Closing night of Walidah Imarisha’s “Why aren’t there more black people in Oregon?” conversation project tour asks many hard questions

For the last of six packed, back to back presentations throughout Oregon, a good crowd turned out at the Bay City Arts Center just north of Tillamook to take part in Walidah Imarisha’s provocative and deeply necessary Oregon Humanities conversation project tour, “Why aren’t there more black people in Oregon? A hidden history”.

The short answer: Because Oregon was founded as a white homeland.

In an engaging group dialogue, Imarisha walked us through a timeline of black history in Oregon and then asked how our present might be informed by all that history. It’s a terrible story, but one every Oregonian should know.

Like the Juan de Fuca plate grinding slowly underneath the Cascadia subduction zone, Oregon’s deeply buried racial past is both unseen (by some) and yet directly linked to so much of recent history. It’s right there, still a live fault, just below the surface. It’s not the more common Oregon narrative we’re familiar with. It’s not the one being taught in schools.

A unique aspect of Oregon’s demographics that explains some of the recent conflict over the bike lane on N. Williams is that a huge number of whites moved here recently, after a lot of the key events that still resonate for the black community, such as the clearing of the Albina neighborhood to make room for an Emanuel Hospital expansion that never happened. Ironically, in a city obsessed with everything local, there’s a major blind spot when it comes to local history.

And this isn’t ancient history we’re talking about. While former “sundown towns” may no longer post billboards at city limits that say “Whites only after dark”, is the message any less clear in some places today? What does it mean when a monster truck drives by with a big confederate flag flying? It’s pretty clear what that means.

It makes a lot of sense that, given its history, this clean, green Pacific Northwest state would still be seen as a white homeland by some. Changing that story is going to take a lot more than simply ignoring the facts about how we got here.

Bay City, Oregon.
Bay City, Oregon.
The Bay City Arts Center.
The Bay City Arts Center.
Another full house.
Another full house.

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Hundreds are turning out for Walidah Imarisha’s “Why aren’t there more black people in Oregon?” tour in rural Oregon communities | Two nights left in Newport and Bay City

UPDATE 9.9.2014 – See photos from final night of the tour in Bay City here.

People are turning out in the HUNDREDS (257 in Albany the other night) to take part in Walidah Imarisha’s touring conversation project, “Why aren’t there more black people in Oregon? A hidden history”, organized by Oregon Humanities and the Rural Organizing Project.

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What does this mean?

It means Imarisha has found a subject of vital interest to many Oregonians, and she is connecting with an engaged audience.

You’ve got two more chances to be a part of this unique community dialogue. Tonight in Newport, and tomorrow (Tuesday) in Bay City (near Tillamook).

Turn out and help make Oregon better for all citizens!

Spread the word.

Info

Gridlock as Oregonians flee Portland to catch Imarisha's tour.
Gridlock as Portlanders head out to catch Imarisha’s tour in rural Oregon.

Walidah Imarisha kicks off her “Why aren’t there more black people in Oregon?” tour to six rural locations on Thursday, September 4

Alert! Turn out at one of six rural Oregon locations Sep 4-9 and take part in Walidah Imarisha’s conversation project, “Why aren’t there more black people in Oregon?”, organized by Oregon Humanities and the Rural Organizing Project.

To say it’s been a big summer for race relations in America is putting it mildly.

Among other incidents, in New York there was the strangulation of Eric Garner by NYPD using a banned choke hold on July 17 in broad daylight (and caught on cell phone video), which was later ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. Somehow this incident did not draw much protest. But soon after, the August 9 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO ignited full scale unrest and national protests.

For white Americans who thought they were living in a blissfully calm “post race” society, Michael Brown was a major wake up call. When the police (overwhelmingly white in the case of Ferguson) can still shoot unarmed black teenagers with no consequences, something is terribly, terribly wrong in America.

On a different but related subject, Portland educator, writer, poet, activist, and spoken word artist Walidah Imarisha is bringing a conversation on race in Oregon to six rural communities starting Thursday. Organized by Oregon Humanities and the Rural Organizing Project, Imarisha’s “Why aren’t there more black people in Oregon?” is an exploration and excavation of black history in Oregon and how the state’s early racially exclusive founding principles continue to resonate today.

Come turn out and be a part of this important discussion.

Tour

Sep 4 – Grants Pass
Sep 5 – Redmond
Sep 6 – Astoria
Sep 7 – Albany
Sep 8 – Newport
Sep 9 – Bay City

Full details on locations

Here’s a recent (8.27.2014) interview with Imarisha in the Mercury.

Conversation Project Tour: Oregon Black History | Oregon Humanities and Rural Organizing Project bring Walidah Imarisha’s “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?” conversation to six rural communities in September

You may know about the Conversation Project at Oregon Humanities. This ambitious program lets Oregonians anywhere suggest topics for conversation in their communities and then puts together organized events.

“The Conversation Project offers Oregon nonprofit and community organizations low-cost, humanities-based public discussion programs about provocative issues and ideas. Discussions last sixty to ninety minutes and are led by trained conversation facilitators who connect the subject to participants’ experiences and to the local community, and challenge participants to think in new ways without advocating a particular perspective. Conversation Project leaders frame and lead a discussion among participants, and some topics in the catalog involve a greater amount of framing and information than others due to their complexity. Therefore, depending on the topic and the number of participants, programs may have varying ratios of presentation to conversation. Since 2009, more than 200 organizations across the state hosted more than 500 Conversation Project programs.”

Coming up this fall in partnership with Rural Organizing Project, Walidah Imarisha is bringing her conversation project “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?” to six rural communities.

See the calendar for more info.

Sep 4 – Grants Pass
Sep 5 – Redmond
Sep 6 – Astoria
Sep 7 – Albany
Sep 8 – Newport
Sep 9 – Bay City

Walidah Imarisha.
Walidah Imarisha.