Protesters in the Occupy movement have chanted they are the “99%” but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the majority of protesters are white. Many wonder why more people of color aren’t showing up to the protests, considering the disproportionate effect the financial crisis has had on them.
In the case of Portland, look no further than gentrification and an understanding of history.
Bankers looking on Occupy Portland should consider themselves lucky. The supposed “99%” occupying downtown aren’t doing it nearly as forcefully as a certain 66 percent have done in Northeast Portland.
Thanks to overzealous police and predatory lenders, many of the same people you might see at Occupy Portland have taken advantage of black people getting pushed out of their homes.
People go to war over their property in other countries. In Portland, people are reluctant to even acknowledge gentrification is happening, much less that there’s something wrong with it.
The businesses that have replaced the black owned establishments stand as monuments to this passive aggression colonization.
For example, what was once a black owned barbecue restaurant, Doris’s, has been replaced by Russell Street Barbecue. Doris’s was one of the many black businesses that couldn’t get a full business loan and had to survive under capital. Not surprisingly, it didn’t last.
Russell Street Barbecue stepped in and gave Doris’s a white, yuppy makeover, complete with cheap, thrift store furniture and drastically smaller portions of all the same food. However, it didn’t even have the decency to pick a logo different from Doris’s. (At least the people that replaced Yam Yams, another black soul spot, had the decency to change it into a Mongolian Grill).
When I went there for the first (and last) time I couldn’t help but feel I was toasting to the white takeover of historically black Portland neighborhoods.
Russell Street Barbecue is just one of many establishments that have taken advantage of racist lending practices and shamelessly appropriated black culture to make more profit than their doomed black predecessors.
This is not to say that they were malicious in their intent. White privilege doesn’t require malice. It’s simply the ability to take advantage of opportunities denied to people of color.
This is what evokes suspicions about Occupy Portland, as well as the Occupy movement as a whole.
Do the people that are participating really care about the welfare of people of color? Where were all these people when it was time to protest ridiculous immigration laws or the prison industrial complex?
What’s stopping them from leaving the people of color they co-opted for their movement hanging out to dry when all is said and done? After all, this has been the motif of history.
Whether it was the Revolutionary War (and every one since) or the 60s counterculture, majority white movements have had a predictable penchant for using people of color to push their agendas without any real commitment to their concerns.
Terms like the “99%” sound nice but to many they sound a lot like “post-racial America”, meaning they take unity for granted without addressing wounds that have yet to be healed.
Being a progressive doesn’t exempt anyone from the legacy of colonization.
The one percent may have cleared people of color out of their communities, but that doesn’t excuse the 66 percent from settling there and appropriating black culture for profit.
Until we can have honest discussions about gentrification, don’t get upset when you don’t see faces like mine at Occupy Portland.