The State of Black Oregon

Dan Petegorsky

The State of Black Oregon reveals stark disparities. Seven months after the inauguration of the first Black president, a statewide report on the condition of African Americans in Oregon reveals that black Oregonians remain at or near the bottom of every meaningful social and economic measure.

That's how the introduction to the Portland Urban League's newly released report begins - and it tells a disturbing story that speaks volumes about the persistence of structural racism.


  • ScubaDew (unverified)

    I think it's worth mentioning that, even though our state constitution was drafted with a amendment specifically forbidding slavery, it used to be literally illegal for blacks to live in Oregon.

    Like most racism in America, people tried to justify this by couching it in economic terms. Oregon farmers claimed they were afraid that rich plantation owners would come with an army of black slaves or cheap black laborers, which they thought would edge out more "modest" family farmers who couldn't afford such labor.

    So, even though we Oregonians consider ourselves members of a more "progressive" state than most, we have a very questionable history regarding race, especially regarding African Americans.

    Sadly, this history is seldom discussed or even known among many Oregonians. What we need is an honest public dialogue about how the suffering within Oregon's black community is residue of our state's past attitudes regarding race. Only then will we be able to even start tackling these problems.

  • backbeat (unverified)

    Thanks for this post.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    a statewide report on the condition of African Americans in Oregon reveals that black Oregonians remain at or near the bottom of every meaningful social and economic measure.

    But a leader like Cornel West prefers to see his fellow blacks remain at or near the bottom instead of seeking better incomes as if that would be playing the white man's game. He does this while he enjoys living in a million dollar home, makes over $300 K per year at Princeton, wears thousand-dollar suits, drives expensive cars, and refuses to teach at historically black colleges like Morehouse or Howard because they won't pay him enough. He even criticizes black parents for sending their kids to good Ivy League colleges so they could graduate with great income potential (while he's at Harvard and then Princeton).

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Wordsmith (unverified)

    I'm sorry, Bob; does Cornel West have a summer home in Oregon? Is there a reason he's brought into the discussion other than to point out what he doesn't do for the black community?

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    Wow, Bob; hard to know how to respond to that. You're ignoring a report that presents scores of pages of data about the actual condition of Oregon's African American population; suggesting that there's somehow a contradiction between acknowledging the reality of that condition and the desire to seek a better future; and pinning this all on your resentment of what I guess you're too restrained to call an "uppity Negro" like Cornel West?

    Tell me - did you even bother to glance at some of the truly inspirational stories in the Urban League report?

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    Dan P:

    Tell me - did you even bother to glance at some of the truly inspirational stories in the Urban League report?

    Bob T:

    I like the Urban League. I'm just wondering what a jerk like Cornel West (he's not "uppity", but a hypocrite) would say about black unemployment and low incomes in Oregon, since he seems to want it to exist quite a bit while he lives in his million dollar home and makes $300K.

    Is he helping? I think Thomas Sowell offers much better advice, but he doesn't even make the list of the 100 or more most influential black Americans. That's a sad commentary on where we are all these years since 1865.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

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    Tell you what, Bob - I'm gonna cut you some slack and figure the heat's getting to you; I won't even try responding.

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    Bob T.: I'm just wondering what a jerk like Cornel West (he's not "uppity", but a hypocrite) would say about black unemployment and low incomes in Oregon, since he seems to want it to exist quite a bit while he lives in his million dollar home and makes $300K.

    So you think that advocating for others to become richer, if you yourself are rich, makes you a hypocrite?

    What's next? Saying nobody can argue that starving people need food if they're not starving themselves?

    Bob, you need to go back to high-school and learn the definition of the word "hypocrisy". It doesn't mean what you think it means.

  • Boats (unverified)

    Structural racism? Is that where an academic race hustler blasts a white cop for daring to question him in an official capacity while in the former's domicile?

    Or is structural racism why hip hop nation can't keep it's pants up? Is that structureless look a whitey conspiracy to keep young black men looking like totally unemployable dumbasses?

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    Well now, "Boats" - I guess you like your racism just plain straight up, no structure necessary? I mean, really, does it even matter if "they" dress up nice and get themselves well paying jobs at, say, elite universities, since to you they'd still be "hustlers" regardless?

    Would it be too much to ask you to even skim the Urban League's report about what it really means to be black in Oregon? Or would you rather just keep spouting off about some incident in Massachusetts or sagging? No need to respond - it's really just a rhetorical question.

  • Boats (unverified)

    What is the point of discussing any of this?

    I am fairly certain that five or six generations from now, my progeny will still hear an earful from various groups of people who will never move on from all manner slights real and imagined, and liberals, yes, liberals will still be just as racially bigoted as ever.

    Joe Biden knows a clean, articulate black American. I know of several more, but I don't patronize them, or like Barbara Boxer, remind them of their place. I didn't tell Miguel Estrada that he wasn't an authentic Hispanic.

    If the Urban League would ever bother to take some shared responsibility for the fate of their own community, I'd be more inclined to listen. I don't get into sympathizing with failure.

    The report in a nutshell:

    Throw more money at us. Give us better teachers (cuz dat really be da problem, not the home life or general anti-academic achievement mentality). Get softer on crime. Stop us from making poor financial decisions. Don't gentrify our neighborhoods.

    That about cover it?

  • andy (unverified)

    I don't have any idea what the Urban League is trying to say. I work in an office environment with people of all different colors. These people all earn salaries according to their qualifications, not their skin colors. Engineers who have black skin color make just as much money as engineers with other color of skin. People who have good communication skills, good work habits and the right education do just fine regardless of which country their grandfather was born in. People who don't bother to stay in school, can't read or write and don't bother to show up for work don't get far in life. Skin color isn't destiny.

  • rw (unverified)

    Any reports anywhere about the state of Native Oregon, or Native America? Anybody bothered to look? Just wonderin'. I"m headed back to SD for one more ceremony on Bear Butte, and so my thoughts continue to ache for the impoverished ignorance, continued, in our media and in our meditations: that we should only parse the Big Three - Black, White, Hispanic.

  • Jim (unverified)

    Boats wrote: "I am fairly certain that five or six generations from now, my progeny will still hear an earful from various groups of people who will never move on from all manner slights real and imagined, and liberals, yes, liberals will still be just as racially bigoted as ever."

    As scared a man as you often come across, Boats, little has scared me more than the consideration that you might actually have progeny.

  • Neil (unverified)

    Dan, have you donated to the Urban League of Portland?

    I strongly suggest BO'ers give as much $$ as they possibly can to help Negroes.

  • Buckman Res (unverified)

    ” tells a disturbing story that speaks volumes about the persistence of structural racism.”

    The election of Barack Obama has laid to rest the myth of “institutional/structural racism” in America, much to the dismay of those who have built careers seeking to divide Americans along ethnic and economic lines.

    While these purveyors of hate and disunity are secretly incensed that America chose a black man as president the rest of us have moved on, working and living side by side in a multi-ethnic country where everyone is an “American”.

    If Mr. Petegorosky were sincerely interested in ameliorating disparities in income and crime rates among ethnic groups he would look at rational explanations for the problem instead of parroting the talking points of those desperate to cling to the “Racist America” stereotype.

  • rw (unverified)

    While I kind of think you are being extreme, Buckman, and embodying the black and white (scuse the trite and terribly punnish nature of that phrase) simplistic stance you tack onto Daniel Pete, I do wish DP would broaden his research when he raises a post, as he is much-respected, well-spoken and well-concepted to boot.

    I do not believe that me posting one-pointed scholarship would be the right remedy for the distressing lack of diversity in the work of all of the writers here. The lack of ability to incorporate more than just three primary ethnic groups in any of your thoughts is a clear parrotage of the state of contemporary media. Thought you were better than this.

    I no longer spend hours and days up here like the regulars. And speculation about politics or real politics as a hobby are not sufficiently enough of my life this decade to make me a meaningful poster. So my offerings, which would tend to be just as homogenous in focus as the stuff I'm seeing here... would only be counterpoint or "the other extreme" instead of a good example set for others to spend fifteen extra seconds on yoru google searches and copy and paste in two extra ethnic groups per post just to make a good show of broader-spectrum thought than that which you imbibe in mainstream media.

    I confess to not having the energy to set the example I'm pining for. Tonight I played with the idea of going ahead and watching the threads, and doing my part to specifically research your topics, with native focus only. So as to at LEAST ensure that SOMEWHERE in my world besides in my particular realm of volunteer organizational work will there be any kind of representation of more than just the spam of blackwhitehispanic. But I don't know if it would make any difference, if anyone would give a rat's ass, nor whether it might help others to slowly expand themselves to be real researchers instead of passenger-door gunners.

    All that said, if I were to choose one person I'd wish for extra threads to the weaving, it would surely at least be Mr. Petegorsky. He's not, it strikes me, the black and white moron you posit,Bucky. He is a responsive poster who stays on target.

    And he is responding, targeted, to what is percolating in this thread.

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    RW - just one note here: I focused this post on the Urban League's report because it was just released and in the news. In other words, I was highlighting a very important piece of research that others had produced and that deserved highlighting. So while I understand where you’re going re. broadening research on other forms of structural inequity, the Urban League was, understandably, focusing on a particular constituency; I’m not suggesting any “hierarchy of oppression.”

    Buckman: Sigh. I’m guessing that you are responding to a higher truthiness, and not to the data in the report, which shows that even though, yes, we elected a black President – an extraordinary moment in American history – the “State of Black Oregon” is no better than it was 17 years ago.

    Presented with such an overwhelming array of information on these continuing disparities, your response seems to be to, what? Pretend all is good because we have a black President? Because if Obama can do it anyone can, which means that anyone who can’t has only themselves to blame?

    Oregon has had close to the highest unemployment rate in the country; other states are doing quite a bit better. Your conclusion would be, what? That the fact others are doing better means the jobs really are out there, and Oregon’s unemployed are just too damned stupid or lazy and need to get over it? Hardly.

    Yes, we live in a multi-ethnic country, but we hardly live “side by side” – just look at any housing statistics. You may have “moved on,” but for many of us and for those you’ve chosen to leave behind, there’s still work to do. As the major policy battles now raging in DC show, Obama’s election didn’t in and of itself usher in the Millennium.

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    One other note about the fairy tale of "living side by side." Former King County (WA) Executive Ron Sims, who is now Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, put it eloquently speaking yesterday in Memphis:

    "In this country, place matters,” he said. “We can predict by ZIP code morbidity rates. We can predict health. We can predict illnesses that people will get – lifetime earnings of adults and children. In the 21st century, place should never matter. … This is the 21st century. Your ZIP code should be indifferent to what is happening in your life.”
  • Pat Ryan (unverified)

    Carter's introduction The unemployment rate for African American men age 20 to 24 has risen 17 percent since the late 1990s.

    page 20 We must put into place specific programs to ensure that African Americans and other people of color acquire the skills necessary to compete for new energy and green collar jobs and business opportunities.

    Back in '97, I was working in a large tradeshow and museum display shop on the Eastside waterfront. We had central european immigrants, Mexicans, Asians, lotsa local white Oregonians, and one black alchoholic janitor who was kept on because he was the owner's special project.

    I was in chage of the metal shop and asked the plant supervisor why we didn't have any black employees on our 100+ workforce. He told me that we didn't get applications from African Americans, qualified or otherwise, and allowed me to head out to the Urban League to see if I could recruit some kids.

    I sat in the Urban League office and cooled my heels for an hour or so, and when some minor functionary there finally deigned to notice me, it was all about patronizing crap to help me fill my "minority quota", a problem of which I was unaware until that moment of enlightenment.

    It wasn't about me mentoring a couple of kids and teaching them the required skills for a career in metal fabrication. It was somehow about how their kids were above the kind of work that I've spent my life doing.

    After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing over a couple of weeks, they finally sent me a 50something guy with serious attendance and substance abuse issues. He lasted a few days and was gone.

    So too with this 144 page magnum opus. Maybe I misunderstand their mission, but if it's about writing colorful brochures excoriating the rest of us for our myopic inaction, at best or ongoing racism at worst, then hey, Mission Accomplished.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Dan, can the Portland Urban League truly be considered qualified to opine when they posit that electing a black president would change things over night?

    Some persistent and hagging truths that have little to do with structural, pervasive or generational racism:

    Children having children Fathers not sticking around to be fathers Rampant crime Drug and alcohol abuse Persistent refusal to complete a High School Education Lack of peer leadership models

    The items above know no racial, national or socio-economic barrier, however some groups fall prey to these and other issues disproportionately.

  • Jess Barton (unverified)

    I was disappointed to see that the report does not discuss the most significant civil rights bill the legislature considered last session: the racial/ethnic-impact act, House Bill 2352 (whose primary proponent was Rep. Chip Shields, D-Portland). It would have required preparation of "[a] racial and ethnic impact statement * * * for any legislation that may, if enacted, affect the racial and ethnic composition of the criminal offender population." The legislature then would know, going in, that proposed legislation would have such effects (in much the same way that fiscal-impact statements let the legislature know, going in, how much proposed legislation would cost). Although the Comm'n on Black Affairs was actively involved with HB 2352, notably, the Urban League (and the NAACP) were not.

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    Well, I guess we're back into "culture of poverty" arguments. My time is short at the moment, so as an example: in response to the idea that drug and alcohol abuse and "rampant crime" have little to do with structural racism, I recommend Bob Herbert's column this morning:

    "While whites use illegal drugs at substantially higher percentages than blacks, black men are sent to prison on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men."

  • rw (unverified)

    Hey DP, yep, I see your point. I was speaking in general about the lack of attention throughout this entire site for all the years I've been watching it. I am guilty of hijacking a purposively-focused thread to make my point yet again....... but when pple start arguing about how blacks don't have it bad, etc... it MIGHT be a novel approach to do some comparatives with more than just BLACKwhiteHISPANIC as the incantation! :)....

    But Dan, I get what you are saying, and thanks for being patient with my abuse of your topicality.

  • rw (unverified)

    Jess - that racial/ethnic impact statement would have allowed people like me and mine to somehow be heard on the topic of bulk leaf tobacco taxes. Our ceremonial life has been deeply impacted negatively since the CRAP tobacco began to also be taxed at forty percent more.

    The cheap stuff (TOP) you see junkies on the street rolling but never see smoked in a microbrew-drinking, organic gardening, occassionally-xtc-using hipster household...because it ain't a nice smoke. What it WAS was an inexpensive access to tobacco to offer back to the earth.

    We use it as tobacco ties, offerings placed in the earth every morning and night or when we are moved to pray; it is used to give to another as offering when taking counsel in spiritual matters or to offer to someone we have asked to directly assist us in the making of sacreds (objects used ceremonially), etc....

    Nobody asked the question. Nobody cares now either. I've sent missives to Reps and nobody much considered it of interest! Their fascination with Indians goes only so far....

    <h2>Legislation that would enforce the asking of this question, and NOT just among your friends on the freakin' hill.... it's important to make sure that impact statements are gained from the key informants, not just from observers in academia, nor thinkers on the Hill. There needs to be a clear dedication to checking in with the folks themselves. This would allow us to get a clear picture of what is happening in Black PORTLAND, and Black SALEM, and Black NEWBERG. Not just the permutations of study gathered up at PSU, or U of O et al.</h2>

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