[content note: white supremacy, etc.]
I am feeling sad about what went down in Portland, my hometown, over the weekend. Briefly: a white supremacist was harassing two teenage girls, one of whom was in hijab and one of whom was black, and some white men intervened. This resulted in the white supremacist stabbing the three men who intervened, two of whom died and one of whom remains hospitalized. The teenagers fled to safety. The white supremacist was arrested without incurring any police violence.
Since this event occurred, photos and other evidence of the white supremacist’s racist and xenophobic words and actions quickly surfaced, including photos and quotes from Portland Police officers writing him off as a kook “with a head injury,” and protecting him as he made his way to a bus following an alt-right “free speech” protest last month.
I mourn for the people who lost their loved ones, for the girls whose sense of safety is surely gone and who have the rest of their lives to look back on this bloody event, for other Black, brown, and Muslim folks who now have more cause to worry about their kids, families, and own wellbeing as they go about their lives. I fear for the impact this attack will have on future bystanders of hateful harassment and violence. I recognize that there are ways in which the alt right is organized and trained and the left and progressives are not. I wonder when everyone who claims opposition to Tr*mp’s dangerous rhetoric and deadly policies will stop defending nazis’ right to free speech and public rallies and start taking this shit seriously.
Looking at photos of vigils and memorials in my hometown, I saw a lot of “love trumps hate” rhetoric and other heartfelt, but apolitical, calls for unity and care. No mention of Islamophobia, of anti-blackness, of the ways women of color are at the highest risk for white supremacist violence. Now we want to talk about mental health. Now we want to talk about toxic masculinity. We as white communities will do anything to avoid naming white supremacy, and addressing how we are all complicit.
I hear a lot of generalized statements about how the Pacific Northwest was specifically founded on segregation and white supremacy. Some quick history from Oregonian and organizer Keegan Steven:
While many see Portland as a progressive Mecca, it is in fact the whitest city in America, largely by design. When Oregon joined the Union, it joined not as a free state or a slave state, but as a no-blacks-allowed state, the only state to do so. Being black in Portland, Oregon was a crime punishable by 40 whippings a day until leaving the state, on the books until 1974. This was possible because Oregon refused to ratify the 14th Amendment – the equal protection clause – until the 1970s. Oregon also refused to ratify the 15th Amendment, giving black people the right to vote – passed after the Civil War – until 1959. As a result, Portland is still the whitest city in America, with some of the worst inequities in housing, education, and criminal justice.
I know what occurred in Portland is liable to occur anywhere. It’s a fatal, heartbreaking, and infuriating example of what happens when progressive communities are more focused on protecting the right to free speech and store windows than protecting their neighbors. Still, this is all happening quite literally close to home, and I sit in grief, anger, and love for those of us in resistance together. What will we do to strengthen ourselves and our movements, and re-commit to shutting down white supremacist violence?