Sunday, March 1, 2020

Not Even Not Zen 201: They Still Matter

They Still Matter

My last major trip with my wife took us to Oregon in 2019.  During our stay, we noticed “Black Lives Matter“ signs in shop windows.

After a while, as I learned about the social dynamics of the area, I could see how slightly different cultures operate there.  That is one of the best reasons to travel, after all. Even though my family remains in the United States during most of our travels, there are still differences to observe, not only between states but between geographical areas. Even in the same state, there are usually strong differences between the cultures of plains inhabitants and the mountains.

The places in Oregon where we saw the “Black Lives Matter“ signs were generally very European-American.  Of course, in Portland, there are significant pockets of different cultures including those of different skin colors. There was not just a Chinatown and some Hispanic neighborhoods but a notable Russian-speaking influence and a few African-American homes.  However, signs in shop windows weren't prevalent in those areas.  They popped up occasionally in the city, yes, but they were more common in the countryside.  Most frequently of all, they appeared in towns that were Swedish-American or Irish-American.

In the town of St. John’s, which touches the outer edge of Portland, we saw “Black Lives Matter“ signs everywhere.  There were no people of color visible in the town.  The signs, it was clear, were a message from some white people to other white people.

The sight of them got me to do a little reading.  As I learned about the area history, it began to look as though the signs were a response from Oregon natives to a white supremacy movement that is trying to move into Oregon from Washington state.

Every few months, the white supremacists arrange a rally in Portland.  Portland natives, almost all European-American of some stripe, arrange a counter demonstration. This is been going on for years.

In the St. Louis area, where the “Black Lives Matter“ movement seemed to start in Ferguson, the dialogue seemed to be black to white and black to blue.  In Oregon, the dialogue is as passionate as ever but it is totally different.

To the way of thinking of the white supremacists, Oregon should be a backbone state for their movement.  Recruiting should be easy.  Instead, as I think most outside observers would know, recruiting was bound to be hard.  Portlanders despise the fact that outsiders come in to march for white power that the natives do not want.

In most of the small Oregon towns, Irish and Italian populations are considered the local minorities since they are not of English or Swedish descent.  In St. John's, it seems that the entire town was settled, from the start, by Irish-Americans.  That might be why the signs are so prevalent.  They come from a group that is nowadays considered white but remembers discrimination and so the signs are meant to be a thumb in the eye of white supremacists.

They might be appearing in support of racially diverse friends, too; that's not just possible but inevitable, even in a small town.  But based on what I saw, some of those friends-of-color could be theoretical.  Oregon really is very white in the countryside.  That's fine for this much; the locals don't need any more stake in the game other than being who they are.  They, like most people, are simply not hateful. They resent the imported hate.

Maybe that sentiment won't win out.  But it seems natural and, to my eye, encouraging.

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