Thoughts on Possible Oregon Bill Allowing Victims of Racist 911 Calls to Sue

Rep. Janelle Bynum (right), one of three co-sponsors of the Oregon bill. Associated Press, 2019.

Rep. Janelle Bynum (right), one of three co-sponsors of the Oregon bill. Associated Press, 2019.

Oregon has only three Black state legislators. Recently the three of them got together and introduced a bill as a response to various high-profile incidents of white people calling the police on Black folx for simply living. The idea of the bill is to discourage white people from making calls about “suspicious” Black folx in the area and to impose consequences, including a possible small claims court lawsuit, on those who do. The bill passed through the Oregon senate with a near-unanimous vote on Monday. It is now on its way to the desk of Oregon Governor Kate Brown; she’s expected to sign the bill with no issue.

When I first read about this new Oregon bill I was like, "Hmm. OK. Good stuff.” Then I really thought about it. And I walked away with one thought:

Prepare for some "linguistics gymnastics" y'all. 

There's gonna be a whole lot of judges and lawyers in Oregon "interpreting" what is "frivolous" and racist. And it will likely be 90/10 in favor of "not frivolous" and "not racist".

Look, I understand WHY a bill like this needs to exist. I understand where State Rep. Janelle Bynum (D), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, was coming from in pushing for and drafting this legislation. While Bynum was knocking on doors canvassing for reelection last July, a white woman called the cops because she thought Bynum looked suspicious. Bynum was literally this woman's state representative, was not behaving in a suspicious manner at all, and this white woman still thought, "What is this Black doing in my neighborhood?! Oh they must be up to no good!" This racist mess happened to Bynum around the same time that the proliferation of Becky's and Donna's feeling distressed by melanin started calling into 911 and their local police precincts in droves to report folx barbecuing while Black, sleeping on a dorm couch in the dorm they reside in while Black, entering into your own apartment building while Black, waiting to have a coffee klatch with a colleague at Starbucks while Black, and overall just existing in white America while Black. So I understand why. I just have a very low bar for this bill actually making it understood that there are repercussions for being white and racist in Oregon and calling the cops on folx just trying to live. 

I don't know if this will deter some white folx from calling the police and blaming this legislation for why they didn't call the police if something happens that involves a BIPOC committing a crime. We cannot be sure if legislation of this nature in a state like Oregon will actually do anything other than make BIPOC feel more like their fears and realities aren't heard or considered. 

And that is just another permutation of business as usual, isn't it?

Evidently legislators in Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently voted on a proposed “bias crime reporting prohibition” measure in May that would make it a criminal misdemeanor to racially profile Blacks and other racial minorities by calling the police so I suppose this kind of legislation is gaining steam across the country. And maybe it will put more focus on how often these kinds of calls and interactions are taking place in the United States. But keep in mind that all of this legislation, all of the discussion, all of the campaigning for these bills and laws are being proposed by BIPOC legislators and representatives. Black legislators and representatives, to be exact. BIPOC, Black folx, BIPOC cis women and feminine-identifying persons, and almost always Black cis women and feminine-identifying persons: they find themselves handling the heavy lifting in these matters. The only reason this Oregon bill and even the proposal in Grand Rapids exist are because BIPOC legislators are the ones tired of dealing with this nonsense and are using their privilege and power to try to facilitate change. But even with the amount of work these BIPOC legislators on the city and state level are doing to make their cities and states better places and to create consequences for hate another thing stands out for me in all of this:

The Oregon bill and Grand Rapids measure? Both were only near-unanimous votes.

We’re talking about legislation that focuses on mitigating hate and discrimination and all we can get is a “near-unanimous”?

This is why your local elections are important y’all. Because even when we presume that our lawmakers have some level of understanding about how hate crimes, discrimination, and racial profiling hurt communities and impact the lives of Black and Brown folx we neglect to remember that the understanding isn’t there. It’s never been that important to white U.S. American citizens because, for the most part, all U.S. Americans operate within a system where oppressive states and attitudes are engrained and prevalent. White U.S. Americans who are tasked to represent their district, state, city, town, or even the well-being of the nation have spent their whole lives being conditioned to participate in, explain away, and/or “be OK” with racism, hate, and discrimination in some capacity. Unless they actively and regularly acknowledge white power and privilege in a government structure that was created to benefit their needs the needs of others are never prioritized or addressed. In short? Too many lawmakers who are responsible for our safety will likely always question the legitimacy of all of the aforementioned. And we all know that our legal system as a whole is structured the exact same way.

I want these pieces of legislation to work. But my gut tells me BBQ Becky and her like-minded pals might unintentionally have a new tool to use in their oppression of others.

NCORE 2019: A Debrief

National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education Logo, 2019.

National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education Logo, 2019.

From May 28 - June 1, 2019 I was in community, in learning, in growing, in mourning, and in re-calibration as an attendee of this year’s National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE). What is NCORE? Taken from the NCORE website:

In 1988, The Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies launched the first Annual National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) to address the resurgence of racist incidents in higher education. Since its inception, NCORE has evolved into a vital national resource for higher education institutions, providing an annual multicultural forum that attracts Black/African Americans, American Indians, Asian/Pacific Islanders, Latino/as, and European Americans representing higher education institutions across the United States.

The NCORE conference series constitutes the leading and most comprehensive national forum on issues of race and ethnicity in American higher education. The conference focuses on the complex task of creating and sustaining comprehensive institutional change designed to improve racial and ethnic relations on campus and to expand opportunities for educational access and success by culturally diverse, traditionally underrepresented populations.

NCORE is designed to provide a significant forum for discussion, critical dialogue, and exchange of information as institutions search for effective strategies to enhance access, social development, education, positive communication, and cross-cultural understanding in culturally diverse settings.

This year’s conference was hosted in Portland, Oregon, with around 5,000 attendees from every corner of the United States and Canada. Five days packed with hundreds of talks, live podcasts, presentations, training seminars and keynotes from thought leaders, writers, directors, and folx also navigating the world of higher ed? Yes please!

Attending NCORE this year was a validating, stimulating, and invigorating experience. Working in the city of Portland, working in higher ed, working on shaping and progressing equity, diversity, and inclusion in workplaces and hiring practices, and doing all of the aforementioned as a Black person in a city and state with a supremely racist history directed at Black citizens? It takes a toll on you, both personally and professionally. It can often feel daunting to find community, build community, find a way to have your voice be heard and your concerns and pain be validated in Oregon. NCORE helped remind me that although it can be hard to make your voice heard, and that you can feel isolated and alone in your feelings and views, that you are in fact not alone and this work is indeed necessary. This conference was the largest contingent of BIPOC I have ever seen in this city, and it made this event feel like a community like no other major conference or training I have ever attended in Portland. The melanin was on full display and it was incredible to be in community with citizens from across North America who are all facing similar kinds of hurdles and frustrations in being a voice and a force in the face of white supremacy and patriarchy in higher education.

Walidah Imarisha delivering the opening keynote  “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? A Hidden History” , NCORE Conference, 2019.

Walidah Imarisha delivering the opening keynote “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? A Hidden History”, NCORE Conference, 2019.

Every session I attended over the span of five days offered me a litany of insights and reinvigorated my soul in positive and affirming ways (with the exception of one session that, if you follow me on social media, you will have read about). Some of my personal highlights from NCORE’s robust catalog of programming and presentations were:

Each of the aforementioned trainings and presentations offered me a new component to my facilitator toolkit, a deeper understanding of a concept of the history of oppression we exist in, and a more nuanced lens of self-evaluation when facilitating trainings and having difficult conversations about race and intersectionality with white citizens inside and outside of higher education. I will be honest: there was a part of me that did not expect the latter to occur during my time at NCORE but I am so glad that it did. I went into NCORE completely open and ready to absorb what I could not just to help others but to help myself. Our goal as activists, allies, accomplices, and as those working to promote change inside the belly of the beast is to never stop learning, growing, correcting out current and past transgressions, and being open to consistent states of improvement. The day that you decide your learning is complete and that there is nothing else for you to glean from the people, the community, and the world you live in is the same day you will likely begin doing more harm than good. Because of that openness and willingness to realistically and objectively evaluate my own faults as well as those around me in my work, my community, and my world I gained so much from not only the facilitators and presenters but other attendees as well. I left NCORE with a revamped perspective on working to bridge the gap between racism and whiteness.

The largest component of this refreshed perspective is a nugget of insight that I have been grappling with for some time. It’s the kind of perspective that, at first glance, seems in direct opposition to the work that I have decided to dedicate my personal and professional work to. It’s simple but complex: the vast majority of white citizens in the United States are never going to get it when it comes to the topic of racism and how generational and overarching its effects are. And real talk?

Many white citizens don’t really want to.

Something that Robin DiAngelo talks about in her book White Fragility and that she addressed at the end of her seminar is the understanding that even when white citizens read her books and articles, read other books, studies, and articles, attend her talks and presentations, and even have the concept of white supremacy and their complicity addressed by their fellow whites in their personal and professional lives that many white people will not see the need or urgency for change.

They will not be swayed away from their behaviors or beliefs in any real tangible way.

They will not acknowledge, consciously or subconsciously, the centuries of trauma, of anguish, of gas lighting and oppression.

Many will brag and boast about how “woke” they are because they attended a lecture or presentation or read a book that “made them an expert” on the subject of white supremacy. Those folx will lord their “expertise” over others, all the while continuing to perpetrate micro-aggressions against BIPOC citizens.

There will always be a contingent of white citizens who view the work of unlearning and acknowledging their privilege and fragility as too overwhelming for them to endure, making 300 years of systemic oppression about themselves and not those citizens who have been afflicted for generations.

Never gonna get it. And may not even want to get it.

That’s a very hard pill to swallow.

As a BIPOC who cares about educating people, about leading discussions on race and oppression, it is not necessarily a notion you want to find yourself buddying up to. No one wants to admit that they may talk to a room of 100 white people and that maybe only two to three of those attendees will hear and feel what you’re saying. No one wants to ever admit that out of those two to three attendees that hear and feel what you’re saying that maybe only one of them may actually take steps to begin a new journey of understanding for themselves.

And no one wants to think that the two to three might actually end up being zero.

Like I said, I’ve been grappling with this for some time. NCORE helped me digest it and put my grappling to rest, mainly because it’s real. It’s tangible. I can see it take place in every training, every seminar, every discussion, whether I am a participant or a facilitator. I saw it take place at NCORE. The truth is being openly vocal about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and discrimination, and doing work attached to any or all of the aforementioned can often appear on the surface to be a zero sum game. But that is not the case; far from it. This is an “affect one person - maybe” game. If I speak to a room of 50 white attendees about racism and its impact on those in their personal and professional lives, and one person from that room hears me and feels what I’m saying on a mental and emotional level, then I begrudgingly need to understand that I cannot feasibly expect anything more than that. Racism, systemic oppression, patriarchal norms, they are all too engrained in the culture and fabric of the United States as a nation and society. As a BIPOC to think that one conversation, 10 conversations, even 100 conversations about race and oppression with white citizens are going to break through 300+ years of systems and barriers created to benefit them is to continue to do real damage to yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. Going forward my personal and professional goal in every training I conduct, every conversation I participate in, every panel I take part in pertaining to racism and white supremacy to mostly white audiences will be for my words and experiences to resonate with one person in the room. Just one. Why? Because my hope is that the one person my words impact will continue their work and begin to at some point help the white folx in their lives do some of their own work. Now some of y’all are going to read this and think that I’m giving up, that the weight of the work is too much for me so I’m not going to try to “aim high”. But I want you to understand two things:

  1. That is your social justice arrogance coming out. Seriously. You’re forgetting that everyone’s work in this battle is not the same. We all should do our part how we can, when we can, while being true to ourselves and our needs. We need to be free of judging the journey’s of others and how they do the work. There is no template for how to move these discussions forward and impact people.

  2. This isn’t me waving a white flag in surrender. This is me acknowledging that the work doesn’t end but that me and my well-being matter just as much as the work.

For me personally if I’m going to continue to make this deep emotionally laborious work a primary part of my personal and professional lives my overall health and well-being have to be just as important to me as this work. Part of my self-care has to be aligned with not taking in perceived failures with changing white perspectives as bruises to my ego or diminishing returns. I need to adjust the energy invested into pushing for equity, diversity, and inclusion, especially in a city like Portland and a region like the Pacific Northwest. I need to accept that the returns are not diminishing but that they are in fact at the same level they have been at for decades. I need to do my best to accept and understand that if a lifetime of work only leads a small amount of impact in my community and in the lives of others that even minimal progress is real, tangible, impactful progress. And I need to keep in mind at all times that my work must always be meant as a new rung on the ladder, and that in order to do my work with courage and conviction I mustn’t forget how much work those who were here before me have put forth. They built the ladder and left for me the opportunity to climb up and grasp my role in this work; it is my duty and privilege to work my hardest to make the same opportunities for those after me to do this work their way. The connection to the work and pressure shouldered by those before me was something I had found myself losing my connection with periodically going into the week of the NCORE Conference. It is very easy to do this work in Portland and feel alone. But I am not alone. Way too many people have dedicated their lives and their health to this work - before me and alongside me - for me to not honor them by keeping this work moving forward while taking care of my own soul and body to make sure their work wasn’t/isn’t for naught. I am so very glad that NCORE refreshed my acceptance, recognition and understanding of this.

White Fragility  seminar led by Robin DiAngelo, PhD., NCORE Conference, 2019.

White Fragility seminar led by Robin DiAngelo, PhD., NCORE Conference, 2019.

I walked away from the 2019 NCORE Conference realizing my work was truly just beginning in many respects. With a refreshed perspectives comes new challenges and new goals. I am so ready to embrace both.

Oh - and I will definitely be submitting a presentation or two for the 2020 NCORE Conference in New York City! The work don’t stop y’all!

EPOP Board Appointment

I am proud to announce that effective July 1, 2019, I will be a member of the board of directors of the Portland Business Alliance's Emerging Professionals of Portland! EPOP offers programming focused on helping emerging professionals obtain personal and professional development opportunities, network and connect with organizations and peers across the city of Portland, and promoting the civic engagement of professionals in our community.

I am super stoked for this opportunity and I am very looking forward to diving in head first!

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Someone said to me when I was in my 1st year of HR that I was "going to be trouble" in response to my wondering why we weren't trying to hire anything other than White cis men. The "someone" in question was the White cis female head of HR at the tech startup I was working for.

The head of HR let it be known that she openly viewed me as troublesome because I wanted to address hiring biases and inequity. And she said this to me with a smug smile and disdain in her voice for me even thinking I had the right to question things.

Funny thing is she was right about me.

I am "trouble".

I'm the kind of "trouble" that makes White people with power who like to let me know they "don't see color", "have a Black friend" and "saw The Green Book this past weekend" deal with who they are and what they think.

So here I am five years into my career and I am still, and will always be, "trouble". And the real trouble is not me but anyone with power and privilege who would view me as trouble because I want to make companies better and legitimately equitable and inclusive places to work.

FYI: that tech company went under. And their head of HR doesn't even work in HR anymore.

So I am proudly always going to "be trouble" because one thing I know from experience is that trouble can prompt change.