Steve Duin’s lazy racism.

Earlier this year, Steve Duin, columnist at the ever-shrinking Oregonian, volunteered his suggestion that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. would disapprove of the NAACP getting involved in the controversy/debate over Trader Joe’s/affordable housing at Vanport. Duin took time out of his work on behalf of social equity to also use Dr. King for swipes at other black activists at work in our community.

He even drags in Dr. King’s daughter to pummel blacks for their history of disdain of homosexuals – as though this were somehow unique to blacks in America, or anywhere else.

It should be obvious to him that Dr. King is not a proxy for his critiques of activism, though maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Duin ought to be able to stand behind his own ideas about what constitutes productive dialogue, without attempting to speak for a deceased civil rights activist and organizer.


Amazingly, Duin had this to say:

If King had survived that fatal bullet in Memphis 46 years ago, just as he survived the Montgomery bus boycott and that Birmingham jail, would he recognize where all of God’s children have taken the crusade for civil rights?

I’d like to quote my friend J., who responded to Duin’s column with these words:

I think how duin approached johnson’s anti-gay perspective was manipulative, because it to me was done as a form of deflection.  the way it was written, it took away from king’s dedication to economic autonomy and internationalizing the struggle of non-europeans globally due to imperialism and colonialism.  it looks as if it was written to gain favor with white liberals who love to overuse the ‘color-blindness’ theory because of course if, goodness forbid, black people actually get themselves together economically and OPEN THEIR OWN SHOPS and funnel their own economy in their communities, that is just racist and against king’s ‘dream’.

Duin quotes Dr. King:

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Seemingly, it is only black activists who presumably have lost their ability to look at the bigger picture and have devolved into selfish, self-satisfied impediments to progress, in Duin’s thinking. Or perhaps what Duin means is that Dr. King’s message was meant only for blacks, and neither he nor any other white activists need to heed King’s concerns.

My acquaintance K. says this: “The way that white folk love MLK: only as a tool to silence and shame.”


Duin and his editors did find the grace to print a rebuttal from David Whitfield. Whitfield writes:

The protest around Trader Joe’s in NE is about raising the serious issues and consequences of yet again displacing a substantial population of people of color out of their neighborhood in favor of gentrification and middle-class white property aspirations.

The issue is about social and racial justice. The protest peaceful. The aim conversation, persuasion and achieving compromise … like jobs and investment in the needs of the historic community. Whites are also involved. Where’s the “extremism of hate” here for MLK to disown? Indeed, hardly extremism …

I doubt MLK would have denounced people of color standing on a corner with placards or making an argument in a meeting or distributing a pamphlet in the Capitol, campaigning peacefully and openly around the social and economic issues that seriously affect people of color in Portland. Because those issues affect all of us, white, brown and black.

I think he would have called it democracy.


Kudos to Mr. Whitfield for his thoughtful response to Duin. Kudos, also, to the Oregonian for publishing it (and for giving us a break from Duin’s thoughts for that day).

If Duin finds the behavior of people and organizations actively seeking a community that serves its residents more equitably and with more careful intent, let him stand behind his own sentiments. He has a column in the local paper, an exceedingly privileged voice in our community – he doesn’t need to use Dr. King as a battering ram against other black people seeking justice and fairness.

By the way, there’s a Boycott the Oregonian facebook page that has picked up 1200 likes in about two months.

M.L. King Blvd. Rename Endorsed

A proposal to rename Union Avenue in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. was unanimously endorsed by the Portland Planning Commission following a hearing Tuesday night.

The next step will be a hearing before Portland City Council. The Council will then take action on the proposal sometime in April or early May, Loretta Young, assistant to Commissioner Earl Blumenauer, said Wednesday. The proposal comes under the city’s Office of Transportation, Blumenauer’s responsibility.

“We’re elated,” said Bernie Foster, published of The Skanner Newspaper. “This endorsement signifies a positive uplift for this city and the state. Those 4,000 signatures can now have their ‘day in court’ before the City Council.” The Skanner surveyed in the community with petitions asking support for a King Street in 1987, and presented the signed petitions to City Council.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Street Renaming Committee was created and has worked diligently on the project since mid-1987. Committee chair Carolyn Leonard states the name change will also serve as a symbol for revitalization of Northeast Portland.

The entire length of Union Avenue will be renamed. According to the Portland Office of Transportation, a five-year transition period will take place. During that time, both names will appear on street signs, allowing businesses a sufficient grace period to use up stationery and other papers with the former street name.

–from The (Portland) Skanner, March 29, 1989. (edited for clarity)




Class Matters.

Most folks in my predominately white neighborhood see themselves as open-minded; they believe in justice and support the right causes. More often than not, they are social liberals and fiscal conservatives. They may believe in recognizing multiculturalism and celebrating diversity (our neighborhood is full of white gay men and straight white people who have at least one black, Asian, or Hispanic friend), but when it comes to money and class they want to protect what they have, to perpetuate and reproduce it—they want more. The fact that they have so much while others have so little does not cause moral anguish, for they see their good fortune as a sign they are chosen, special, deserving. It enhances their feeling of prosperity and well-being to know everyone cannot live as they do.

bell hooks, Where We Stand: Class Matters.


The Right to the City.

“A ‘logic of representation’ centers on the rights of groups and individuals to make their desires and needs known, to represent themselves to others and to the state – even if through struggle – as legitimate claimants to public considerations. Such a logic requires the acceptance of a (near) universal and positive right of representation. Yet, as with any other right, such a right cannot be guaranteed (“accepted”) in the abstract – rather, it is something always to struggle toward. In this struggle, the development – or often the radical claiming – of a space for representation, a place in which groups and individuals can make themselves visible, is crucial.

While it is no doubt true that the work of citizenship requires a multitude of spaces, from the most private to the most public, at the same time public spaces are decisive, for it is here that the desires and needs of individuals and groups can be seen, and therefore recognized, resisted, or (not at all paradoxically for thoroughly materialist rather than idealist normative social practices ) wiped out. The logic of representation demands the construction  – or, better, the social production – of certain (though not necessarily predetermined) kinds of public space.

–Don Mitchell, “The Right to the City”