How Portland Is Driving Away New Residents of ColorAs I hope you expect, I have already been covering the Racist Sandwich beat.
The City Wasn’t Giving Me What I Needed—Which Is Why I Left by Zahir Janmohamed
Zahir Janmohamed is the co-host of Racist Sandwich , a podcast about food, race, gender, and class. In August, Saveur magazine nominated Racist Sandwich as one of America’s best food podcasts.
He is now based in Columbus, Ohio.It’s cool when, instead of saying they live in Columbus, journalists say they are “based in Columbus.” It would be cooler, however, if they said they were based out of Columbus, like hitmen in an Elmore Leonard novel: e.g., Icepick Willy is based out of Kansas City.
Also, Icepick is a cooler first name than Zahir: “Icepick Janmohamed is based out of Columbus.”
Okay, okay, I’ll admit that Columbus is a hopelessly lame place to be based out of.
But I’m just trying to help.
… So then what does it mean when I, and other people of color (POC), walk away from Portland because we can no longer stomach its racism? …Do you get the impression lately that POC are about to collapse in a heap of exhaustion from all the Emotional Labor they do?
What struck me was the very frank and seldom heard opinions by POC born and raised in Portland who are tired—understandably so—by new transplants like myself criticizing their city.
… But almost immediately after I arrived, I found myself eager to get out.Reading all these I Cried Among the Farmland essays of Immigriping, I have to agree with one commenter: They’re not sending their best.
I quickly grew accustomed to being asked by white people about my ethnic heritage—whether at the grocery store, sports bar, or on TriMet—and learned to say that I’m Indian American in the first few minutes of practically every conversation, just to set them at ease. It never really worked. They specifically wanted to know about the “Mohamed” in my last name.
When I lived in other more diverse US cities, I didn’t feel such a pressing need to talk about race. But in Portland, I often felt forced to do so because of the daily slights I, and so many other POC, experienced. It was taxing and unfair…
The thing is, I tried liking Portland. I even co-founded a podcast, Racist Sandwich—covering food, race, gender, and class—hoping it would make me feel at ease in Oregon. …
But Portland was simply too much for me. …
“The thing that trips me out about Portland is not that it’s so white. That’s just a numbers game that will change as the demographics shift,” said Robin Ye, a Chinese American recent graduate of the University of Chicago who is now once again in his native Portland. “The issue is that for many white people, they walk into an office meeting or classroom, see no people of color around, and feel like there’s nothing wrong about that.”
What makes matters worse, many told me, is the climate in Oregon post-election. According to the Southern Poverty Legal Center, Oregon experienced the highest number of hate incidents per capita in the 10 days immediately following Donald Trump’s win. …
Taz Loomans, an Indian American, also moved to the Bay Area from Portland. … “Living in Portland made me hate white people! … In Portland the most painful experience was that my white friends and colleagues very much resisted and refuted the idea that it was a difficult place for people of color.”
… “I don’t ride my bike at night,” she said. “No way. I’m Black. Even Black people are shocked to see Black people ride their bikes here.”
… “Portland is racist and it’s hurting my career and spirit,” Tam said originally. …
Two words that kept coming up repeatedly in my interviews were “erasure” and “privilege.”
… I gained amazing friends, a keener understanding of LGBTQ issues, and the importance of asking a person for their pronouns of choice. But Portland also forced me to revisit parts of my childhood that I would rather put behind me, like episodes in my life when I was the only non-white person in the room, something I don’t have to deal with as often in Columbus.
… I couldn’t, though, get past the fact that the tasting menu was called a “magic carpet ride.” Growing up in California, sometimes kids would come over and, after seeing my mother’s prayer Muslim mat in our house, tease me because they thought I carried a “magic carpet” like the characters in the Disney film Aladdin.
When I pushed back and said I was more than that, they responded I was being too sensitive, I had an attitude problem, and that maybe they might hear me if only my tone were “right.”
It hurt. It still does.