changing history

February 1, 2010

Fifty years ago today, four black students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College walked into a Woolworth five-and-dime with asked to order lunch. They stayed until the end of the day, when counter closed. The next day, they came back with 15 other students. By the third day, 300 joined in; later, 1,000. The sit-ins spread to lunch counters across the country — and changed history.

On MLK day in the midst of all the “I Have A Dream” clips, a couple local reporters drew some very loose analogies between a couple local campaigns and civil rights. A guy from the Mercury talked about MLK in the context of the campaign to pass a two ballot measures that would nominally raise taxes on high income earners and businesses, and the guy talked about civil rights in reference to bike rider’s rights to use the road. Both columns bummed me out and reminded me of Oregon’s overwhelming whiteness. The campaigns being discussed were legit and they have an impact on real people’s lives, but they’re not landmark movements. It’s as though those reporters failed to understand the suffering, torture and killing that were part of slavery and part of the Jim Crow south. Whether or no they intended it, I read it as this casual white wash of MLK, where not only was he was separated from his blackness, but there was no recognition of why the civil rights movement was so necessary – why people were willing to risk their lives.

When people ask me about living in Portland, I try to explain it’s overwhelming sense of whiteness. It’s uncomfortable and strange. It’s so just so white.

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