Anna Griffin’s column in Saturday’s Oregonian (“Dan Saltzman flap a reminder of what a small town Portland is in civic circles”) focused mainly on describing Portland politics as an insular affair. It ended, though, on a perfect display of “Portland exceptionalism.” By that I mean the sense that what might hold true in other cities about the problems of a culture of political insiderism is rendered neutral here because, well, our own sh*t smells good.
Consider Griffin’s conclusion: that such matters are overlooked because this is a great place to live:
Change comes from crisis, and we haven't seen a lot of that in Oregon recently. Yes, we need jobs and our schools are in trouble. But this remains a fantastic and fantastically easy place to live, particularly compared to other big cities.
Try squaring that with a new report from PSU and the Coalition of Communities of Color that was presented to the City Council this week, and that the Oregonian covered in an article whose headline screamed, “New PSU report finds Multnomah County 'uniquely toxic' for people of color -- and getting worse.” Not only is this most decidedly not a “fantastic and fantastically easy place to live” if you’re an immigrant or person of color – it’s dramatically worse in virtually every respect than Washington’s King County.
I can’t really tell if Griffin meant her ending to be sarcastic, but the attitude she expresses is sadly characteristic of Portland under the current city administration. Whatever critiques one might have had of Tom Potter, he made addressing such fundamental inequity a high priority and demonstrated a strong commitment to making a place for “outsiders” inside City Hall.
That commitment to equity appears to have waned under the new administration, and is voiced largely in response to crises like police shootings or shocking reports such as the PSU/Communities of Color study. Is it that hard to smell the sh*t through the roses? Or, like Griffin’s “easy living,” is it just too easy for white Portland to ignore?