I believe many of us in the Bandon community are troubled by the tenor of our current national “discussions” about race. With so few people of color in our community, there is little we can do here to engage in interracial involvement. The very fact that we live in an area of such overwhelming ethnic uniformity is a direct result of Oregon’s unique history of racism.
In 1843, the Oregon Territory banned slavery within its bounds — a seemingly progressive act which was actually carried out by requiring all African-Americans to leave the territory. That exclusion policy was made law by popular vote in 1857 and was not repealed until 1926. An 1862 law banning interracial marriage of any kind was not repealed until 1951. Native American children were forced to assimilate through Indian schools. Racial profiling was required by the Portland Board of Realtors in 1919, and a 1935 Oregon law distinguished between “White Mexicans” and those with Native American ancestry. Oregon was the host of several WWII internment camps for Japanese-Americans. It wasn’t until 2000 that racially biased language and practices were officially removed from the state constitution.
We can’t do anything about our past history beyond acknowledging its wrongs. But we can engage in a real examination of our own assumptions and attitudes about race and racism. We can forfeit our comfortable complacency about racism in society and ourselves. I would like to invite the entire community to engage in reading and discussing "Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race" by Debby Irving. I have read Irving’s book (a searching biography of her own personal exploration) and found it both uncomfortable and comforting. It is very uncomfortable to have one’s unexamined assumptions challenged in fresh new ways, but it is also a relief to know that one is not alone in those assumptions, and that one can actually overcome old learning, can grow and truly change in response to new information and experiences.
Those interested will meet from 10:30 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays beginning March 6 at the Odd Fellows Hall. The book can be purchased easily online or ordered through Winter River Books bookstore. There will be no expense beyond the acquisition of the book. We anticipate a 10-week series of discussions, but folks are welcome to attend as many or as few sessions as they wish. I hope you and many others will join us!
Rev. Bobbi Neason
First Presbyterian Church of Bandon