My family moved to Portland, Oregon, four years ago when my husband and I accepted a call to serve as co-pastors. The church we serve is in an area of Portland that has been undergoing gentrification for the last seven or so years. When we started thinking about where to live, we knew we wanted to live in a neighborhood close to the church, and we researched what schools we’d prefer our child attend. The list of homes available that met those criteria, and that were affordable for us, was short, but we found a house that we liked okay that’s near the church and near one of the schools, and we have settled in. And for many reasons that go back to the privileges I enjoy as a well-educated white woman, we were able to buy a home near the church in a school boundary of our choosing.
Because I am a pastor in a church in the part of a city that’s undergoing huge social shifts, I get invited to interesting conversations about gentrification and poverty and race and education and class and all sorts of things. Here are a few things I have learned:
– I have met the enemy, and he is us. By that I mean that in buying the home we bought, from a flipper who bought it from someone who had had to foreclose on it, we became among those who are gentrifying the neighborhood. Our house value has increased by over 30% in four years, which is great news, and terrible news. Some day when we sell this house, we will make money. But our neighborhood is quickly becoming unaffordable to many in the middle class.
– “Keeping Portland Weird” doesn’t really cut the mustard for a lot of people. Yes, I love the Unipiper as much as the next person. I love that recently I ran out for donuts for some friends who were staying with us, and I had to wait because they make each order fresh, and I was asked if I wanted a side of plain apricot butter or apricot butter with habanero salt. I love that nobody judges anyone else’s fashion choices because, really, anything goes. But I sat at one meeting and I heard some people who have lived here their wholes lives, who are being priced out of the neighborhoods they’ve lived in their whole lives, say, “Why not keep Portland kind or just, instead of trying to keep it weird?”
One of the sculptures in memory of the Japanese who were interned in camps – along the waterfront in downtown Portland
– This city is so much more than Portlandia
makes it out to be. Yes, there are ridiculous and wonderful things here. And it is beautiful, with rivers and mountains defining the landscape, and snow close by and beach close by, and leaders have been intentional about being good stewards of the earth. Explorers Lewis and Clark are lauded, and sometimes Sacagawea gets a mention too. And we have an ugly, ugly history when it comes to matters of race. Japanese Internment Camps? Check. Redlining neighborhoods so African Americans can’t buy a home? Check. Slaves freed – and then told to leave the state? Check.
At another meeting I attended, a pastor was lamenting that his church is near one of the hot-spots for Sunday brunch, so much so that his parishioners can’t find a place to park on Sunday morning. And then he said something along the lines of “It’s like the collard greens scone. That’s the symbol of what’s happening to us, taking pieces of our culture and making them hip and trendy, and forgetting about us.”
My friend Aimee grew up in Portland and now lives in the south and was commenting on her different experiences of racism here and there. She writes, “…I am increasingly aware of how distant life in the west can feel from the legacy of slavery. When we were in school, we learned of local historical horrors like massacres of Native Americans, hostile land grabs by explorers and pioneers, and, if we had good teachers, exploitation of Asian immigrants and the crime of Japanese internment camps. Yes, we learned about slavery and its legacy, but at a distance. And in my largely white Oregonian reality …I somehow absorbed the idea that the racial history of the American South was not my history…. The shootings in South Carolina, and all the reasons they and so many other atrocities occur, is our history, our legacy, our problem. Racism is our gaping, festering wound. Don’t keep it at arm’s length. Feel it where you stand, on that beautiful stolen Western soil under Douglas firs and in the shadow of the mountains. Let’s own it, and let’s change it.”
I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do, but I am going to do something. I’ll keep going to those meetings. I will promote opportunities for our congregation to learn. I will stop the racist joke. I will be humble. But I pray I won’t be done, not for a long while.
Collard Greens Scones