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Individual Perspective: The Color of Fear

Yesterday I was walking down a lovely city street, a man stepped out of the shadows and requested my time and my attention. At first he startled me and immediately my hand went to my purse and the other to the car keys. Without any contemplation my mind buzzed with thoughts...images...beliefs. Without any effort on my part, my thoughts on the situation were almost predetermined. My immediate reaction was just that...a reaction...he must WANT something my mind screamed. And he cetainly did, however it was not what I thought or imagined, nor was it what I expected.

"Please don't be frightened," he eloquently stated, "I find most people in this city are afriad of Black people." What?!? My mind yelled back - in THIS city? I always considered my city to be especially liberal, especially open to all people and cultures. I mean "Keep Portland Weird," is a bumper sticker seen on cars all over the metro area which to me spoke to the tolerance of this community. How can this be true? I spoke back to the stranger, "Maybe women in this community are just sick of being harrassed by pan handlers or they are afraid of being raped and it has nothing to do with your race." In truth I didn't even really believe what I was saying. In truth, I am totally aware of race (the construction of it), and how it interesects with poverty and is the fertile ground in which sexism sprouts. I have seen these systems, like hair woven into a braid. Each section of hair makes the other sections stronger, infused with fear and then embedded into our systems of belief. I was mad that he boiled down the fear to a fear of color. Somehow this angered me because I felt he ignored the other "fears" that structured my daily life as a woman.

For the next hour, John the "black homeless man," and Selena the "white, sheltered woman," engaged in a singularly honest, raw and eye-opening discussion. In one hour, two people who might normally never have the desire to interact because of a societal set of rules that say we should a) fear one another, b) institutionalize oppression and c) ignore those who are oppressed was challenged. We challenged those rules and it wasn't easy. I will always thank John for his bravery, determination and desire for change.

I wish I could write all that we spoke about during that hour, but I think it woud fill a book. The point I am trying to share with all of you is that I cherish forums such as this one. The value in sharing experiences, being able to reach out to one another and value each other as humans will alter the path we are on. Just as my singular experience happened on the street, so did another have an experience in her village or in her town. Together I feel there is a chance to make change, EVEN if we have different agendas, goals and desired outcomes. There is power in our collective voices. Thank you for allowing me to become one with you.

"Strangers on this road we are on / we are not two / we are one" - The Kinks


terrorohterror's picture

Portland is a town of quiet

Portland is a town of quiet racism. Because people here try to be so fashionably "liberal" they make the old claim, "I don't see race," but it's easy to say that when you live in Portland. Most of the town is upper class and white. Unless you go to certain neighborhoods you'll never encounter a POC. I think racism and fear are huge problems in this town but because of certain pretensions, Portlanders (often transplants) like to think they're beyond those issues. They've devoted half a moment of thought to it and moved on.

justducky's picture

I agree with the above

I agree with the above commenter - Portland -is- a town of quiet racism. And less-quiet classism. And if you're poor and a POC, you're pretty much out of luck for getting any respect. For all of our liberal attitudes around here, most PDXers are pretty blind to anything but their first-world, privileged-class problems.

Good on you for stopping to have a conversation. When I first moved to Portland, I'd take panhandlers out to lunch or dinner and talk about whatever came up. It was interesting, since their life stories were so different from my own.

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