Maria Cahill has taken her fight against racism to a bike lane in Old Town. As an organizer with Irene’s Circle, a nonprofit that supports families impacted by police violence and hate crimes, it’s just one of the ways she exercises her commitment to justice.
Every day for nearly a month now, Cahill has chalked a message into the protected bike lane on NW 2nd Avenue right outside the Japanese American History Museum. Sometimes she’ll write, “All lives will matter when Black Lives Matter” and other times simply, “Black Lives Matter.”
Portlander John Russell leads free walking tours in downtown Portland. He has seen the chalked message many times — and he’s also noticed that it gets washed away each time. “Who cleans it off each day?” he wrote in a Facebook post yesterday. “A white guy who works for Portland’s Downtown Clean and Safe crew goes out of his way to clean it off. He doesn’t bother with other chalk in the neighborhood. Just this one.”
Downtown Clean & Safe is a private nonprofit that is partially funded by the City of Portland. They also contract with the Portland Business Alliance to provide a variety of cleaning and security services in the downtown retail district. I reached out to the director of Clean & Safe for comment but have yet to hear back.
“The fact that it keeps being removed is why I keep putting it back right there as my once a day practice.”
— Maria Cahill, Irene’s Circle
For her part, Cahill sees this as just another example of why the work she does is so needed in Portland.
Reached for comment this morning, Cahill told me she’s been chalking “Black Lives Matter” and the names of people killed by police since May. As part of an organized campaign, Cahill and volunteers with Irene’s Circle chalk names of Oregonians of all races killed by police outside the downtown courthouse to target the District Attorney’s offices.
“This particular round of chalking was inspired by my experience attending the MAX stabbing vigil where someone chalked ‘All Lives Matter’,” Cahill shared. “While I can understand why someone would think this, because any compassionate person would recognize that they do, I felt that I needed to chalk Black Lives Matter once a day somewhere in Portland.” She usually chalks on the sidewalk but does this one in the bike lane so it will catch the eye of people riding.
Cahill rides through this bike lane on her way to work nearby will sometimes go back twice-a-day to refresh it. She’s re-chalked it in that same spot about 20 times so far. “The fact that it keeps being removed is why I keep putting it back right there as my once a day practice.”
In comments on the thread started by John Russell on Facebook yesterday, Cahill said she wants to organize a bike ride against racism. A ride that might coincide with the monthly vigil for Keaton Otis, a young black man shot and killed by a Portland Police officer in 2010. Beyond that, Cahill’s considering a chalk-a-thon event in Clean & Safe’s dowtown district. “I’ll buy the chalk,” she says, “I’m totally serious.” If you’d like to help with either event, contact Cahill via email at justice@Irenescircle.org.
UPDATE, 3:12pm: Laura Recko, director of communications for Portland Business Alliance, has provided this statement:
Downtown Clean & Safe’s Homeless-to-Work Program, in partnership with the nonprofit Central City Concern, offers training and mentorship opportunities to workers that are formerly homeless or have other barriers to employment. For more than 20 years, these individuals have provided cleaning services including sidewalk sweeping, graffiti removal, litter and cigarette removal, and pressure washing services in the 213-block business improvement district. In July 2017 alone, cleaning crews removed nearly 4,400 graffiti tags within the district. Crews remove all graffiti, as defined by city code, regardless of content.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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A quick spray of clear coat on a dry Saturday may help give it a bit longer lifespan…
I’ll stick to chalk but thanks fit the tip. :j
Get a permit ?
Why? It’s not needed, is it? Is it even possible?
There is no permit needed for sidewalk chalk use in Portland, regardless of the age of the operator of said chalk.
I shot them an email to inquire about the specific targeting of this chalking. A few more calls and emails may be hard to ignore.
This is a good idea! Thank you!
Future PBA Press Release: ” We clean off this radical graffiti because it might scare the tourists on the way back to their cars after picking up some donuts nearby.”
I get you are making a joke, sort of, but I just want to reiterate to all the conspiracy minded folks out there (“this goes straight to the top!!!”) how unlikely it is that a clean and safe worker is doing anything to further the political motives of the portland business alliance. Remember, these folks are often recruited from downtown’s homeless community… In the seven years I’ve worked on the NW park blocks, they have been warmly welcomed as contributors to the community.
I ride my this chalk message every day. I had no idea the person doing it was re-drawing it every day. Keep it up! 🙂
Til the rains come! Thanks for the encouragement.
How about you just put ‘All Lives Matter’ and leave it as that? You’re alienating people by making it anti-every-other-skin-color. If you would go against the instances when police mess up against LIVES OF ALL COLORS you have more success. 🙂 It makes it a racial thing when you single Black people out like they’re the only ones that matter. Even “Black Lives Matter Too”, non-black people can get behind that. Instead, you have people targeting police officers with violence. Mostly Hispanic or White police, but even black police!
Thanks for your comments.
As mentioned in the article, I’m a police accountability organizer for Irene’s Circle (which is different from being a Black Lives Matter activist). Under the leadership of a Black immigrant woman, Irene’s Circle promotes the message that police violence is an issue for people of all races. For instance, when you look at murders by police in pure numbers, more White people are killed than people of any other race. But, when you look at murders by police compared to the percent each race makes up in the population, people of color bear an unfair burden, being killed at a much higher rate than White people.
I don’t need to chalk All Lives Matter. Every decent human already knows that. What they don’t know is that Black Lives Matter. If they did, then those decent human beings might not be as complacent about the injustice caused by racism.
RE: “…radical grafitti” —(should be “grafitto”, singular)— by that thinking even prayers would be “radical”…
This will be moot in about 4 weeks when the rain comes back.
Nah, they’ll just have to upgrade to paint then. 🙂
Shhhhh. Maybe if we keep quiet it will forget we’re here.
Yes. And. Racism will still be around.
The executive director is a retired officer. Their board is stacked with business owners and land developers. Amazing what passes for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in this country, but this is just one example.
Here is “Clean & Safe Inc’s” 2014 tax return for anyone with a free Guidestar account – http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2015/930/923/2015-930923476-0c32a757-9.pdf
Maybe “safe” means no signs of resistance to white ideals?
Grafitti is certainly in their “mission” but focusing on messages like this rather than all grafitti equally is pretty rascist.
Their “district” as shown on their website can be easily avoided.
Clean and Safe’s contact form is here: http://cleanandsafepdx.com/about/contact-us.html
Clean and safe sound suspiciously like code words for a more nefarious agenda
Dirty and Dangerous sounds like something a little more up my alley.
Clean like ethnic cleansing!
Safe like the National Security Agency, protecting the safety of America!
(You know in German safety & security are the same word – sicherheit. As in “Kommen sie sicher!” – literally “Come safely,” but we would probably say “Come quietly!” I believe traditionally the greeting is accompanied by pointing a firearm of some sort?)
I confess that I’m being preposterous. And also that I’ve been making the same jokes about “clean & safe” since the 90s when the PBA first started their little private rent-a-cop army.
How do we help Irene with her effort?
Everyone buy a box of chalk and stop on your commute somewhere to write the same message?
I love this idea and would love to see Black Lives Matter chalked by others as I travel around. Thank you.
See how long a “Blue Lives Matter” chalking lasts in a nearby location, and a few other an apolitical slogans, too, just to see how they are treated.
What would you prefer?
Science is fine, just not during summer break please. Brain está descansado.
I’m betting no more than 30 minutes, and probably registered as a hate crime by a dozen different people.
There are lots of little ways to help Irene. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we try to match your interests to our efforts.
Maria & Irene
Just wait until it is a message you don’t agree with.
What’s this got to do with cycling? Is is because the chalk is in a bike lane?!
Maybe it has to do with justice?
I think you’ve hit on it. Jonathan seems to have found the answers to the questions he raised in that post – or perhaps he found the subscriber support for his answers. His blog. His prerogative, I guess.
Out of all the things to be outraged about… If you don’t like the article’s subject, then don’t read it. That’s what headlines are for. Some of us here would like to see more of these kind of posts.
sure, but none of that really applies here.
I used to have the same issue when they strayed from cycling news… but now I see how interwoven these things are… there’s usually some kind of tie to cycling given how awesome it is…
Is there some kind of “degrees of separation” game in there somewhere? “N Degrees of Bicycling”?
How is this an issue of “gentrification”?
Can I just say that Clean and Safe do a really amazing job at working to keep Old Town streets looking nice? The homeless population there can generate a lot of trash including used hypodermic needles and other hazardous material that wouldn’t get cleaned up otherwise. I’d be interested in finding out more about this situation that’s been described here, and the motivations of the person who is erasing the chalk, but I am personally very grateful for the organization in general and all they do.
Thank you for bringing up what’s good about Clean and Safe. I agree with you and also really appreciate the tone of your comment (and so many others here).
UPDATE, 3:12pm: Laura Recko, director of communications for Portland Business Alliance, has provided this statement:
They do use cargo bikes, so they can’t be that bad. Anyway, I wouldn’t fault any of the workers for this – it always comes from the leaders at the top.
Thank you for sharing what’s good about Clean and Safe.
And acknowledging institutional racism as one factor here.
Written in chalk and cleaned up only to be rewritten in chalk is a much stronger message than written only to fade away.
And appreciated by one Black woman I know more than putting up a “one and done” sign. Not to disparage the sign. I’ve got one and it was a great way to take action til I figured out what my next step in justice work would be.
You continue to have your self-appointed titles reversed. Editing should come before publishing and those roles shouldn’t be filled by a single individual.
Your subscription has been refunded.
Well their office is in that neighborhood, so likely they would start nearby and see it early in day? –nobody has reported C & S actually doing this.
Why chalk a bike lane anyway? Sort of preaching to choir. On average.
would this story be on BP if she was doing it on the sidewalk ?
Or, what if the words distracted a cyclist, causing them to wreck resulting in a serious injury. What would the reaction be from the readers here?
Then that person would probably be distracted by squirrels and blowing leaves and shouldn’t be in public unaccompanied.
Control your bike.
Millions of cyclists every day manage to read street signs without crashing. Why is this any different? Just because you don’t like the message Mr.
KnobbiesKnow It All?
Fair question. Idk if it matters… I do ride my bike to do almost everything I do (meetings, parties, shopping trips, work) in Portland.
Love so much of this discussion. Thank you for engaging in the conversation.
Laura Recko from the Portland Business Association’s response to this sounds about as tone deaf as I would expect from the PBA.
It’s free speech, or should be, to write black lives matter or anything in chalk on a bike path or anywhere. It’s also free speech to erase it. That said black lives matter is an inherently racist statement. It’s pure pride/tribalism and is 100% based in ego, which we should all be getting away from if peace is ever going to happen. Black lives matter movement is the wrong execution of good intention. It only reinforces the concept of race and the ego based trappings of pride and tribalism that created racism in the first place. Race, especially based on skin color has no basis in science or rational thought. Race is a mental construct invented by tribalistic people to oppress others. Race as identification and self identification is purely ego-based and should be let go and forgotten about. More tribalism will only make it worse. Let go of the self and the ego, let go of the pride and racial identity. If we meditate on the essence of our being, we find we are far more than our skin color. If every one of us eliminates race as self identity we can eliminate it as a source of prejudice.
Ah, yes. Let’s just meditate and forget about it. Solid solution.
Unfortunately eliminating racism in one’s own mind doesn’t eliminate it as a form of institutional social oppression. It is only one of many constructs designed to perpetuate unjust hierarchy, and like those others, pretending it isn’t real doesn’t make it go away and leave us alone. Many oppressed peoples find power in using concepts and words designed to keep them down as part of their self identification; by owning and redefining these things a certain amount of control is gained over them which levels the psychological playing field. There are many observable similarities and differences between all humans, some of which are skin deep and some of which are much deeper. Our real goal should be to recognize and celebrate them, not pretend they don’t exist.
Thank you for expressing your opinion. Yes, race is a mental construct. It’s also a social construct and racism is “baked into” our institutions while it parades as “logic” or “compassion”. Many other things you say here are true.
On the other hand, in trainings on equity, diversity, and inclusion, I’ve heard from leaders and trainers that we’ve tried to “not see color” and this doesn’t allow us to see the differences that need to be accommodated to have a truly multicultural community. Instead, we refuse to see differences and require everyone to live up to a single, mainstream standard. When we don’t happen to comform to the standard (e.g. being Muslim instead of Christian) or can’t conform to the standard because of something out of our control like skin color (e.g. being a Black person instead of a White person), then we’re less likely to be given the tools we need to be successful (i.e. to have an equitable society).
I’ve been a part of this movement for about 2.5 years and feel like I know at least a little about what it is and what it isn’t.
It’s a movement with compassionate leaders. Here’s their statement on the Dallas police shootings last year, calling them a tragedy: http://blacklivesmatter.com/the-black-lives-matter-network-advocates-for-dignity-justice-and-respect/
It’s an inclusive movement. Here’s the leaders’ statement on DAPL:
To say Black Lives Matter is not to say that other lives don’t matter, as you can see from the statement about police shootings. It doesn’t say Only Black Lives Matter. To chalk Black Lives Matter is to recognize the very real disparities that Black people experience as a result of individual and institutional racism that they experience everyday. Those structural inequalities won’t go away until we’re willing to see and name the differences between us. The first page of this handout is a snapshot of racism in Oregon and you can see the disparities between Black people and White people quite clearly: http://greengirlpdx.com/BLM/SURJBLMhandout2016.pdf
You write that “to say Black Lives Matter is not to say that other lives don’t matter” (which I 100% agree with), but I would argue that this is not how many people hear the message. I would also say that erasing the chalk (especially if it falls under a larger anti-graffiti policy) is not a statement that black lives do not matter, even though some clearly will interpret it that way.
Which brings me to this: is a speaker’s intent more or less important than the way their message is heard?
Perhaps some of those who are mis-hearing the message have reasons (biases) not to hear it the way it is intended? Perhaps it is less painful to dismiss or distort the intention, deny the validity or urgency of it?
Absolutely; this holds true on sides of the political spectrum.
sounds like something #45 might have said.
Can you give an example of this, of the both sides problematique?
>>> sounds like something #45 might have said
I think you illustrated my point nicely.
Agreed on this. Grammatically, if I say “I like tofu”, no reasonable person would think that I exclusively eat tofu and nothing else. So why is it when someone says “black lives matter” that the ruling class (read: white majority) hears “black lives are the only lives that matter”? Is it perhaps that they see a historically marginalized and abused group attempting to take back control of their own lives as threatening to the ruling class’ control? Are the claims that BLM is a racist message coming from those who themselves are racist and are attempting to deflect blame off of themselves? I’d say so.
Acknowledging racism is not racist, it is in fact the first step in fighting against racism. You can say all day that race is a social construct etc. but that doesn’t change the fact that racism very much does exist. The white fantasy that everyone is just a person and race is meaningless does a massive disservice to those affected by very real racism. If you are denying racism then you are part of the problem.
My comment was mostly directed at M. Yawa, not you, 9watts.
Though you have to admit there is a difference between saying “I like tofu” and making it the rallying cry of a political movement. People will hear it differently.
The police should stop shooting unarmed tofu, and we should stop letting them get away with it.
If that is your message, but others hear it as “tofu is more important than pork”, are you responsible for spreading anti-pork propaganda? That’s my question: is the speaker’s intent more or less important than the way people hear their speech?
If that is how they hear it, perhaps they should trouble themselves to think a little deeper about the issue, the statement, and the context that might have led to someone going to the trouble to champion this cause. Give them the benefit of the doubt beforeignorantly shouting it down.
Yes, I agree. Unfortunately, this behavior is common on both sides (oops, I said it again!) of the political spectrum. If we worked harder to give our purported opponents the benefit of the doubt, we might find there is more common ground than we think.
In all cases?
Seems to me that those who are ranting about how misguided Black Lives Matter is don’t need a lot of benefit of the doubt from me.
I agree, 9watts. The BLM movement’s primary message is “police should stop killing unarmed black people”. If you disagree with this message, you are almost certainly racist, or stand to gain financially from the oppression of black people which is arguably worse. When black folks talk about “modern slavery” this is what they mean. I suggest everyone watch the documentary 13th; it is certainly very eye-opening.
I would add clueless about race or in denial about it to your short list.
Of course not in all cases. There are plenty of extremists and nutters out there, who deserve neither audience nor response. Anyone who claims it is OK for the police to kill unarmed black people clearly belongs in that category, but fortunately, there aren’t many who would assert that it is.
Being clueless about race is easy to rectify. You just need an open mind, open ears, and access to the internet. Unfortunately the first two are getting harder and harder to come by in this country.
The offensive writing in this story was this: “All lives will matter when black lives matter”. Each of us, should believe that all lives matter all the time, not “when black lives matter”.
For the most part in America today there is equal opportunity for everyone. There is not equal outcomes however. Some folks are smarter than others, some work harder than others, some do both, some are lazy or less smart and don’t do well, etc. Dividing us by race and class is a false message and has no basis in truth.
I do not believe someone who grows up in a family that does not read books (for example) has the same educational opportunity as someone from a family that values education highly.
They have the same opportunity. Not taking advantage of the opportunity does not mean it is unavailable.
I did not have the opportunity to be tutored daily by a university professor father like my good childhood friend did. There may be a reason why she ended up at MIT and working for Google and I did not.
In the shallowest sense, you are right; we both went to the same high school, and had the opportunity to apply to MIT. But in a deeper sense, there was no contest.
You’re missing the point of the statement. Black lives are included in “all lives”. So saying that “all lives will matter when black lives matter” means that we as a society cannot say we value all lives equally when we are not valuing black lives the same as the rest. Literally no one is saying “black lives are the only lives that matter and to hell with everyone else”. You’re reading too much into the name of a movement, they are literally just saying “please stop killing us”. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request.
If people are being killed unjustly, no matter their color, there are mountains of laws on the books to punish the killers. Use those laws. And don’t decide who is unjustly killed because of skin color – look, in detail, at the facts of each case.
There aren’t enough laws for police. They are free-ranging and if you leared about the historical evolution of police, you would undertsand they are and always have been a tool of the rich and powerful. Anyway, laws are one thing and enforcement is another. The ACLU recently launched their “They Report to You” campaign to target district attorneys because they aren’t enforcing those laws against their friends and cronies.
“For the most part in America today there is equal opportunity for everyone.”
You believe that?
And what about those you bracketed with the first four words in that sentence?
Wow. You really believe that everyone born in the US has equal opportunities?
Yes they do, from the moment of birth. Your parents may put you at a disadvantage if they do a poor job; and there is a range of parenting skills from very poor to excellent. If you get the wrong parents, you may have a harder time, but when you’re an adult, you can still do well if you want to and are willing to work hard to be successful. Equal outcomes are not assured. Some are smarter, some are dumber, some are luckier than others, some work harder, some have a downer personality, some are upbeat and positive, some go to good schools, some go to bad schools, etc. Telling people they are victims does not help them. Try telling them they can be successful if they work at it – because it is true. Maybe they can only get a job at minimum wage – that’s OK, do the best they can at that job, and try to improve and get a better job.
Let me preface this by saying, I’m not saying any of this is what you think and would never call anyone a racist!!! That’s a disrespectful conversation-stopper and obviously I like to have conversations about this.
This is how I think about it. If there’s no institutional racism keeping people down (i.e. biases in our systems like housing, education, justice, etc), then a person might look at the infographics in this:
Urban League of Portland’s 2015 State of Black Oregon Report
and conclude that Black people in Oregon deserve these disparities through some fault of their own, which is like the definition of individual racism.
Others have told me they don’t believe in statistics. In which case, I refer them to stories of lived experiences. For instance, during his presidency, I heard President Obama admit how hard it was for him to get a cab. Hardly the same thing as institutional racism, but definitely a form of racism he doesn’t deserve.
My view today is if there are statistically significant differences between outcomes based on race, then racism must exist in this country.
I’m sure there are other non-racist reasons someone might look at these racial disparities and see something other than institutional racism and I’d love to hear from you some more.
>>> My view today is if there are statistically significant differences between outcomes based on race, then racism must exist in this country. <<<
While I don't disagree with your conclusion, I do disagree with your reasoning.
If 33% of incoming freshmen at MIT are Asian (a number far higher than their share of the population), does it therefore follow that MIT has a racist admission policy, or that there are racist forces at work giving unfair advantage to Asians?
Maybe there are other dynamics at work that are not inherently racist.
It could also be that racial stereotypes become a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is arguably one of the mechanisms perpetuated in a racist society. Do you prefer chicken or egg?
I see your point and this example still supports that racism exists and is in play, even in this situation. Black people aren’t the only people who’ve suffered under racism in this country (Google “effects of Japanese internment”). People of Asian descent in America also need affirmative action to close the existing average income gap between Asian-Americans and White-Americans.
I don’t think anyone claims the large population of Asians at MIT is due to affirmative action. Quite the opposite — they are there solely on their merit as individual scholars, earning their place like any other student.
At Harvard, some Asian (prospective) students are suing the university because, in order to increase racial diversity, Harvard is actually making it more difficult for Asians to gain admission.
Our history with race and class is complex and nuanced, and much of it is ugly. However, as a group, Asians are doing quite well. Their median income is a fair bit higher than whites, at least according to Wikipedia, and have surpassed whites on many other metrics, such as education attainment, incarceration rates, etc.
“At the edge of town we head past the Southwest Georgia Academy. The campus is ordered and clean and the parking lot is full of newer cars. The athletic fields across the street are in great shape. It’s the most attractive thing in Damascus by a long shot – and I know exactly why.
“I mean, at this point it’s obvious. The town itself is sixty-four percent black and the county as a whole fifty percent. And yet of the 350 students that go to the academy, one percent are students of color. One. In the county school system at large that number is almost seventy percent. That this is the case is no accident. The academy’s website explains how the school opened in January of 1970, only a few months after local residents got together to form it. Starting a school from scratch in such a short timeframe seems both difficult and unusual, but the website doesn’t explain the reason for the urgency. That’s okay; I will. 1969 was the year that a Supreme Court decision created specific standards that would force public schools to become truly desegregated. Although segregation had been deemed unconstitutional by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling fifteen years earlier, the ways in which students and teachers were assigned to schools and rules related to student transportation meant that integrated schools didn’t exist in reality. When it became clear that desegregation was coming for real, that’s when the Southwest Georgia Academy and other private schools like it came into being. They’ve never left – and I’ve seen nothing in the last few days to make me think they ever will.”
Death, Life & the Rural American Gas Station
by Jeff Arnim and Kristen Waddell
January 27, 2016
(Jonathan, if this posts, I hope you’ll delete my similar posts that are awaiting moderation. Thx.)
“…we’ve tried to ‘not see color’ and this doesn’t allow us to see the differences that need to be accommodated to have a truly multicultural community.”
Now this is fascinating. We seem to have made the jump from multi-racial/multi-ethnic to multi-cultural as the goal. Is some (some) of modern racism really a proxy for “culturism”? My personal approach to the race issue is exactly to do my best to “see no color“, but also to allow for what we might think of as cultural differences, whether I understand those differences or not. Part of the trouble white folks I talk with have is that treating everyone equally is impossible now, because we are expected to understand all the different ways every culture and sub-culture wishes to be treated/addressed/accommodated—and there is often little tolerance for ignorance of this ever-growing, ever-changing catalog of differences-that-must-be-recognized. As I said, the best I can do is allow for how people are, while trying to check my own biases, whether I understand all the differences or not, but it sometimes causes me to avoid interacting with folks who are different from me, because I know that what I see may not be what I get, and I have no idea how to address unknown differences. As an example, I was stopped at a light (in my car) with my window down a couple of weeks ago, and a homeless/houseless gentleman gave me a wave and a “hello”. Rather than pretend he didn’t exist, I responded with, “Hey, how’s it going”—and immediately felt like an idiot because, duh, he’s standing by the side of the road asking for money; probably not going well, at least not by my standards. He had a great answer—“par for the course”, and we chatted about the weather for the remainder of my red light, but I still felt weird and somehow insensitive for responding the way I would have to anyone in my “normal” circle. Anyone who wants to avoid feeling that awkwardness is going to stick with folks of their own “culture”.
So, if the goal is multi-culturalism, then at what level does “culture” exist? It can no longer be at a national level, and if anyone wishes to live among those of one’s own “culture”, then American society will become (if it hasn’t already) self-segregating. Or will culture only exist at the family level, or in countries that are not big immigrant destinations? (I know this is a different story when it comes to African “immigration”, which was originally not by choice).
I know it is a big risk even asking these questions, and my intention is not to echo any kind of lame, “all sides” argument, but even a small stone thrown into a pond causes the entire pond to ripple; how do we keep ripples from becoming a storm? Or by now, I suppose, calm the storm that has already begun to arise?
Yes! Being multicultural is SUPER AWKWARD. 🙂 I do this kind of thing on a regular basis, although the regularity is less and less as I practice more and more.
My experience has been that if you treat people with respect and dignity, reasonable people will respond in kind. If they don’t, well… move along.
I think these are not only great questions but very important ones too. Like most essential questions, though, there is no pat answer or easy interpretation. Yes, there are certainly many cultures within every racial grouping, and there are cultural markers which span across races and even other aspects of culture. For example, I would argue that much of modern television has adopted multiracial integration as a way of gaining wider legitimacy and audience, but it still sells the same materialistic pop-culture to everyone. In my view, it mounts to an adoption of progressive ideals as a marketing gimmick rather than a genuine stab at multiculturalism. I think ultimately the real goal is just to treat people like people, with respect and interest and genuine care for their well being (whether you can or are willing to help them or not). I think culture is ultimately personal and intimately tied to identity; it’s a self-identified group’s pattern of behaviors, values, system of beliefs, way of living their lives, and so much more.
I hear the frustration in the tone of your writing on this issue and it’s not unwarranted.. There is a lot of vulnerable discussion which gets botched when people try to discuss issues around big sensitive topics like oppression. People on all sides get shut down by unexplored emotions, and privilege can stand in the way of full understanding about contentious issues (e.g., the adoption of derogatory terms by oppressed minorities for self-identification). All this makes it easy to get turned off to the discussion, and I’m here as one who has been turned off multiple times. I think what’s important, though, is not to disengage from the topic just because some people didn’t communicate well, but to sit on these questions you have and explore them in your own life and through your own research. Then find people who you trust not to judge you for your opinions and discuss with them, and try to keep an open mind about alternative points of view and experiences. There’s a lot of pain in all this as it’s work of being vulnerable, but past that is better understanding and connection with your fellow humans, and that reward is well worth the effort.
Right-on! Way to go chalk lady!
Tempest in a teacup.
Wow what heroes writing cute little messages in chalk. This will fix everything.
OKAY , I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here a bit ( and am NOT advocating this action).
IF someone goes a little further (20-30 feet) past your message and then in chalk writes
“NO” or “THEY DON’T” or something similar , does Maria C. get incensed ? Does she go erase that message or laugh it off ??
IE: Is the message only permitted IF you agree with the content ?. *NOTE = “NO” or “THEY DON’T” did NOT refer specifically to the first chalk message (only by location).
No. You’re suggesting that intolerance should be met with tolerance, which we know not to be the case. This is known as the paradox of freedom, as described by Karl Popper.
“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.”
The people who the black lives matter message is aimed at, don’t get it.
Perhaps the message could use some tweaking?
Oh, I think a lot of them do get it. But some of them may not like the implications.
Who is the message aimed at in this instance? I get it, and don’t like it, but is this message for racists cyclists, if not then who?
There’s quite a few cyclists with deep biases out there that cause racism to be perpetuated even though they have good intentions. You don’t have to be a member of the KKK to do the work of checking your biases. I’m checking mine ALL THE TIME and sometimes even blurt them out… after 2.5 years of deep study and anti-racism activism. That stuff is DEEP.
People of color who’ve tried to be a part of the cycling community here can tell you all about the racism they’ve specifically experienced. Jonathan Maus wrote one Asian man’s story a while ago… can’t remember the exact details tho.
Someone should let ANTIFA and BLM know that it’s those danged cyclists who are perpetuating racism. And tell the mainstream media as well. I think this fact has gone unnoticed until now.
As a White person who doesn’t experience racism, I cannot tweak the message. That would have to be done by the three Black queer women leaders who have specifically asked activists not to improvise on this theme. As a White anti-racism activist, I must follow the leadership of people of color who know so much more about it than I do because of their lived experience.
Someone in the neighborhood asked me about the three words — what it meant and expressed the same thing. So, because I follow the leaders on Twitter, I’ve seen one of them write the full “All lives will matter when Black Lives Matter”, so that was my compromise solution.
If someone doesn’t understand it *and actually wants to* it’s easy to Google. And, they have a super straightforward web address: http://www.blacklivesmatter.com
Maria, I’m a queer black woman and I’m asking you to please stop. You, as a white person, need to stop speaking on my behalf. The “black lives matter” message is owned by queer people of color. That message is for us to write, not you.
Please refrain from assuming you know what our movement needs. It doesn’t need chalk messages in bike lanes. This is another example of unchecked white privilege.
Wait, it was a white lady doing this the entire time? Lol of course, Portland, of course. smdh
Your comments have sparked a lot of self-reflection. After days, I still don’t really know how to respond in an appropriate way, but wanted to say that I’m grateful you engaged here. Thank you.
Appropriating another cultures struggle doesn’t demonstrate how down you are, it shows how shamless you can be. Everyone look at me, Im one of the good ones! It’s unseemly and imature as QBW points out
Is it any wonder people are uncomfortable talking about race?
Talking about racism should make you uncomfortable. It’s a horrible thing. Trying to whitewash it for a fragile white population is a serious problem. Fighting white supremacy doesn’t mean just planting a lawn sign in from of your house and thinking that you’re doing something to help.
Racism is a terrible thing, but when people express outage at others who are doing everything they can to help, it hardly promotes healthy communication.
Considering the history, I certainly don’t blame black people for being angry at white people for “just trying to help”. Usually “trying to help” means appropriating messages and silencing the voices of the people they think they are helping. Whether on purpose or not, the result is the same. White fragility means some people can’t understand why they are being excluded from a movement they support, but it’s best to just let the people who know their own issues best lead.
Who are “black people” and “white people”? Are they friends with “you people”?
The language you use to describe the problem is part of the problem.
Treating people as individuals with respect and dignity will go a long way to repairing our divisions. If you don’t like what someone is doing, politely ask them to stop. Civil discourse is not that hard, and is absolutely necessary.
Of course it will. And I do that, and try to give people the benefit of the doubt. But saying that everyone being nice to each other is all we need, does not address systemic racism, and sure as hell won’t stop the white nationalists who are busy mounting an attack on us. We must acknowledge the damages of racism before we can work to repair them.
I doubt Maria Cahill is a white nationalist.
Treating each other with respect and courtesy is not a sufficient condition, but it is a necessary condition to make progress. Some people seem to think that the righteousness of their cause gives them permission to treat others poorly.
I never said she was, and am not accusing her of anything of the sort. I’m sure she does a lot to help people and is well-intentioned. But understand that the message is different based on who it comes from. That’s all I’m saying here.
And I agree with “treating each other with respect and courtesy”, however included in that respect is understanding why someone else with a different perspective and experience than yours might be upset at something. If someone is upset, rather than accuse them of being divisive, try to listen and understand.
Absolutely share a different perspective; that’s the whole point, isn’t it? I have no problem with one person telling another person that what they’re doing is upsetting. But doing so in a way that is overtly hostile is counterproductive, and would certainly make me unwilling to engage with that person in the future.
If I feel that by discussing an issue I’m just going to get yelled at because of who I am, why would I ever do that?
Uh, deal with it? The issue is not about you. Maybe the reason they appear to me “overtly hostile” is because they have been ignored for so long and are fed up. Instead of tone policing others, try listening.
You’re right; this issue isn’t about me. This is about one person I don’t know publicly berating another person I don’t know over an internecine doctrinaire issue I don’t really care about. I’ll butt out.
Thanks for being willing to engage on the topic of racism multiple times in this thread.
QBW used the word “please” twice. I didn’t interpret this as outrage, nor did I feel offended by their expressing their opinion or request.
Even if QBW did sound outraged to me, I would still support QBW’s expression and emotions about anything but especially something that affects QBW directly.
I’ll let people of color tell you why trying to make White people comfortable when we talk about race isn’t helpful and what White people can do about it: http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/02/white-people-emotions-tears/
The author of that article seems to have a lot of tactless friends.
Yeah, because everyone wants to open themselves up to death threats. I mean, the life of an anti-racism activist is so glamorous. Why wouldn’t all of us activists want an article we didn’t ask for?
Thank you for writing this article Jonathan. It’s important to bring things like this to the attention of all of us. On a similar theme, the statue of Robert E Lee in Charlottesville gets covered with black cloth by the city every morning and every night someone rips it off. For the past two weeks. That’s not being covered by most media, so again thank you for covering this event!
The chalk was still there today (8/28) in the afternoon. Amazing what just a little bit of attention will do. We’ll see if it lasts…
Thanks everybody, for a great discussion!
Reading these comments just after reading the Mercury article about people of color leaving Portland is jarring. The critique in the Merc article (Thanks JM for linking) is that Portland has a problem with denying that there is racism in our city. Then folks provide some clear, written examples denying racism exists.
I’m glad Bikeportland runs these articles.