How pervasive is racism (racial discrimination) in our community (our city)? (by Ebony Foreman)

rose-festival-courtSome Background

As you all know, my essays and research thus far have all concerned racism and effects our society. When asking a question about such a sensitive subject there are of course many things that come to mind: Why does it exist? What are people racist? What does ‘institutional racism’ mean? These are all questions most people ask if they comprehend enough about the topic; however, while did I decide to take a similar route so that I could at least present a reasonable answer with legitimate evidence and proof, I won’t be asking an opinion based questions, but rather a factually based ones. By basing questions in facts, such as how racism is experienced or interpreted, it leave little room to be challenged or knocked as “biased.” By doing so I think that the question will reach out and touch more readers than simply saying “why does racism exist,” that’s a question which many answer incorrectly and state that only white people are racist and it dates back to the slave trade, but this is also incorrect. Humans, as a species, have chosen numerous methods for judging and deeming a particular group inferior while they are superior, and in this country it just so happens that race (ethnicity) reigns supreme over all other characteristics (next would be religion, sex, age, etc., there is a long list of “isms”)

Racism effects the world, it’s an international, pandemic infection that is rooted so deep within the human race that it would take a considerable amount of research and dedication for me to truly answer the question why it exists. I could simplify, of course, but it lacks true merit. Narrowing the scope of the questions and centering them in our community will aid in both research and leaving a deeper impact.

The Research Question

My question: How pervasive is racism (racial discrimination) in our community (our city)?

Here are a few others questions:

Why does racism cut across multiple generations and ethnicities?

How is racial decimation experienced in Portland, Oregon?

How has the community dealt with racism (racial discrimination) in our community?


 The Research:

1.) A web based article on racism.  Apollon, Dom. “What is Racism? That’s harder for Youth to answer than you think. 16 June 2011.

This article is very extensive and goes through a lot of interviews with dozens of “youths” ranging from 18-25 ( while not the same group that I am mentoring I found a lot of it relevant) and explains what racism means to them and how the newer generation misunderstands, misuses, and misinterprets racism. It’s a part of a much grander essay, and the research was conducted by the publisher, the Applied Research Center. And while the article doesn’t focus on the communities of these individuals (that would take a considerable amount of time, money and people) it does touch on contemporary racism, which is just as relevant.

I picked this article mainly because of its relevance to that of my volunteer work. The young women that I am mentoring also don’t know what racism is. They have an idea of the behaviors and what it looks like, but when asked to put it into words, they all say the same thing: “one race being discriminated against by another.” Racism, however, is based on an innate belief that the ethnicity that possesses social, political, and influential power, are superior that of the ethnicity that doesn’t. What may understand racism to be is based on day to day experiences rather than the grander scheme of things.

2.) A web based article on educating children about racism.  Beardslee, William M.D. Poussaint, Alvin M.D. “Talking to our children about Racism & Diversity.” 20 March 2009

Again, here is another lengthy and extensive article about how to inform and educate children about racism. It suggests that children, unless taught otherwise are naturally prejudice-free. They learn from their environment, thus when they see something that isn’t what they are used to (interracial couple, a family that is not of the same ethnicity) they react accordingly by stating that its different, weird, or wrong and that’s because they don’t know any better.

Here, it is better to understand exactly how adults can alter future generation’s behavior of how they view race. If anything this would improve and diminish acts of racism within this country and fewer children will grow up believing that human motivations are purely and superficially based on skin color. The article presents the idea that education, above all, is the best way to help children understand what racism is, how to avoid falling into racist behavior, and to be open-minded about what they consider to be “different” as far as race is concerned.

3.) My own experience + volunteer mentoring

I’ve received a few letters from a few of the young women (some wish to remain anonymous) reaching out to tell me about what’s going on in their everyday lives, as well as noting me of various opportunities within their “home” community that they’ve noted as being racially biased.

One young woman, a senior attending Grant High school wrote to me:

“I went and applied for a job at Burger King just down the street from my high school. The hiring manager was a white man and a majority of the staff was of Latin decent. I tried to ask about applying for the job of cashier, but hardly any of the staff understood what I was asking, and spoke in broken English. When I approached the manager he made an uncomfortable joke about being over qualified…and I left feeling ashamed! I wanted to write a letter to Burger King Inc., and tell them about what happened, but then I found myself wondering…would it make a difference?”

As unfortunate as it was that she experience this, it happens every day and there’s no real end in sight to this behavior. Many are either afraid of addressing the issues of racism or simply don’t understand how exactly to phrase such concerns without appearing racist themselves. I’ve asked my supervisor, Marilyn Clint, if she’s ever noticed how extremely monochromatic the board members were and why on the other hand most of the volunteers were of non-white ethnicities. You see, while “claiming” to cherish diversity, the Rose Festival (at least as far as the board goes) doesn’t practice or demonstrate the very thing they value. What does that say? Marilyn explained to me that they hardly receive ANY applications for board positions from ethnically diverse applicants. As much as I would like to believe that that’s the reason why, it’s hard not to be skeptical. The Rose Festival urges diversity among their princesses but not among their staff? I find that a little baffling and a disappointing. Shouldn’t places that have a mission statement strive to live up to it?

As side from that slight disappointment it’s good to hear from these young women and to know that they are noticing or have been noticing what goes on within their communities. It’s truly saddening when people automatically (consciously or not) resort to using ethnicity and race as a way of judging others.

Another young woman, Joy Robertson, a junior attending Central Catholic wrote me as well. With her permission she has allowed me not only to type her letter but also to use her name when publishing it:

Dear Ebony,

After our last mentoring session I realized that there is much about racism that I had never considered before. The questions you asked us weren’t difficult, and yet a considerable amount of the girls were left unable to answer any of them. How pervasive truly is racism in Portland? I suppose you don’t actually know how persistent racist behavior is until you recognize the signs and behaviors. I am a junior, clearly that means that I have been in high school for three years, and in that three years I have witnessed racist behavior but never so much as second guessed them. Central Catholic isn’t really that diverse of a school, and while the learning environment is very religious, most of what goes on behind the scenes isn’t. I don’t say that to defame the school’s name or even to look down on it, but it goes without saying that private (mainly white) Catholic schools don’t go out of their way to ensure diversity is openly accepted. At school, only 30% of the student body reports that they consider themselves a minority, while the other 70% come from very affluent families.

When I walk down the halls I see typical stereotype cliques, not just by interest but also race. White athletic team members tend to stick closing together, the same goes for cheerleaders, those who represent the African-American club, and so on. And no instructors seem bothered by this at all. Even the staff and faculty consist of a solid 83% white, and until now…I never wondered as to why all this was. Historically, Central Catholic was an all-white male school, and didn’t allow their first African-American male student to attend until 1954 and the school was founded in 1939! You’d think that such a school be paving the way for others to follow in regards to promoting diversity and acceptance, but unfortunately they don’t. I don’t know if this is an issue for the school board or for the mayor, because I can’t speak for student life at other high schools. I feel as if there should be more programs inform the public about racism and how it affects the younger generation, I mean, I’m saddened to report that out of all the clubs at my school there isn’t a Diversity club or union, just individually based race clubs. Shouldn’t schools aim to integrate rather than segregate? I understand why each race would seek to be with people who look like them, but does that really send the right message to incoming freshmen?

Anyways, thank you so much for all your help and for being there for all of us who are trying out for the Rose Festival Court. I appreciate all the kind words, helpful tips, and the concern that you have showed not only me, but all the other girls as well. Keep in touch!


Joy Robertson

1379557_10200491694525760_908058966_nThe Public Writing

Dear President Todd Johnston,

Did you know that of the 528, 121 people who filled out the 2012 census living in Portland, Oregon, nearly 400,000 of them are white? According to the Census Bureau, that’s amounts to about 76% of Portland’s population. Meaning that for all of Portland’s new age progressive and friendly attitudes toward newcomers, the city is almost completely whitewashed and devoid of any of any aspects of multiculturalism and racial awareness. This leads me to believe that while Portland may be a decent enough place to live, it is a place that statistically isn’t racially diverse thus allowing racism to continue to breed within city. It seems that within our city the people moving here aren’t willing to accept racial differences, they instead wish to find others with not only the same value system as they, but also that look like them. Does the Portland Rose Festival fit that mold? Or is the organization truly a pioneer leading the pack in eliminating racism from the city’s streets?

Did you know that President Johnson signed the EOE (Equal Opportunity Employment) law that protects applicants from discrimination based on sex, age, national origin and race? On the Portland Rose Festival website your mission statement goes on to say that the Portland Rose Festival values diversity, but then where is the proof of this? Since coming to volunteer with the Rose Festival I have noticed that there aren’t any board members, leadership status or otherwise, that are of the non-white ethnicity. For an organization that openly expresses valuing the principle of diversity, there is little to no evidence that the board truly believes in this valued principle. Why is that?

During my time volunteering I approached my supervisor, Marilyn Clint, the Chief Operating officer and Director of Events and Communications, and asked if she too noticed the monochromatic nature of the staff. I was told that unfortunately the Rose Festival doesn’t receive many, if any, applicants that fit into the category of non-white. Because of this it seems that the organization prides itself on focusing on external rather than internal diversity, the proof there resides in the Princess Court, and the multiple places that the organization donate their time, money and effort to; however, with that being said many of the perspective princesses, the girls who will try out for the court this upcoming Spring, are concerned about the acts of racism that go on within their neighborhoods and this concern is shared universally among the girls, white and non-white. I am writing today to address the matter of racism within our community and how the Rose Festival as a pillar should strive to lessen the effects through not only the organizations volunteer work, but also through public speaking and writing.

Since the origin of the Rose Festival court in 1930, the princesses and in turn the queen were traditionally white, and the Festival overall didn’t take its first steps toward racially diversifying its program until 1954 when they allowed the first African-American escort to drive the chosen princess.  That is a twenty-four year gap! And even now, while the princesses may no longer be discriminated against because of their ethnicity (race) they believe that the Rose Festival doesn’t do enough for the community to eradicate the racist label history has branded them with. As a famous award-winning organization you and your staff have the power and influence to make some real changes in the community. By reaching out the Portland Rose Festival could alter the hearts, minds, and behavior of those living in the community and it only takes a push in the right direction to begin making change.


Ebony Foreman


One comment

  1. Ebony:
    I hope you’ll keep us posted on a response from the organization. You are very diplomatic and passionate in this letter and have really shown us the power of community engagement and advocacy in each piece of writing this term!

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