The Common Thread
Dr. Markisha Smith Reflects on the Current State of Our Political and Social Affairs
My heart is heavy. My mind is cloudy. My physical reactions are unfamiliar to me.
I recall being in the middle of teaching a lesson when my colleague ran into my classroom and said that the World Trade Center had been attacked. I remember looking at her in confusion and then stepping out of my classroom to watch the news coverage she had playing in her classroom. Disbelief and fear immediately sunk in, and I had to prepare myself for how I would answer questions not only for myself, but for the 30 teenagers waiting for me to return to the classroom.
I remember standing at my kitchen sink with tears rolling down my face as I listened to the news recount the tragic events that had just taken place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At this time, my daughter was only in pre-school, but I remember an intense feeling of sadness and fear that washed over me as I envisioned having to send her through the doors of a school in only a couple of short years.
And I continued to experience this reaction as I watch domestic terrorism, racist acts, and hate crimes play out in this country and locally. I am sickened by the violent acts that have resulted in the death or injury of individuals in Portland and across the nation, and disheartened as I face the reality that it seems like for all the rhetoric we create and share that encourages honest conversations about the historical and current trauma of racism, the hate rhetoric only gets stronger.
I am tired of looking up articles and watching videos on how to talk to my children about mass shootings and gun violence. I don’t want to sit at my desk and craft words such as these to express my anger and frustration for the myriad ways in which our country fails to address concerns that are not new or novel. I wish I didn’t have to think about whether I will take my family to outdoor events, concerned for our safety and unsure of what might happen in a crowd of people we don’t know. I walk around in a heightened state of awareness and fear—my head turning sharply at the sound of a loud scream or voice; my defenses activated when I go to unfamiliar spaces where my face is the only face of color in a sea of white.
The common thread in all these experiences? Terrorism. Terrorism against people, histories, ideologies, identities, ways of knowing and being.
As we continue to reel from last week’s domestic terrorist attacks, we now must prepare for another assault on our city by White Nationalists this weekend. The best way to be safe this Saturday is to stay away from the rally. If you choose to show up, do not go alone. Stay with a group or go with at least one other person and decide on a meeting place in advance in case you get separated. If you experience or witness a hate or bias incident, report it to Portland United Against Hate at ReportHatePDX.com. You may report confidentially. If you are stopped by law enforcement, be polite and follow instructions. Do not challenge police at the scene of the protest. If you feel your rights have been violated, you can address that afterward.
Some Portlanders ask, “How could this continue to happen in our progressive city?” The truth is that our long history of oppression against Black people, Indigenous People, and people of color allows this to happen. Institutional racism is the foundation that allows this to happen.
For years, communities of color in Portland have organized for government to respond to institutional racism. That community activism led to the creation of the Office of Equity and Human Rights which focuses on institutionalizing equity throughout City bureaus' policies, practices, and procedures. It takes time to change hundreds of years of history inside government, but Portlanders can help combat institutional racism by getting involved with local government advisory boards, connecting with social justice organizations, and listening to people of color and elevating conversations about racism and White Supremacy. We’re all in this together.
I will leave you with the words of the late Toni Morrison which seem fitting as we explore the current state of our political and social affairs:
“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”