By Dakky Comics
I first moved to Portland Christmas of 2015. Don’t get me wrong, I was born here, and my family is based here, but I’ve never really lived here. I moved young and grew up in Washington, traveled around in California, then came back here to be with family. So while I’m an Oregonian, Oregon is brand new to me. When you live on the west coast you frequently hear of Portland. How weird it is. The food. How everyone has dyed hair. The hipsters. The zines. The art scene. The microbrews. The hiking. The street art. The comics. The tech scene. The body hair. And how safe Portland is for queer people. People come here from all around the US to transition or be gendered correctly on a more consistent basis; Portland probably has the largest Pride Parade in the Northwest, and homoromantics hold hands all throughout this city. There are meetups, support groups, programs for queer youth, acceptance.
Here I think Portland is just an accepting place, according to hearsay. Then I get here. I’ve gotten my fair share of cultural whiplash during my travels, but nothing prepared me for a realization that just because you’re down with the queer community does not automatically mean that you are down for people of color.
I used to think that either you were down with the liberal agenda or you weren’t. I thought that we were all behind the “nobody’s free until we’re all free” mentality; that we were all down with liberation of queer people, people of color, freedom of religion—I thought we all had a similar mindset and sensibilities, but no. There are plenty of racists, both queer and straight, in Portland. This changed my parallel roads into a crossroads. Here we’ve got plenty of queer allies, but racial allies are hard to find. Xenophobia, racism, and tonedeafness run rampant here. I’m getting tired of “It’s Portland” and “Welcome to Portland” as an excuse for this state of things.
It’s like a rush of electricity when you’re finally in a space—even for a moment—where you’re finally not the minority for a little while.
I find myself aggressively befriending people of color, and then once I have them, I keep them close. I joined Black Lives Matter just to be around people of color at least once a week so I could breathe. Are PoC moving away? I wouldn’t be surprised. Many everyday conversational interactions are about defending my friends and me, explaining why my experiences and anger are valid to white people who ask me to explain. You can only take so much explaining yourself before you start to immediately resent interactions that start heading to the “please explain why you’re valid” realm of conversation.
When I leave my house, I constantly pay attention to the race ratios around me. At any given time I can recite the ratio of white to non white people in the area, and color me excited when the ratio starts to become equal or starts tipping in the favor of PoC. I always notice. It’s like a rush of electricity when you’re finally in a space—even for a moment—where you’re finally not the minority for a little while.
I ended up the only person of color (and one of three women) in a bar full of twenty people the other day. When that happens I take a moment to look for signs of trouble, specifically the white supremacist brand of trouble. I check skin for European Kindred Shields (Russel Courtier, who killed a black teen by running him over in his truck in Troutdale, a few blocks from my home, was an EK gang member); 14s, 88s, or 1488 supremacist numeric code; Nordic rune tattoos or mjølnir weapon jewelry (The Local Hammerskins); swastikas; 3 Percenter line and star tattoos; KKK insignia; white power handsigns (I’m livid that they’re trying to turn the OK symbol into a white power symbol. Seriously, screw off); confederate flags; or American flags being flown like “xenophobic and proud of it” flags.
It is crazy how many ways there are to be under-the-radar racist. It’s crazy that white folks have so many hate groups. Really, we get it. How many do you need? It’s also crazy that hardly any of these groups are listed as gangs in the police database. White supremacists have killed and harassed plenty of good people, especially as of late, and only person of color groups are seen as gangs worth pursuing by the police. According to police data reported in The Oregonian, 18% of the PPD’s gang list are white and 64% are black, even though only 8% of Portland’s population is black. Because double standards. The story of our lives.
Being black, it’s…a stressful experience preparing for a job interview. Trying to fashion your hair in what you think might be seen as the most professional way, knowing your interviewer is probably a Portlander without much experience with PoC or their professionalism culture.
I’ve also had a hard time with finding work in Portland. Being black, it’s already a stressful experience preparing for a job interview. Trying to fashion your hair in what you think might be seen as the most professional way, knowing your interviewer is probably a Portlander without much experience with PoC or their professionalism culture. Most people of color worry about having to deal with job transitions and instability because of misinformed people thinking that dreads are dirty, that afros are militant, that bantu knots or afro puffs or braids are less professional than any way hair would grow out of a white scalp. Not even getting a call back in the first place because your government name isn’t european.
Then there’s the matter of keeping your job, working with white people who are most likely unused to working with people of color—especially since in Oregon you can legally be fired without cause. I actually got an email from an employer telling me not to come back to work after one week because I “didn’t fit in with the culture of the atmosphere.” Yes friends, that happened. Not because of anything I did or said in particular. You can actually be fired for being different—and by being a person of color in Portland you are very different than the norm.
I work in childcare. Children are my life. I sometimes saw teachers become less patient with children of color at my older jobs. I call people on it when I can, and I show children of color saintly patience. They’re more likely to face toxic masculinity at a young age, more likely to be told not to cry, to be told to curb enthusiasm, to be seen as aggressive or as a threat—partially because a lot of black youth end up growing taller faster at young ages, and can be heads taller than other children their age.
I can’t help but wonder if white-run daycares can foster racial empowerment and self love in young children of color, or at least treat children with the same amount of patience. Because of the color of their skin, children of color are born into worlds of hardship—the school to prison pipeline, white supremacy, police brutality, a eurocentric school education system that doesn’t validate them or let them know that their ancestors mattered beyond slavery and the civil rights movement.
I look at the bright smiling faces of these young black children and think, “I’m so sorry that you have a 1 in 3 chance of going to jail. I’m so sorry that you’re going to be racially profiled by aggressive cops. I’m so sorry that society is like this. I can at least give you all the hugs you want and march in the streets with signs and call my representatives in Oregon so you don’t end up a statistic. I’ll do what I can, little guy.”