Tag Archives: Oregon Humanities

Can Portland’s River Cleanup Correct Environmental Injustice?

AP Photo/Don Ryan

Fishing isn’t sport for everyone. Many urban residents rely on rivers and lakes to supplement their diets. In Oregon Humanities magazine, journalist Julia Rosen looks at the people of color who once relied on the Willamette River for food, pleasure, and work. The Willamette runs right through downtown Portland, Oregon. After industry and urbanization polluted it, the Environmental Protection Agency declared Portland Harbor a superfund site, and many locals quit fishing it. A new 13-year, billion-dollar plan has the potential to clean this beautiful river, which could reconnect certain communities with what Rosen calls the city’s lifeblood. But gentrification has already displaced many black families, physically separating them from the river. The question now is whether the cleanup can create jobs for impacted communities and right the city’s many racial injustices.

Historian Ellen Stroud has written that the pollution of the slough reveals a story of environmental racism. North Portland has been associated with African Americans since Henry Kaiser built Vanport, a housing development for his shipyard workers, along the Columbia’s southern bank. From 1942 until 1948, when it was destroyed in a catastrophic flood, Vanport housed the majority of Portland’s Black population.

That association, Stroud writes, seems to have contributed to the decision to sacrifice North Portland—and the slough—to industry. North Portland also housed the city’s primary garbage dump from 1940 to 1991, and has long suffered from poor air quality.

“Whenever you look at where those toxic substances and hazardous substances lodge,” says Robin Collin, “it inevitably follows color.” Collin is an environmental justice expert and law professor at Willamette University in Salem. She says this pattern has been documented repeatedly, and often emerges from the perception that fear and disenfranchisement will keep communities of color from protesting the pollution.

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Kimberly, No Longer With the Good Hair

Trixie Karinski, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Rose Weitz, who writes about the importance of hair in the lives of women, says that we are sending a message with our locks; that hair—whether fine, kinky, purple, or cut close to the scalp—is “part of a broader language of appearance, which, whether or not we intend it, tells others about ourselves.”

Changing my hair transformed my relationships and my identity. When I changed it, it almost felt like I was being reborn, being given another chance to recast, re-create who I was—sassy, obedient, sexy, demure. But around my grandmother, I often followed her lead, walking with the weight of her expectations and the benefits of her struggle. She bought me clothes, jewelry, and gym memberships and mailed me newspaper clippings about which fruits and veggies I should eat to lose weight faster.

When hair is bound up with identity, history, and family, a hairstyle can bring women closer — or push them apart. In Oregon Humanities, Kimberly Melton tells how she finally styled hers in a way that reflected who she was, and demanded that her loving grandmother accept this as a sign of strength.

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How One Woman Left Her Abusive Husband

If you live long enough, you create some regrets. Some people also make the difficult choices that alleviate their regrets. In Oregon Humanities magazine, Loretta Stinson writes about her moment of clarity, the night when she saw her fifteen-year relationship to an abusive alcoholic for what it was, and decided to walk out on him, her self-deception and her hopes, and to quit putting her own life on hold while he drank and injected his paychecks away. No more abuse. This is how she left him:

It’s best not to say too much and not to look at him for too long when he’s been drinking, kind of like running into a bear in the woods—you just back away slowly and try not to piss him off. The fights can start just by the way I look at him. He says it’s my face. My face shows too much of what I’m thinking no matter how little I say, but maybe that’s just what he needs to believe because he has to be mad at some-one and I happen to be available. Tonight I’m  just watching him start to spin. I can see by the way he’s crashing around pissed off about nothing that it was never my face that pissed him off, never anything I did or didn’t do. He needs a reason to fight with me so he can leave to drink more, and that’s what he intends to do no matter what I do or don’t do. This idea is a revelation.

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Ancient Myths, Trigger Warnings, and Our Unsafe World

Italian Renaissance relief. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this year, an op-ed written by members of Columbia University’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board argued that Ovid’s Metamorphoses should be taught with a trigger warning because the myths of Daphne and Persephone “include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault.” Needless to say, a lot of people had thoughts about this. In a recent essay-cum-open-letter for Oregon Humanities, poet Wendy Willis issued an unusually nuanced response. Read more…