On May 26, two men in Portland were killed when they defended two Muslim girls on a train. Another man was injured. When I first heard about the two men who were killed, my initial instinct was “Oh my God, I hope it’s not someone I know!”
I remember a time late last year when a certain man in a red hat rose to lead the nation. At the time, I was working in a company that had a huge presence in the Portland area and I had grown quite close to some of my Portland-area colleagues. We would talk about the impact of the election, particularly its effect on me, as I am of Muslim descent.
Two coworkers from our Oregon team talked to me regularly and eased my concerns. I recall telling both that I was considering moving to Canada because I believed that the new administration could potentially bring back concentration camps. One coworker, who I will refer to only as “Jeff” said some comforting words to me.
“That will never happen because if they start taking away Muslims and putting them in concentration camps, guys like me will be standing in front of you with a gun.”
Another coworker, who I will refer to only as “Scott,” echoed many of the same ideas, telling me that he had my back if something like this would ever happen.
On the morning of Saturday, May 26, I read about the two heroes that were killed in Portland. I spent the day looking for their names, hoping I wouldn’t see Jeff or Scott.
But even when I discovered the names and that my colleagues were safe, it still didn’t make anything any better.
One of the heroes was identified as Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, a recent Reed College graduate.
The second hero was identified as Ricky John Best, a 53-year-old father of four who had served in the military.
Oregon— you need to learn from this tragedy. You aren’t an open-minded state where all are welcome.
I remember hearing of Portland as a place that was different — where people were open-minded and where everything went. I always thought of Portland as a hippy-heaven. A few years back, another coworker of mine, a woman I’ll refer to simply as “Marta” moved there from the San Francisco Bay area. She told me that it wasn’t quite as I (or she) had imagined it. A white woman in her fifties, she got entry into the nearby community of Lake Oswego and told me that people in the Portland area weren’t quite as open-minded as they seemed on the surface.
“They put up a face,” Marta told me. She told me that while many liked to put up an attitude of being culturally aware and open-minded, many still made comments among themselves, especially as many immigrants began moving in to work the tech jobs in nearby Tualatin or Hillsboro. She told me there was a lot of racism in the Portland area and that as a white woman, she got the unfortunate opportunity to hear the things that aren’t said in public.
So, if it’s billed as such a progressive place, why is Portland not as racially accepting as it purports to be?
Interestingly, this may date back to the very reason why Portland was founded. Many people who have lived in Portland for decades aren’t surprised at all by evidence of racism in Portland. According to The Atlantic, “that’s because racism has been entrenched in Oregon, maybe more than any state in the north, for nearly two centuries. “
Historically, Oregon is one of the more racist states in the country. After all, Oregon didn’t even ratify the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment until 1973.
It’s not just the Portland area, however, that has a high incidence of hate crime. In fact, according to a study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Oregon has one of the highest hate crime rates in the nation, reports Statesman Journal.
Salem has also experienced acts of racial and religious hate, where Nazi stickers were spotted on a courthouse, as Willamette Week reports. In fact, the headline for the Willamette Week article isn’t even about the Nazi stickers. It’s “Oregonians Are Reporting More Hate and Bias Crimes Than Anyone in the US.”
If the places we perceive as safe havens aren’t safe at all, then where can we go to avoid racial backlash? Do we do what these racists say and “go back” to our own countries? For me, that would be a hop across our northern border as my country is Canada and that’s where I was born. But for many ethnic and Muslims in America, their country is right here. They were born in the United States and have little connection to the country they supposedly came from.
Oregon — you need to learn from this tragedy. Don’t just talk the talk anymore because your facade is failing. Show results. You aren’t a hippy heaven, a safe-haven, or an open-minded state where all are welcome. For a state with such a “progressive” PR campaign, you’ve got a far way to go before you shed the skeletons in your closet.