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This Week in Racism

Black People in Portland Said No to a Trader Joe's to Keep White People from Moving In

A black community organization in Portland successfully kept a Trader Joe's from being built in the predominantly African American northeast area of the city. They claimed that the grocery chain would attract "non-oppressed" individuals.

by Dave Schilling
Feb 14 2014, 3:03pm

Thumbnail photo via Flickr User Christopher.Michel

Welcome to another edition of This Week in Racism. I’ll be ranking news stories on a scale of 1 to RACIST, with “1” being the least racist and “RACIST” being the most racist.

–Portland is known for its lumber industry, cold weather, charming architecture, and affluent white folks. Telling someone that black people live in Portland is like telling them that a hot dog can run for president. Conan O'Brien even made a joke about it Wednesday night, so save your wisecracks for the comments.

The very real black population of a neighborhood in Rip City convinced Trader Joe's to give up on its plans to open a store in their area. The Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) claimed that by opening a clean, affordable, pleasant, convenient chain grocery store, their neighborhood would become too desirable for "non-oppressed populations." This is, of course, code for "white persons." PAALF went on the record to state that it's opposed to any development "that does not primarily benefit the black community." A clean place to buy cheap, healthy food is clearly a huge "fuck you" to black people throughout Portland.

They are specifically upset that the Portland Development Commission sold the land—which is worth $2.9 million—to Majestic Realty for a paltry sum of $502,160 while not adding an affordable housing component to the plan. Subsidizing property sales to spur development is a common practice of organizations like the PDC. Government redevelopment agencies exist for the sole purpose of encouraging businesses to create jobs through incentives of this sort. PAALF is saying that this isn't good enough, and they want more, even if asking for more means getting nothing at all.

PAALF describes itself as "united in the belief that we can do more together than separately. We recognize that in order to achieve enduring, positive change in our communities we need a truly transformative agenda; one that is exciting and fresh; one that challenges the status quo and changes the game." If by "changing the game" they mean thumbing their nose at economic development because they're afraid of gentrification, then they done flipped the script. 

On their website, they even dare to say, "People of color, particularly African Americans, are often isolated from access to the critical resources we all need to create healthy, thriving communities, families, and individuals." Trader Joe's is far from a perfect corporation—there is no such thing, anyway—but according to a CNN report, store managers "can make in the low six figures, and full-time crew members can start in the $40,000 to $60,000 range." They also say that "Trader Joe's annually contributes 15.4 percent of employees' gross income to tax-deferred retirement accounts." Better to keep those jobs out of black neighborhoods to score political points, I guess.

Gentrification is a thorny subject, one that has class, race, and gender implications. Unpacking that mess would take longer than this column allows, but unemployment and economic despair are the flipside to the boogeyman of gentrification. Hiring is picking up speed all over Oregon, but not in Portland. The Portland metro area lost 600 jobs in November of 2013, while Oregon as a whole gained 5,400 jobs in that same month. There's a middle ground between whitewashing a low-income, minority neighborhood (or as I call it, "San Francisco'ing") and allowing an area to remain disadvantaged. Rent control, subsidized housing, and outreach to business leaders are just some of the ways that gentrification can be managed effectively. Black community leaders in Portland should be ashamed for seemingly ignoring compromise and further hamstringing the population they serve in the name of "preserving their culture." RACIST

–Sensitive male/black actor Samuel L. Jackson lost his fucking mind during an appearance on the KTLA Morning News. Instead of promoting the new RoboCop remake, Jackson launched a tirade against celebrity correspondent Sam Rubin after Rubin asked Jackson how the response to his Super Bowl commercial was. Unfortunately for Rubin, Jackson did not feature in a Super Bowl commercial... but Laurence Fishburne did. Jackson accused Rubin of being incapable of telling the difference between black actors, and his outrage destroyed the interview. Any and all attempts by Rubin to get Jackson back on topic failed. Rubin apologized and wants the public to believe that he was referencing Jackson's appearance in the trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but he was too flustered to properly speak up after Jackson started lacing into him.

Let's all forget why it happened, and just be glad that it did happen. Nothing is more tedious than a celebrity interview on a morning news show. The celebrity doesn't want to be doing it. The interviewer lavishes empty compliments on the celebrity. The celebrity plugs some flaccid turd of a movie before pissing off to whatever more interesting thing he is going to do that day. Chances are Sam Jackson had done 20 identical appearances that day to promote RoboCop. This was probably just the last straw in a miserable day for a crotchety old man. It also ended up being great viral marketing for his movie, since millions of people saw the RoboCop poster that was behind Jackson during the interview. I'd say this was much more affective than the usual somnambulistic interview. 3

–Oklahoma State college basketball player Marcus Smart was suspended for three games after shoving a rival Texas Tech fan who, he alleges, called him a "nigger" during a stoppage in play. Smart apologized to the fan, Jeff Orr, who is a regular fixture at Texas Tech basketball games. Orr denied using a racial slur, but he did admit to calling Smart a "piece of crap." Video evidence backs up Orr's account of the situation. A grown man shouldn't be calling a college student playing a game a "piece of crap," and accusations of racism shouldn't be thrown around willy-nilly. Hopefully all parties involved can move on, and the general public can stop pretending they watch college basketball during a month that doesn't end in "arch." 7

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