Hey, white progressives, stop attacking people of color with unfounded lies.

By Jerome Brooks of Portland, Oregon. Jerome has worked in the public and nonprofit sectors to expand opportunities for vulnerable Oregonians.

We all already know this, but it needs to be said – Portland has a very long history of disparaging, attacking, and assassinating the character of people of color who become leaders – especially black leaders.

In a time when we are supposed to be coming closer together under what is the most extreme Presidential Administration in modern history, we also must be vigilant in addressing xenophobia, racism, bigotry, and oppression in our own backyard. I, like many leaders of color in Portland, often find myself experiencing or witnessing both subtle and blatant racism, but often only share my thoughts with people who share those same lived experiences. The reason being is a person of color speaking out against oppression and racism in Portland is like pouring gasoline all over yourself while standing next to a campfire.

I could go through and list names of the victims, recent and old, but I’ll just get to what caused me to speak up today.

Jamila Singleton Munson. Jamila is a native African-American Portlander who has decided to run for a seat on the Portland Public Schools’ board. Yes, please let’s get more people of color to run for office, unless we don’t want them to. From the moment of her announced candidacy, Jamila has been on the receiving end of relentless attacks – mainly from white Portland “progressives” who don’t like the fact that she has worked for a charter school and Teach for America. She has been called a school choice/voucher candidate, the “Betsy DeVos of Portland”, among a slew of other names. She has been blocked from endorsement meetings by supporters of Bernie Sanders organized as BerniePDX, had a sitting Portland City Commissioner dismiss her candidacy altogether, and more, without anyone having ever had a single conversation with her.

Now I’m not here to engage in an argument about charter schools. You want to talk about charter schools, I want to talk about the disproportionate discipline rates and atrocious graduation rates for African-American students. You want to talk about how charter schools played a part in gentrification and oppression of people of color, I want to talk about how African-Americans are still displaced and disenfranchised in Portland with only the help of oppressive public policy. The point of the matter is there should be a space for a conversation that is respectful and representative of the community we say we are. When that conversation happens, I want to talk about outcomes.

I really hope that Portland can become the city it proclaims to be, but I’m not holding my breath. Right now, all I can do is deal with the drama as it comes my way and support my friends as it come their way. At the end of the day, this is not our battle to win. I need white Portlanders of good conscience to stop allowing for double standards that would find black people ostracized and crucified for the things their white friends do freely without consequence. I need white Portlanders of good conscience to speak up every single time they witness an act of racism and xenophobia, whether subtle or blatant. I need white Portlanders of good conscience to stop their “progressive friends” from attacking people of color with accusations and narratives that are rooted in lies. I need white Portlanders to change the way Portland does business when it comes to people of color. Poor or rich, visible or discreet, a leader or an agitator, people of color at all levels are suffering, and oftentimes it happens from self-proclaimed allies.

We don’t need a safety pin. We don’t need a profile banner. We don’t need a hug. We need real, substantive, sustainable action that results in true equity and inclusion, and an improved quality of life for Portlanders of color. Donald Trump didn’t ascend to the White House o nly on the backs of white supremacists. And on that note, I’ll end with an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” –

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

guest column

connect with blueoregon