(Editor’s Note: This post began as an addendum to something I wrote in April about life in Portland as a black person. For more context, or if you’re not intimidated by a 3,000-word post, check it out.)
My social media feed has been blown up with old school nostalgia.
I’m seeing a ton of mostly black Portlanders throwin’ up the #ImSoPortland hashtag and reliving a lot of memories from back in the day. I’m not sure what started it, but a basic search for “#imso” on Twitter showed me hits for Memphis, New Orleans and Chicago, so I know it’s not just a local thing. I’m not sure why now as opposed to any other day, maybe it’s just radio and news stations getting people engaging with a harmless meme on a slow news day. Or, … maybe, like the big bang theory, it just sort of… happened.
Either way, it’s been really fun, like an informal class reunion. (My actual class reunion is this fall, and I’ll probably not experience the same set of references, considering where I went to high school.)
It’s true, I am “so Portland.” I remember Union Avenue, the Bee company grocery store, the Tilt Arcade at Lloyd Center (which used to be outdoor!!), Benson vs. Jefferson rivalries, Jack’s chicken, Paragon cable, Blazer games at Memorial Coliseum, Tubman Middle school, et cetera. I spent my most formative years of life in northeast Portland, and for better or worse, it has helped to shape me into who I am today.
It’s important for me to remember how much I love it here, how much history I have here, because it brings important context to the times when I feel like I need to talk about what it’s like living here as a black person (hint: sometimes it sucks).
See, love and hate are not total opposites, they are more like siblings. That’s why, when I think about my upbringing here in Portland, my smiles often melt into sighs. The warm memories of the past are what makes the present so alarming, frustrating, and disenchanting. Mississippi Avenue slowly gentrifies, and I sigh. Alberta becomes an “arts district,” where before it was just “where people who look like you used to live and go to church.” And I sigh.
“Good In the Hood,” the local festival celebrating local music and culture, becomes “Good In the Neighborhood (sponsored by Safeway, Providence and US Bank).”
It’s no surprise that “I’m So Portland” seems to be a mostly black social media meme, because white Portlanders have less of a need to affirm their identity in the context of this city. They have “Portlandia” to do that for them. I hate to keep score like that, but that’s sort of how it is. Seattle has Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and we have Fred and Carrie. And Pink Martini, and the Decemberists. And Everclear. And the evening news. And city council. And pretty much every Trimet bus line except the 4, the 6, and the 72.
I mean really, if it weren’t for Esperanza Spalding and Liv Warfield, the only black representation of Portland would come from the Trail Blazers (and Liv Warfield isn’t even from Portland).
I guess what I’m saying is that in Portland, white is not just the default standard like it is everywhere else in America. For too many, it’s the unquestioned normal baseline of human existence, only to be commented upon for the sake of irony. Whiteness, as a topic, is good for stand up comics, awkward coffee shop interactions, and little else. People don’t talk about it because it just IS.
But just because I don’t always talk about it doesn’t mean it isn’t exacting a toll on my mind and heart, day after day.
Fish don’t need to be reminded that they’re in water, for they have no experience otherwise. I’m so Portland that most of the time, I don’t even mind being wet that much, but sometimes I wish I could spend more time outside the pool.