive. I was the one most likely to become infected, but I never did. In 1964, when my father found out he was sick, he was immediately admitted to the Oregon Tuberculosis Hospital in Salem. The imposing four-story brick building was secluded on the eastern edge of the valley surrounding Salem. Twice during his hospitalization, my mother
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With mixes like this in our everyday life, how can we see race? The variety of people we experience defies our ability to categorize and stereotype.
drove my young siblings and me to the hospital. We climbed out of the wood-paneled station wagon and waved while watching him wave back from a second-floor window. Mom was allowed inside to visit him, and on those many days we were harbored at our grandparents’ house. We became regulars at the zoo. Grandpa bought peanuts to toss to Packy, the newest elephant. After a while I began to forget what my father looked like. When my father finally returned to our Grants Pass home, he carried a painting of a clown on black velvet under his good arm. Under his other arm, he protected a scar that extended like a smile between a spot two inches below his right nipple, along the ribs around to his midback. The bad lung tissue was gone, but he would turn his head away when we were close to his face. In the evenings, he pulled up his shirt and asked one of us to scratch his back, then directed us to run our fingernails ever so lightly over the rose-colored scars. When it was my turn I would absently move my hand while absorbed in watching TV. The scar was thicker than my finger was wide and stretched twelve inches. Scratching took forever and was something I didn’t like to do, but he said the skin itched constantly. The hospital closed soon afterward when medications alone treated tuberculosis. For years the clown painting hung in my parents’ hallway. Placing my fingertip in one corner, I could trace a path diagonally over the soft black velvet and never once touch the vivid oil paint brushstrokes that outlined the grinning face. K ELLI GR INICH , McMinnville
T H A S BEEN SA ID TH AT R ACE relations are complicated today, and I fully agree. The backgrounds and behavior of people can no longer be assumed based on the color of their skin. Down the street from my home is an uncommon mixed family: a white lesbian couple with two black children. The family next to them is “blended,” but not in the ordinary sense. The couple is white with two grown children living with them along with two much younger, adopted black children. Also in the immediate neighborhood are Koreans; Chinese; Vietnamese; native Hawaiians; whites; and our family, white and Iu-Mien (a minority Asian ethnic group). My children’s friends are of all ethnic groups but, like my children, many are of mixed heritage and appear racially ambiguous. This appearance has provided my children with strange experiences. When my oldest boy transferred to a new elementary school, he was placed in an English language learners class. Although he is a native English speaker, the school officials assigned him to the class based on his appearance without checking his records. A younger son was called racial slurs by an Iu-Mien classmate, in a language only my son and he understood. When my son reported it, the teacher said that since he was white, he could not possibly understand what was meant. My daughter was put in a reading class where the teacher mistakenly addressed her in Spanish. The teacher assumed she was Hispanic because of her appearance. My daughter reported a similar incident involving a girlfriend who is also of white and Asian heritage. A Hispanic performing group was visiting her school and they brought her on stage to participate. They spoke to her in Spanish during the routine, and she did not know what they were saying. It was very embarrassing! With mixes like this in our everyday life, how can we see race? The variety of people we experience defies our ability to categorize and stereotype. We have to give up on our preconceptions, because even though they were probably wrong from the beginning, now we do not even know if we are applying them to the right people. We can relate to people only as individuals and as Americans in general. Hopefully, as I have already seen in my children, racial stereotyping will just become something ridiculously useless. SCOT T R ICHARDSON, Portland
Summer 2013 Skin
LOOK WHITE. WHEN I TELL PEOPLE I am Mexican, they say, “You don’t look Mexican.” When I tell them I am a Mexican Jew, they say, “I didn’t realize there were Mexican Jews.” It happens with educated people, and it strikes me that we have allowed racism to live in the cracks of political correctness which stresses a superficial form of “acceptance,” of “tolerance” rather than a profound respect for other cultures and their contributions to our society. The way people react to my whiteness when faced with the facts is very telling. This is not about the color of my skin. This is about ignorance. This is about us failing to teach our children that Europeans came to this continent and bred, for centuries! This is about us thinking we need to stress to our children that they must overlook color. Color of your skin is the least of it. Color blindness is counterproductive if we do not tell the story of who we are and why. I would be no more Mexican if I’d inherited my grandmother’s dark skin. I am profoundly Mexican in the way I think, express myself, and interact with others. I would be no more Jewish if I looked more Sephardic, like my mother. I have a Jewish soul and my code of ethics is a part of me, whether or not I have curly dark hair or my father’s Ashkenazi nose. We need to bring the discussion to the fore, in our schools and in our workplaces, that people of color come in shades of white. And we need to start seeing color as irrelevant, not because ethnicity is irrelevant but precisely because it is the culture of a person that tells her story, not the color of her skin. FLOR A SUSSELY, Portland
Theology of the Body
E H A D HO T, S MO O T H S K I N , hairless without blemish. He was my lover. She has dark skin from the Mediterranean. Everyone says she is beautiful. She is my mother. His skin is white and cracked speaking of history and the good times gone by. He is my husband. I have scars on my skin. I am a woman of many scars. My son has skin that confused everyone in eastern Oregon. Was he Mexican? Was he Indian? I would get angry. “He is Japanese, you
morons!” My son got angry at me for getting angry. “It is my skin,” he said. “I get to own the response to the morons. You are white.” They tell me that death is liberation from the body. I’m not convinced separating from the body is such a great thing. We know ourselves by responding to the pain and pleasure of our physical lives. If my soul separated from my earthly vessel I don’t think I would even recognize myself. The priest at church talks about the resurrection of the body. That sounds better then leaving the body altogether. I would rather have a soul in a body than a soul just floating around somewhere. The problem is, which body will I get? I really want my twenty-six-year-old body, not my fifty-six-year-old body. I was admired for my white skin when I lived in Japan. Dark skin meant work in the fields and poverty. Sometimes strangers pointed at me and called me “gaijin.” It was a cruel teasNext theme: The City ing. I thought of others who had different skin in different countries. Compassion lit my soul. For the fall/winter 2013 issue of Oregon Humanities magazine, My body was a teacher to my soul. we invite readers to send Posts A while back I attended my friend’s funeral submissions on the theme in White Swan. It was in the Shaker church. I “The City.” Writers may wish to remember driving to the church that morn- explore concepts such urbaning. It was the day that the astronauts had their ism, suburbanism, ruralism, funeral. The President went to that funeral. place-making, people living When I arrived at the beautiful white church together, people living apart— on the hill I noticed that President Bush wasn’t using history, literature, law, politics, and any other discipline there, only my friend’s relatives. The family was of the humanities. poor, so the giveaway consisted of gadgets from the dollar store. My friend who’d died used to Send your submission (400 describe an empty belly as a kid, working in the words maximum), by Sep forest for a big lumber company from the time tember 16, 2013, to posts@ he was fourteen. He would give money to his oregonhumanities.org. Submisfamily. He told me of fishing in the Columbia. sions may be edited for space Members of his tribe asked him to help in heal- or clarity. ing ceremonies. He didn’t go to space, but he deserved the funeral of an astronaut. Why are some bodies ignored while other bodies are praised and worshipped? I don’t know. Perhaps the human race will be granted mercy for its cruelty toward the others with different skin. Skin creates soul; soul creates skin. I hold the new baby living across the street. I hold tight and try to bind our souls. Deep wisdom of embrace, push us forward. RENEE C AUBISENS, Pendleton
Read. Talk. Think.
things that make you s ay o. hm .
The Stud Book
The Portland writer’s second novel follows a circle of friends, all of whom are coping with some aspect of sex and childrearing. A new mother worried about losing her identity, an Oregon Zoo biologist who can’t conceive, a happily childless sex-ed teacher—through these characters Drake explores humanity’s drive to reproduce and the indispensability of community.
Lost Horse Press, 2013
To have a new book by an Oregon writer considered for Read. Talk. Think., please send review copies to Oregon Humanities magazine, 813 SW Alder St., Suite 702, Portland, OR 97205.
The sixth collection from Oregon’s prolific poet laureate gathers 182 poems from a dozen chapbooks in a hefty volume. These poems showcase Petersen’s talent for picking out the smallest details—a stitch, a brushstroke, a drop of water— in travels, myth, the routine of everyday life, and wringing insight from them.
Summer 2013 Skin
Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness
Lyons Press, 2013
Not long after moving to Portland, journalist Rebecca Lerner accepted an assignment from a local blog to live for a week on only the wild plants she could forage from the city’s sidewalks and yards. It didn’t go well—she was near starvation by the fifth day—but it prompted her to learn more about the wild foods of the Northwest and, in the process, gain a new perspective on her urban environment.
Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism
Jacob Darwin Hamblin
Oxford University Press, 2013
Today, cities around the world are scrambling to prepare for the rising sea levels and extreme weather that accompany global climate change, but some people have been thinking about human-caused environmental catastrophe for a long time. In this disconcerting history, Jacob Darwin Hamblin, a professor at Oregon State University, follows the unexpected role of Cold War-era plans to wage war through weather, plate tectonics, and disease in developing contemporary environmental consciousness.
Keeping the Swarm: New and Selected Essays
Wordcraft of Oregon, 2012
We Heard the Heavens Then: A Memoir of Iran
Simon & Schuster, 2012
Corvallis writer Aria Minu-Sepher grew up the privileged son of an air force major general—a national hero, at that—in 1970s Iran, but his shel tered life was shattered by the revolution of 1979. In this lyrical memoir, newly issued in paperback, Minu-Sepher relates a child’s experience of the fall of the Shah’s regime and the violence and uncertainty that racked Tehran in its aftermath.
In this new volume, La Grande poet and educator George Venn collects personal essays from his fifty-year career, including a number of unpublished works. From the author’s bittersweet childhood in Western Washington through his sojourns in fascist Spain and communist China and adopted Eastern Oregon home, Keeping the Swarm recalls memories of people shaped by the places they inhabit.
Harbortown Event Center 325 Second St. SE Bandon, OR 97411 (541) 329-0112 washedashore.org
When Bandon artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi decided to do something about the plastic debris washing up on the shore near her home, she went big—really big. With the help of more than one thousand volunteers from the local community, Haseltine Pozzi collected, cleaned, and sorted tons of ocean-borne plastic—bottles, bags, Styrofoam, flip-flops, nylon rope, and various unidentifiable pieces— and assembled them into enormous sculptures of the sea animals most affected by the detritus. From a distance, the creatures look bright and cheerful, but close inspection reveals an alarming pile of debris. “The sculptures are becoming ambassadors of the sea,” Haseltine Pozzi says. The exhibit, which has been on tour for the last two years, is on display in Bandon through the end of 2013.
Oregon Humanities connects Oregonians with ideas that change lives and transform communities. Oregon Humanities programs encourage Oregonians to learn about and discuss social, cultural, and public issues.
The Conversation Project offers Oregon nonprofits free programs that engage community members in thoughtful, challenging conversations about ideas critical to our daily lives and our state’s future. Think & Drink is a happy-hour conversation series that brings Portlanders together to discuss provocative ideas. Idea Lab is a summer institute for Oregon teens and teachers who use the humanities to consider the pursuit of happiness and how it shapes our culture. Humanity in Perspective (HIP) is a college-level humanities course offered in Portland. HIP provides economically and educationally disadvantaged individuals the opportunity to study the humanities with the guidance of Reed College professors. Oregon Humanities magazine is a triannual publication devoted to exploring important and timely ideas from a variety of perspectives and to stimulating reflection and public conversation. Public Program Grants provide financial support for nonprofit organizations across Oregon to conceive and implement public humanities programs. Oregon Humanities also convenes reading and discussion groups, and hosts panel presentations on topics of public relevance and concern.
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