Few conversations are as polarizing as the ones that appear online between Black native Oregonians and transplants. It's a discourse that brings Oregon's history of anti-Black exclusion laws and redlining into the present, along with the frustrations that arise in a small community where so many people know each other. But are these tensions based more in perception than in reality? To explore this question, journalist (and Oregon Humanities Community Storytelling Fellow) Bruce Poinsette and photographer Intisar Abioto gathered a group of Black Oregonians—both those who arrived recently and those who grew up here—for a dinner conversation. In this episode, Bruce and Intisar revisit portions of that conversation and reflect on the themes of Black unity, community building, and the liberatory possibilities of place.
For more from The Blacktastic Adventure, watch the full episode of the Black Oregon natives and transplants dinner.
About our guest host
Bruce Poinsette is a writer, educator, and community organizer whose work is primarily based in the Portland Metro Area. He hosts The Bruce Poinsette Show on 96.7 The Numberz FM and the YouTube series The Blacktastic Adventure: A Virtual Exploration of Oregon’s Black Diaspora. A former reporter for the Skanner News Group, his work has also appeared in the Oregonian, Street Roots, Oregon Humanities, and We Out Here Magazine, as well as projects such as the Mercatus Collective and the Urban League of Portland’s State of Black Oregon 2015. Poinsette also contracts with the University of Oregon Equity and Inclusion Office and numerous Oregon nonprofits and teaches journalism and creative nonfiction with Literary Arts’ Writers in the Schools program. In addition to his professional writing work, Poinsette volunteers with Respond to Racism LO, a grassroots antiracism organization in his hometown of Lake Oswego.
- In September 2022, Bruce moderated a Consider This conversation on the state of Black political power in Oregon.
- Read Bruce's article on Black Muslim community leadership in Oregon
- and a personal essay from 2020, "I Dream an Oregon"
Intisar Abioto (b. Memphis, TN. 1986) is an explorer-artist working across photography, dance, and writing. Moving from the visionary and embodied root of Blackgirl Southern cross-temporal cross-modal storytelling ways, her works refer to the living breath/breadth of people of African descent against the expanse of their storied, geographic, and imaginative landscapes. Working in long-form projects that encompass the visual, folkloric, documentary, and performing arts, she has produced The People Could Fly Project, The Black Portlanders, and The Black. Co-created with her four artist sisters, The People Could Fly Project, was a 200,000-mile flying arts expedition exploring realities of flight and freedom within the African diasporic myth of the flying African and Virginia Hamilton’s award-winning book, The People Could Fly.
Abioto is the recipient of a 2018 Oregon Humanities Emerging Journalists, Community Stories Fellowship for which she began a continuing body of research on the history of artists of African descent in Oregon. She has performed and/or exhibited at Ori Gallery, Portland Art Museum, Duplex Gallery, Photographic Center Northwest, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Poetry Press Week, Design Week Portland, Spelman College, Powell’s City of Books, University of Oregon White Box Gallery, Portland State University, Reed College, and Zilkha Gallery among others. Selected for an Art in the Governor’s Office solo exhibition in 2019 she exhibited and performed with nine Oregon-based Black artists against the inner expanse of the Oregon State Capitol building in Salem, OR. Her publication Black Portlands documents interviews with Black Portlanders alongside her photographs. She was a contributing photographer to MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora (2017) and her photographs illustrated the Urban League of Portland’s State of Black Oregon 2015. With the five women artists in her family, she is the co-founder of Studio Abioto, a multivalent creative arts studio. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
- Read Intisar's article "Black Mark, Black Legend: Uncovering the Lineage of Black Artists in Portland"
Other stories and programs on the histories, experiences, and contributions of Oregon's Black communities from Oregon Humanities:
- "Finding Home at the Mims" by Nisha Burton
- A conversation on the Great Migration with Rukaiyah Adams and Isabel Wilkerson
- "An Oregon Canyon" by Donnell Alexander and Sika Stanton
- "A Hidden History" by Walidah Imarisha
- "Reaching Back for Truth" by S. Renee Alexander and Joe Whittle
Adam Davis: Lately, things have been rocky here in Oregon. Divisions are showing up not only across the state, but within communities and even at home. In this climate, it can feel difficult to address the many challenges we face. But with your support, Oregon Humanities is offering a way forward that prioritizes cooperation over partisanship and problem solving over division.
For more than 50 years, we've been forging a path that brings Oregonians together to talk and listen across divides. Neighbors and friends who attend our facilitation training come home with tools to lead conversations about challenging topics. Oregonians who exchange letters through Dear Stranger connect with people from different corners of the state to share experiences and beliefs. In rural towns and urban neighborhoods, Conversation Project programs, Community Storytelling Fellowships, and Public Program Grants from Oregon Humanities build the conditions and capacity for meaningful exchange.
We hope you'll join us on this path of connection, understanding, and belonging, and we hope you'll consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount to Oregon Humanities by December 31.
Keiren Bond: Hi, and welcome to The Detour. I'm Keiren Bond, the show's producer. On the docket today is a wonderful conversation with one of our Oregon Humanities Storytelling Fellows, Bruce Poinsette, where he and artist Intisar Abioto reflect on a discussion between Black Portlanders who were born here and those who arrived later in their lives.
Bruce is one of three Community Storytelling Fellows from 2022 who are sharing stories from their communities through Oregon Humanities. This fellowship was created to share stories from communities historically underrepresented in Oregon media, with the hope that these stories will allow more Oregonians to see their experiences represented, fill information gaps, and encourage Oregonians to work towards a more inclusive and civically engaged state.
Bruce Poinsette: Welcome to a special episode of The Detour. I'm your guest host today, Bruce Poinsette, and I have a guest with me in studio Intisar Abioto, who I'll be bringing into the conversation shortly. This episode is part of an Oregon Humanities Community Storytelling Fellowship specifically, for me, to support my project, The Blacktastic Adventure, which began as a Zoom interview series to document the many different stories of people in the Black diaspora in Oregon.
The fellowship provided me with a $5,000 stipend to support the infrastructure of my work, as well as connecting me with a mentor, Mr. Ifanyi Bell in Open Signal Labs, to really take the project to the next level production-wise. I also had to recruit a longtime collaborator Intisar Abioto for primary photography for this.
So originally the series, in its first season, was about twenty-five episodes. Again, on YouTube, primarily Zoom interviews. But for this fellowship, we decided to pare it down to three specific episodes and themes.
The first was to highlight a specific community within Oregon's Black Diaspora. In this case, it focused on Black Muslims and community leadership. The second and upcoming episode is a road trip where we traveled out to Eastern Oregon and discussed what black life looks like out in the eastern part of the state. And then today we'll be diving into a special episode, which was designed around discussion pulled from the “Black Oregon zeitgeist,” for lack of better terms.
And in this case, we dove into the supposed tensions between Black native Oregonians and transplants. So you might be asking why natives versus transplants. Well, if you go on social media—and some of these, uh, Black Oregon groups specifically—you might get the impression that there's almost like a civil war between Black people who were born and raised in Oregon and transplants.
We wanted to explore those supposed tensions to see is it really as bad as it seems in some of these discourses. What's behind it? And we decided to bring together a group of transplants and native Oregonians to hash it out over dinner. Intisar and I haven't really had a lot of time to digest that dinner when we first, uh, recorded and held it, so today we'll be reacting to highlights from that conversation.
The participants, a range of different people with different experiences in how they got here, how they came up here in Oregon, Bobby Fouther, Dahlia Belle, Salome Chimuku, Crystal Chanel, Kan Jones, and of course Intisar and myself. We also wanted to make sure that not just was this a Black discussion in front of the screen, but also behind the camera.
Partnering with Ifanyi Bell, we were able to put together a predominantly Black film crew, with the help of Open Signal Labs. We got guest photography from Nate Ilebode. And we held the discussion at a Black-owned location, Louiza PDX, as well as received catering from Black-owned food truck Meals for Heels.
A lot of this was sponsored by Imagine Black, which is a grassroots organization working to imagine alternatives for the Black community and build political participation and leadership to achieve those alternatives. So we thank them all for their support.
So with that, I'd like to welcome Intisar to the conversation. Intisar is a photographer, dancer, and storyteller from Memphis, Tennessee, and you know, just a prolific artistic voice in Portland. Intisar, how are you doing this morning?
Intisar Abioto: I'm doing okay. I'm glad to be here.
Bruce Poinsette: How, how are you feeling? Uh, you haven't really had a chance to look at these clips, have you?
Intisar Abioto: No, I haven't. I mean, I have it in my mind, the experience, but kinda like you said, we haven't, you know, we haven't had the chance to debrief, so I'm excited.
Bruce Poinsette: Yeah, me too. One of the big impetuses for doing this was actually a discussion we had when we first met back in 2013. At the time I was interviewing you about your project, “The Black Portlanders,” a photojournalism project documenting Black life, not just in Portland, but you know, throughout the state.
And you made this comment saying that Portland kind of fell to you like a city the civil rights movement passed over. So naturally, you know, for this discussion, I wanted to revisit that. And again, I asked you about that during the dinner. So let's look at that clip right now.
Intisar Abioto: And that was maybe like, let's see, that was nine years ago. Um, and I feel the same and different. You know, you like learn like more about people's efforts. Um, and I feel like I always try to approach my experience here as someone who's been here for twelve years, but is also a transplant. It's just like a practice of acknowledgement of like people's efforts.
Um, and yeah, I mean, at the time I think there were things happening with like with Black children being taken from Black families. Um, and there was, um, yeah, like I feel like over on where Cason’s is now, like before the development there were like Black families that were like protesting.
And so I remember talking to my mom about that, who, who works in the law, you know, and just about like strategy. Um, and so yes, I mean, I feel that in some ways because you'll hear stories. Here you'll be like, ‘What the hell?’ You know, it's like, whether it's like learning about like about like Williams Avenue before, you know, it was like—it's like these weird ghost stories and then you're like, you know.
Bruce Poinsette: Yeah. So when I hear that, you know, I wanna give you the chance to, of course, react to your own thoughts. But you know, the thing that strikes me is just, it's like a level of balance and understanding. Cause there's so much, like you kind of alluded to in there, there's just so much visceral, so many visceral things about Portland and just some of the history and the present, but then also I feel like there's uh, there's very intentionality in, um, making sure not to erase people by being caught up in those stories, if you will. But what do you think when, you know, hearing that?
Intisar Abioto: You know, when you come here for a lot of people who aren't from here and a lot of Black people who aren't from here and you're coming from other places and you know, I always hearken back to an interview conversation I had with Walidah Imarisha who was just saying—and who's so amazing and so studied and just like so in the community, you know—she was saying that in other places where there were more Black people, that we could all come together and go down to City Hall and it would be a lot, a lot of folks. But that back then, you know, here, if folks were to do that, they wouldn't have those same numbers, the visual impact, so that people had to come up with new, different ways of being here, different ways of protesting, different ways of speaking up.
And I feel like a lot of, some Black people who come here, because we're also all coming from different places—like, I also feel like transplants gets pushed together, like it's all the same person, but it's all so many folks from different landscapes and geographies—but I think that you can come here and be upset because there's things to be upset about, but you also have to like measure that with respect and acknowledgement for the many different ways that Black people have, like, found ways to live and thrive and be themselves and have home and love and imagination.
You know, in all the places that we are—I really come from a place of thinking about diaspora—like we are all move, like we've all been moved, we're all moving. And it's almost like a shifting organism. And so when I think back to that, you know, what I said then, that it feels like a place that the civil rights movement has passed over, I think back to my feelings of like upset about things that I saw, like why isn't this like, why isn't this, you know, you know, what about this? You know, it was real. Like those things are real. There are valid things here in Oregon where it's like, it really is like, ‘What the hell?’
For me right now, I'm really looking to the legacy of Beatrice Morrow Cannady, who was one of the foremost civil rights activists here in the early twentieth century. Like her legacy, there were several times that the Public Accommodations Act was passed here before it was, and that was her legacy. So it's a balance. It's like, ooh, I'm upset, but we also have to go surface these histories, have these conversations so that we're able to feel empowered by how Black people have created life for themselves. Because it's not a part of the like, oh, you'll just see it on Front Street.
Bruce Poinsette: Yeah. I mean, again, I think it's about that balance of one, acknowledging and recognizing just how, how severe some of the things that have happened here are. How, you know, when we look at the gentrification happening across the country, how a place like Portland was in many cases like a blueprint for that. Looking and saying at the same time, like Oregon was the only state that actually passed anti-Black exclusion laws—three of them, in fact—and put it in their constitution.
But at the same time, the Black people who had to survive through that, who created and built and found ways to live and thrive in spite of that, like we can't erase those stories and we do a disservice when we erase those stories.
But yeah, it's hard sometimes just, you know, it's just so disconcerting, out here. To not get caught up in the emotions and, you know, be able to recognize all the things, which brings me to our second clip, which features Crystal Chanel and Salome Chimuku. Just a little bit about both of them real quick.
Crystal Chanel is a public relations professional originally from Florida who moved to Portland a few years ago. We actually met at a discussion I hosted on the future of Black media, and during the Q&A portion, she raised a question about the anger towards transplants, which in some ways partly inspired this dinner, but it definitely, it led to probably one of the longer exchanges I think we had at that event.
And Salome Chimuku has worked in politics and community advocacy for a decade plus, including cofounding the Black Resilience Fund with Cameron Whitten, which raised. $2.6 million and distributed directly to Black Portlanders following the COVID-19 pandemic. Her family immigrated from Angola to Portland where she was born a year later. So let's take a look at this clip featuring Salome and Crystal.
Crystal Chanel: I look at it like Portland is like a small church. I don't know if anybody ever went to a small church, and in a small church, all these weird conversations come up because you're so familiar with sister Mary Clarence, you know her whole family, and so there's all this drama that keeps up at small churches because we know each other. That's kind of how I look at Portland. Like we, everybody kinda knows each other. They've seen each other. I know your cousin, I know your auntie, that's my brother. All of that. And so then there's this familiarity like, oh, I'm not gonna let you be a star. You might have done this, this, this, this, and that, but I know you and I know your past. And I think that we have to grow up. We've gotta grow up. Everybody has a past, everybody has a story. There's nobody perfect. But we all bring something to the culture.
And then, you know, as Black community, you know how sometimes we have like all these secrets that we just don't let things out. I feel like Oregon has more secrets than almost anywhere I've ever been. And we're holding it really tight. And some of those things are the things that are gonna help us heal and get to the other side. So it's gonna be interesting to see how we deal as a community, because culturally—whether you're in Oregon, Florida, New York, DC—we keep secrets as a culture. I think the difference is over here is just such a small population we've got to let go of the secrets that hold us back.
Salome Chimuku: Well, I think that's also the benefit of being in Portland is that there's not, there's enough of us to where there's the diversity, there's the differences, but there's not so many of us that we can sweep things under the rug and avoid problems. And so it forces us to have to talk about it. Forces us to have to deal with it. And I think that makes us stronger for it.
Bruce Poinsette: So Intisar, I noticed as soon as Crystal mentioned that Portland was a small church, you had a reaction. What was that?
Intisar Abioto: Whoa. Wow. This is so powerful. I just wanna say thank you for doing this work. I know, I'm like, you're asking me a question, but this is so powerful and just to hear this again, you know? Yes.
What comes to mind from what was said there? Like, I didn't grow up in the church, though my grandparents were, you know, we would go to church with them. You know what came to mind as I heard that clip is grace. This feeling of grace of like in a small church or a small community where, you know, everyone knows each other. You know the different stories. Some people know the different stories and some people don't. And it affects the flow of information and feeling and possibility.
And even when she said, “Grow up.” In the sense of, like, that we're in a process of learning with one another. And when I think about that schism, that impact, like when Black transplants and Black people who have grown up here, I try to think about having grace with each other as we meet.
Like when I think about the history of like Black people in this country where our like families and friends were scattered at other people's will through slavery, like, you know, whoa, we're constantly meeting and remeeting, like rivers. And like confluences or like, the sea meeting the river, like all these waters, but still of the same pool.
Wow. What comes to mind and just about the secrecy. That secrecy is how, like, also one way that that Black communities have survived. But at different points in our growth cycles, different things that served us at different points in our lines and in our lineages don't always serve us at other points. And clenching onto, you know, that we experience so much trauma that, you know, from being here and, wow, I'm just blown, I'm feeling blown away by having the time to review this and hear that again. And that when I think about the gifts of the Black people here, this is a confluence place. Portland, ports, you know, it's out of the way, but there are folks who keep coming, and that's powerful. And also, what's also powerful. Wow. Woo. The mind is just blooming.
In small communities there's also power there because you do know each other. Like no one's too far away you can't reach them. Like that's also a culture that's brewing. You know, you also need the new people who sense it, who sense what's happening at the new edge. They can speak to it in a new form. I'm so grateful for Crystal, cuz that's not something I would've said, but it's just like grace with each other, like, you know, you are important. We are important. Even what we experienced here or elsewhere like that we are important that we can still come together despite the things and have grace with one another. Such that what we wanna build in community and reveal and surface. Not just of the Black folks who are here right now, but our Black ancestors here.
Like, how do I say this? Like, OK. Oh, I think when I started “The Black Portlanders,” it was like 35,000. That's not it. We also gotta count the Black folks who passed. We gotta count our families, our ancestors, like we are more than that. And so I think when we, when we open our arms, our minds, and unclench our stories, then we can bring everybody into the room and know our full power.
And then even going back to what Walidah said, then it's more of us at City Hall. It's more of us at these spaces. I'm just so inspired by that. I don't, I don't know what to say besides, I'm feeling inspired right now.
Keiren Bond: You're listening to The Detour with Bruce Poinsette and Intisar Abioto.
Bruce Poinsette: Oh, I love that. And I think it's, I heard a number. It is about something like maybe just under, maybe just over 90,000 Black people in Oregon total, where it's not, relatively speaking, it's not a large number, but that's more than a critical mass to make things happen. And like you said, we're just, um, how can I put this?
Like we all, because it's such a small community, we all know each other. I mean, I was just at a wedding for a friend from Portland, we're in California, and it was amazing just, you know, on his family and friends’ side of the party, just how many of us were there from just like different parts of like, sort of like the Portland Black community and different aspects, but those circles, those intertwining webs. It's just like, ‘Oh, you, you were the teacher of this. I, I used to go to that program. Or, oh, you, you did this.’ You like, it's just, again, like I said, it's such a, it's a small community, which it has its goods and bads.
You know, we know everyone's business. Sometimes that can be messy, but also there are so many opportunities for us. Like we can't, I think Salome said so well that we can't really avoid the conflicts, however they may happen. Sometimes it's more aggressive, sometimes it's more of, you know, Portland passive aggressive and all that.
But we, you know, it's a, yeah, it's, it's very interesting how that kind of like shapes the interaction. and I think, uh, actually this next clip really like, speaks to that in terms of, uh, yeah, how we end up, for lack of better word, or for lack of better terms, stepping on each other's toes. And this clip features Salome again as well as Mr. Bobby Fouther.
Mr. Bobby is a second-generation Oregon visual and performing artist. His family was among those displaced by the infamous Emmanuel Hospital expansion. And to this day, a vacant lot sits where the neighborhood used to be. So again, in this clip, Fouther and Salome do a lot of work to contextualize some of these tensions that on the surface may seem like a native and transplants thing, but there's definitely a lot more historical and community perspective, so we'll listen to that right now.
Bruce Poinsette: If you're on any of these, like online Black Oregonian, Black Portland groups, You might as well think like there's like a civil war between transplants and you know, black people born here. So my question would just be one, what is behind that tension? And is that tension perceived more than reality?
Bobby Fouther: I would like to speak to that. I believe it's our educational system, because you would get that information if it came to you through your classroom, and it is part of this US history that is erased, I don't care what you call it, but it's part of that information that we're used to passing the information down from generation to generation.
Well, when you come and you don't get it, then you could step on somebody's toes. You don't know, you get, I mean, all these things can transpire that aren't really caused by us, but we end up causing harm to each other.
Salome Chimuku: I would say that I feel like a lot of it is based off the individual. I think that at the end of the day, we're all hungry for a community. We're all hungry for people to respect us, for people to acknowledge our existence, and I find that it's easier to take up that gripe and take up that anger with somebody who looks like you or is also marginalized than it is to be mad at the systems that be and the people in power that hold us apart.
And so I feel like whenever I see stuff like that, like, you know, for someone who's a transplant, I'm just like, “Dog, you need a hug? You need to hang out? Like, you need a friend?” I get it. Like, this place is really White, and you're like feeling like, why isn't nobody coming to make sure that I'm OK?
It's like, I got you. Like we can work on that. And you know, folks who are, you know, native Portlanders, I think sometimes it's easy to forget that there's always every day new Black people moving to Portland. And it's like, there's so many of them, it's like, how do I even start to reach out to one? What do you even like? Do you like the same stuff I like? Like, are we even gonna gel? And I think that that is something that's hard to do, ‘cause I mean, I would say that that's the weird thing where my experience has been: I'm a native Oregonian, but the rest of my family is not. And like even just even between me and the rest of my siblings, that experience does make a difference depending upon how you were welcomed or how you weren't welcomed and how you perceive the rest of the world after that.
Bruce Poinsette: There's a lot in there. I think about, again, as someone who is a native Oregonian, but grew up in Lake Oswego—you know, “Lake No Negro,” Oregon—so, you know, in many ways I felt kind of cut off from a lot of Black community in Portland, despite being there, having a mom, you know, working in Portland Public Schools, going to church in Northeast Portland, being part of a Black Rights of Passage program when I was in late junior high and early high school.
But still, again, feeling to that point when Salome talking about, you know, you need a hug? Like, I feel that. I really do—that hunger for community is something, you know, it's something I still feel in spaces today. And I think what Mr. Bobby was saying about just like the history that we don't learn—as Oregonians that we don't learn about this state.
Because I didn't know about the exclusion laws maybe until college, maybe? When I went to the University of Oregon and then learned about the exclusion laws, I learned from going to a BSU meeting, a Black Student Union meeting, that, you know, they had one of the cemeteries there was originally like a Klan cemetery.
You know, a couple of the buildings—one of the buildings was named after a clan leader. The other was named after Matthew Deady, and they only recently changed that. But Matthew Deady was the, uh, how can I put this, the principal writer of the exclusion laws, but he was also, you know, a big donor way back in the day. So, yeah, there was a whole, a whole fight over that at the school, and thanks to, uh, Black Student Task Force down there—we don't have time to get into that whole story today—but they were able to eventually get that changed in recent years to University Hall. So. A little bit of progress. But anyways, when you, when you hear all that, you know, what thoughts come to your mind?
Intisar Abioto: There's so many things, like layers on layers of thoughts going through my mind right now. Um, whoa. Okay. One, when Mr. Bobby said, you know, the education, what we're listening to, what we're learning, who it’s passed down from, who you're hearing it from, and at what point in your life, you know, um, you know, my family came here and we did not know about the exclusion laws until we came here. I remember reading about it on, like, Wikipedia. I was like, what? You know? And you know, I wouldn't know. And also, that's the thing. Ooh, so many layers to this. You know, like also to say that Black Oregon history is American history, it's African diasporic history. Like there's a way that the history here of Black folks is really siloed from that broader story. Like, this is American history. Like everybody should be knowing about this that happened, and the fact that I didn't know about it until I came here, like, this is not taught, not just in Oregon, but outside. So people don't—when they come, they're not aware of the level of respect that really should be had for black people who have lived here.
Like, y’all we're here. This is ancestral knowledge and history that's for everybody, that's for everybody black. Like, when we bring all of our knowledge, it's unstoppable. And for me, you know, to hear that you didn't find out until you were in college, but you lived it. You lived through the environment.
When we had gone down to Klamath falls for the State of Black Oregon, and I don't remember her name at the top of my mind, but it was this Black elder that we went to her house. And this beautiful dark-skinned Black elder, and we asked, I remember asking her if she knew about the exclusion laws. And it was like she didn't know, but obviously she lived down there. Even if we don't hear it in words, we feel it. You know, like my family has been here and we've experienced so much here and lots of trauma too, you know? And I'm trying to be more vocal about this that, like, my family, like other Black Portlanders who've been here, where you home, having home, having steady home, you know, being able to like not experience housing discrimination, being able to be somewhere and stay, you know, like that's, it becomes, you can become really bitter here and angry. So even, you know, because of the experiences and you feel like there's no support, you know, and so even when the Salome was like, ‘You need a hug?’ like a lot of folks walking around here need a hug. You know, but more than a hug, they need a home. They need, they need support. They need to feel like they have what it is to be here and stay here. And that's even, you know, we talk about the exclusion laws. It's like, oh, you know, that was repealed and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. No, this is still a place of exclusion.
Everything that was built up to exclude people here, that stuff is not gone yet.
Bruce Poinsette: Even when we talk about this history, and again, I like what you said about, you know, Oregon history, it's American history. It’s just something we should know. And I take a step further when we go, ‘cause we talk about the exclusion laws, we talk about some of these other things, but even how we—you brought up Beatrice Morrow Kennedy earlier. That we don't, that we don't, um, talk about, when we don't pass on these stories of the people that built here, that did things here that are doing the work a lot of us are trying to do. And in some cases, I think another place where, again, to Mr. Bobby's point about stepping on toes, when people who they don't know the history, they don't know the people that have been there and kind of like planted the seeds for the work they're doing, and then—how can I say this?—it almost feels like we take on some of those bad habits of just not colonizing the work, but sort of like essentially 1) erasing those who have been in the past and then saying, ‘Well, I'm the first person here doing this,’—and again, it's, you know, it's this like incidental disrespect that kind of comes from, you know, just the culture and the atmosphere we're in. Like you said, even if we don't know the history, we're living it, we're living the effects of it. We're living, uh, you know, to go back to the Lake, Oswego “Lake No Negro” thing. I know a lot of other Black people in the town who they, they hate that nickname because to them it's like, but wait, I'm here.
For me, I understand it in terms of, I'm talking about a culture, and a lot of people when they're referring to that are referring to a culture. But then also there are a lot of people who, you know, when I talk to them, I tell them I'm from Lake Oswego, like, you know, it's very much like, ‘I didn't know you were out there. I didn't know, you know, you existed.’ And it's not, uh, you know, it is not complimentary, and working through that, so I get it.
But again, we're all here and the opportunities to pass on this history, I think to get to the point of the work we both do. At some point in our lives, we came to the realization, no one else is gonna do this if we don't do it. And so, you know, what I like about so many of the people that were at this dinner, again, what I like about the work we do with so many people around Portland, around this state, are doing is being very active. You brought up Walidah Imarisha earlier, being very active and not just educating about things that happen to Black people but the things Black people have done and built in this state continue to build the foundations, the lessons. And connecting those dots, connecting people in these different geographies, because we get, it feels like we get divided by—again, even if the exclusion laws have been repealed, that culture is still there. That legacy is still there, all the implicit things, the psychological effects of that still remain, especially when we don't address it. And we don't, again, work to connect these dots.
And it's gonna bring us to our final clip of the day where one of the things we discussed here, a lot of it was focused on tensions, but we also brought up the idea, almost an irony of Oregon in that some of these conditions are actually, you know, they, they actually create a fertile ground for abolitionist ideas.This idea that we are, because we're a small community, because Oregon and Portland especially kind of has this, you know, hippy weird vibe to it to where we might be open to exploring different things that we might not be able to, you know, explore, engage in, at least as openly, in different areas. So two people that are gonna be speaking to this are Dahlia Belle, who's a comedian, storyteller, and performer, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Kan Jones, who's a multimedia maven content coordinator at Numbers FM and hosts the Unrefined Sophisticates podcast, who's originally from San Diego, California. And again, in this clip, they kinda discuss how Oregon almost gave them a freedom they hadn't experienced in a lot of instances. So let's listen to Dahlia and Kan.
Dahlia Belle: And I think that does at times, um, I don't know, direct more of the pro-Blackness that I've encountered since moving here that I do not encounter as much elsewhere where you are looking into this much larger, almost from, from my perspective, utopian vision. As opposed to as long as my lights don't get cut off, or the police don't come around this block—you know, those were the sorts of concerns in other places I've lived or just from my vocal patterns, from the fact that I am this, elsewhere, that was enough to disqualify me from Blackness. Whereas in Portland, no one says shit. So I think that allows Black people in Portland to perhaps dream a little larger than in a lot of other places.
Kan Jones: So I can follow up with that cuz that's, I think, a point on a personal level, thinking of the freedom of like, the ignorance is bliss. Like me moving here and maneuvered around in a way in which I did, I don't know what the boundaries are, so I'm just showing up. I know all the politics at home, so I know I can't do certain things. So here that wasn't there. So I was able to maneuver through this city and that's kind of how I built up the network which I have. Um, and I think there's something to that also in the, just like, I joke about these being trophies, right? So a lot of people don't get to that, to that point where I'm from. And so with that understanding, um—it's like, I’ve got bubbles in my car right now, and I'd be a stoplight [blowing the bubbles]. Like that might seem corny as hell, but this is the freedom, that I didn't play with this stuff when I was a kid. You actually seen fun as fuck, right? It's little things in which, which, I feel like I've made it to a point here that it gave me that comfort of having to sit down and really fall back. The idea of being slower. Um, and I always try to make sure I articulate when I'm talking slower, it's not like people are stupid or they think slower. It's the idea that you just don't have to pay attention to as many things in this place.
Bruce Poinsette: So for those listening, I think, uh, we should point out a couple contextual things with Kan in this one. He talked about, uh, trophies, he was specifically pointing at gray hairs in his beard when he was referencing that.
And also I just, I love his referencing talking about blowing bubbles cause Kan is like six foot five. He's like a gigantic person. So it's just a funny image. Anyways, uh, yeah, Intisar, what did you, you know—again, as someone originally from Memphis, when Dahlia and Kan kind of talk about this, it being slower here, being a little more, um, I dunno, just, uh, yeah, almost like more freedom to move type dynamic.
Intisar Abioto: Yeah. Wow. I remember that part of the conversation. And I do think, you know, as we talk about these things, we're talking about the challenges, but there are the gifts of, you know, what is the possibility in this, in these spaces? What comes to mind, you know, I'm from Memphis, and I would say that, uh, my family maybe had a non-seeming traditional presence, look, in Memphis, you know, coming from a family of Black artists and also, you know, our parents were very grounded and like, you know, African diasporic awareness, you know. You know, we were like vegetarians, you know, in the 90s, in the 80s, and you know, it is different now, but, you know, we didn't grow up with—and I don't say this from any kind of like a moral, some kind of moral high point; it's just the, the details like, you know—we, you know, our hair wasn't permed. You know, back there in the 80s and the 90s in Memphis, which was different. You know, we weren't getting presses.
In each place you're in, in your communities, among Blackness, there's different ways that these places have, like Portland, come up. Like, what are the, what are the terms? Like, what are, you know, like what's the seeming common way to be, you know? Each place has its gifts. And I think for Portland, when you're coming and you're not connected to a Black community and you're learning what's there, there's a lot of room to define things for yourself.
There's a lot of room to come as you are and do as you are, or do as you would hope to be or hope to do, but may not feel comfortable or supported with elsewhere. Like it really, you can really come here and just do your own thing, have your own niche. And um, yeah, so they're, and also, you know, I guess sometimes when you are also just new to a place, you’re just new, you know?
So I also think the fact that, you know, Black people have had to come here, they're bringing what they're bringing, you know? Not just now, but I remember, you know, actually for the Alberta Street historical markers, which, you know, I was a part of, of photographing. They did an interview with, uh, Paul Nas on Alberta Street. They were saying that, well, they were talking about the clubs, the Texas Club, the Louisiana Club—like, you know, that people were bringing what they were bringing, but they were offering it in a new context, and there's possibility within that.
Bruce Poinsette: As I was listening to you speak there, it really made me think about just how much, honestly, like Black transplants are essential to the Black Oregon story because obviously, you know, coming through the Great Migration, as far as like the largest numbers, but also again, when you talk about people bringing with them from, you know, where they grew up or where they were raised, and bring that with like a different flavor and a different environment to Oregon. You know, I look at like an activism standpoint. For example, someone like, you know, Mr. Kent Ford from, I wanna say Louisiana. And bringing that perspective to create, you know, something very foundational, something very revolutionary in Portland. I've even gonna lift you up and lift your family up because, I had never even dared to think about trying like vegan food before the Abioto family had the Green Lady Foods back, what was it, a decade or so ago when I first met you all. And I remember just trying, cuz you all were catering for an event I was covering when I was at the Skanner. And yeah, that was, that actually ended up being a life-changing day.
But again, I think about that now where I see. Back then, even in Portland, the idea of like a Black vegan restaurant, Black vegan catering, that was new, you know? And now it's something I see a lot more, something a little bit, a lot more common. But it's like that's flavor you all added to the city.
Intisar Abioto: Thank you.
Bruce Poinsette: You know, so I just wanted to shout that out. But two, when I'm reflecting on this dinner as a whole, because so oftentimes when we do these things, especially you know, when they're supported by fellowships, by grants, there's this idea of like, so what did you solve? What is the, you know, what's the deliverable? What's the timeline? And, you know, I could look this dinner and say, well, did we, did we solve the tension between natives and transplants? Is everyone, you know, doing kumbaya or whatever? Uh, I don't know. But I think there is something to one, in a long-term sense, building community as far as a solution and creating these opportunities. Even when you lift up those places, you lift up the different clubs, these different activities, these different people who've contributed in these various different areas to not just elevating Black voices but building space for Black community. I think that really is where a lot of these solutions lie.
I think, at least for me in, you know, trying to design this, I may not have the answers, but I know it's important for us to be able to see each other, to break bread with each other. And I know that once we can cross that, cross that line, that opens up the possibility for some of these other discussions, some of these collaborations.
Which one of the things I was really thrilled about, even before the night was over, before we left, watching like Mr. Bobby and Dahlia talking about, you know, doing events, like just right after. And other collaborations that have come from that. And being able to have a discussion about something, you know, a topic like abolition that, you know, for a lot of people coming into that dinner, like, how are we gonna get to, you know, the idea of abolition, abolitionist the ideals when we're supposed to be talking about all the mess between natives and transplants? But that can happen once we, again, just sort of break some of that ice and some of these things that—and I wanna emphasize again, are side effects from a larger, uh, you know, again, being in a state with history of exclusion laws, being in a state with all these structures and this overt repressive, extreme anti-Blackness, where once we can start putting things in context, once we can start shaking some of those things, we're able to dream so much bigger.
And so my hope is that, you know, people will watch the whole conversation, be inspired by some of these ideas, be inspired by these people, and laugh a little bit because there's a lot of levity in there.
If you would like to watch the full conversation, you can catch that in the show notes where you can also find links to other videos for the project, specifically on youtube.com/brucepoinsette, as well as exclusive bonus features and uncut interviews, as well as reflections by becoming a member at patreon.com/ brucepoinsette. If you would like to see the previous article, it is online right now. It's called “Just Go Do It,” it's a profile of Black Muslims and community leadership and it's on oregonhumanities.org. And if you'd like to see more of our guest’s work today, please go to intisarabioto.com.
This episode of The Detour is hosted by me, Bruce Pointsette, and my guest Intisar Abioto. Keiren Bond is our producer. Dave Freelander is our editor. I'd like to give a special thanks to our dinner guests, Bobby Fouther, Dahlia Belle, Salome Chimuku, Crystal Chanel, Kan Jones, Ifanyi Bell, and the entire production crew from Open Signal Labs, Louiza PDX, Meals for Heels, Imagine Black, Ben Waterhouse, and Oregon Humanities for supporting this work and everyone who's supported my work to get to this point. Thank you, and thanks for listening.
Keiren Bond: Hi, it's Keiren Bond, The Detour’s producer, and I'm here with Adam Davis, the executive director of Oregon Humanities and our show host. Hey Adam. We are so happy to introduce you to season two of The Detour. After a year on the airwaves and podcast feeds, we've covered quite the array of topics—from conspiratorial thinking and extremism, to marriage and the ambivalence that comes with it, to rethinking Indigenous land sovereignty in Oregon.
Our show has evolved with the help of you, our community and guests, and we are so excited for what the next year is going to bring.
Adam Davis: So the first three episodes of season two are going to explore organizing—and not organizing a desk, a trip, or a closet, but organizing people who live in and shape their community together.
We want to take some time specifically with this kind of organizing because it's the most complex and important kind of organizing people can do and because there are lots of ways to think about it—every one of them imperfect and full of unknowns.
It's a little odd and faintly creepy to say “organizing people” out loud. It may be comfortable to talk about organizing people when we've got a line of three-year-olds holding a rope as they make their closely supervised way through a crowded street. But it's harder, less comfortable, to talk about organizing adults, largely because it feels condescending or manipulative.
And anyway, shouldn't everyone be able to organize themselves? But no, most or all of us can't organize ourselves on our own. And also, and maybe more relevant to what we'll be exploring in the next few episodes of The Detour, it's hard to live in community with lots of other people in the ways we want to. It's hard to make sure that power is distributed in just ways and that everyone can feel a sense of belonging. It's hard, in practice, to live up to the ideals we associate with this country and the state of Oregon, and it's hard in large part because individuals are complex and unwieldy and everything gets even more complex and unwieldy when we get together.
Keiren Bond: To think some of this through, we'll speak with Hahrie Han, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University who runs a lab that seeks to make the participation of ordinary people possible, probable, and powerful.
We'll also feature a conversation between Oregon-based organizers Joy Alise Davis, Keith Jenkins, and Marcus LaGrand, moderated by today's host, Bruce Poinsette, that explores the state of Back political power in Oregon.
Listen to season two of The Detour starting next month on the airwaves or wherever you get your podcasts.