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.


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