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Location: Portland, Oregon

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Monday, June 02, 2008

The Other Demon

It's always good to talk about race. Unless It's by Matt Davis, who I've always felt is a small-minded, opportunistic little dick. Anyway, he in turn links here, which is a blog that may or may not be written by Catrina Bush.

In my wanderings and commentings, I pointed out how less stupid race relations seemed to be in Chicago, based on my completely limited experiences with that place. I also declined to muse on the possible reasons why things are the way they are, here in Portland:

"Hm. Kinda simplistic and ostensibly about race? Sounds like Matt Davis time (tm)!

I recently visited a wonderous place called Chicago. And you know what? Black people and white people routinely interacted there. When they did, there was nothing whatsoever to suggest that one party was superior or inferior to the other: it was just two people talking.

And gawd help me;I even felt like I could criticize the views of a black person there, and they would understand that I could do that because they're just a person, and not some sort of endangered species who will wilt away under the glare of rational debate.

There was none of the immediate defensiveness that accompanies these interactions in Portland. Now there's a nasty chicken or egg question here as to why that might be- and I'm not gonna be the one to ask it. I'm leaving that to some other arbiter of what is racism and what is not."

** **

Well, a quick reminder: until the election of 2004, it was literally illegal to be black and live in Oregon. This was leftover language from the original state constitution, and was left on the books...For some reason. Probably for the same reason that it was still law until recently (still is?) that, if you drove an automobile in Portland, you needed to have one of your servants running ahead, proclaiming "horseless carriage!", and why there are limitations on how many penguins one may marry in Iowa. That kinda shit.

As we all learned in school, Oregon's motto is "The Union". It was created out of the greater Oregon Territory in 1859, a moment in our country's history that was rife with endless debate about slavery and crap compromises that pleased no one.
So Oregon was created specifically as a non-slave state, which the lawmakers of the time chose to interpret as non-black.

Why? Well, I seem to have sold my copy of The Making of the Oregon Constitution, so I can't tell you right now, nor do I have anything right in front of me regarding whether or not this law was ever officially enforced.
It's more or less a matter of public record that the real estate interests of Oregon took it upon themselves to arbitrarily assign where certain races could and could not live, which may have had far more to do with it than law.
And then of course, there's Vanport.

Anyway, we struck the race-specific language off the books in 2004. In the ballot measure book for that year, there was an argument for removing it, and no argument against, which rarely happens. Would have been fucking hilarious to see someone's rationalization for keeping it there.
Appeal To Tradition, I suspect.

So the thing is, Portland being what it is, and above-mentioned geniuses doing all the debating about race, it has led to this stupid thing where on one hand one must always admit racism for living in such a white state(especially when speaking to some defensive transplant from The South), while at the same time any attempts toward soothing whatever racial divides there are are inevitably met by a ton of folks yelling 'condescension!' and 'paternalism!'.
Basically, you can't win, and professional shit-stirrers everywhere enjoy the hell out of this, rather than working toward some sort of common ground. This may be exactly why it's damn hard to have a decent interaction between the races in Portland; too many opportunists enjoy the set up we already have:
Defensiveness or bellicosity being the only two choices available.

Then of course, the next asshole on that stupid blog comments:
"Matt, you are just full of white guilt. You know, since you hate white people and you hate being white, I know of a way you can at least feel like you're black. All you have to do is call white people racist names and rob a 7-11."

Sigh...This particular asshole signed themselves 'Not Guilty'.

As I've noted before, the realities of equality occasionally involve one being judged by what they say, what they write, what they think. If you would prefer on these occasions to remind me that what you have to say is special due to your race, I'll just file it under all the other racist bullshit I've had to listen to in my life, growing up in the U. S. of fuckin' A., and that goes for all of you.

Walking away, shaking my damn head, as always. The Feast of Pure Reason and the Joy of Being With People.



Blogger George Popham said...

I've discovered a really good question to ask people when the shit storm over race gets whipped up.

Is there any difference between race and culture?

If they answer no, then you can point out that this was a central doctrine of the Nazi party (they call it essentialism in some places, romantic nationalist bullshit in others)

If they answer yes, then ask why you can't walk in the front door of the local Jewish/Japanese/Chinese/West African/Caribbean *cultural* center and join up? "No, seriously, I like steel drums and jerk chicken, I want to join your culture." (In other words, it would cause a fair amount of social discomfort, or at least require an explanation.)

These questions aren't difficult to come up with at least provisional answers for, but the fun comes in when you continue the conversation and insist (politely) that we all use the terms race and culture consistently. I find that the asshole swinging the biggest moral club is usually equivocating between those two terms to keep their high ground.

Of course, this is assuming a conversation can actually be had.

12:06 PM  
Blogger rich bachelor said...

Funny thing is, I always ask: are you talking about race or about class? Economics-wise, that is.

2:53 PM  
Blogger George Popham said...

Yeah, that's another angle that usually strikes too close to what is *really* being discussed.

Class and culture are often conflated too. I've heard people insist that two people from different economic classes can never have the same cultural background.

You usually get that from people who had a bit too much Marxist influence somewhere in there (known at Evergreen as 'critical theory' for some incomprehensible reason - all it means is Marxist lit crit.) And, like the romantic/nazi/essentialists the people who don't distinguish culture and class don't usually know where their opinion originally came from.

3:09 PM  
Blogger George Popham said...

oh, and about mondegreens again: Deb had never heard the Cocteau Twins so I played her a random sample. I chose 'Sugar Hicccup' and we both heard "sugar hiccup on cherrios, sugar hiccuuuuuuuup." She immediately got it. It's pretty much a tissue of mondies.

12:56 PM  

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