Although Portland has a reputation for liberalism, the overwhelming majority of people of color in the region have experienced discrimination at work and in the community, according to a new study conducted by the nonprofit Partners in Diversity
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed reported discrimination at the workplace. And even more — 97% — reported discrimination away from work.
"I experience racism and micro-aggressions on a near-daily basis," wrote one participant.
In fact, only 17% felt the organizations where they work were supportive of them. And just 16% felt comfortable in restaurants, stores and public places.
"While I am content with my job here, I will eventually leave the area because my non-work life is not enjoyable," wrote another.
"I am not surprised by these findings. They mirror my own experiences in Oregon, so much so that it feels a bit like reporting 'water is wet,'" said state Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Dist. 51), a Black woman who was reported to the police by a white resident while canvassing a neighborhood she represents in 2018.
"That was like a punch to the gut. It was like everything I've experienced in my previous positions," said Rukaiyah Adams, chief investment officer for the Fred Meyer Charitable Trust and chair of the Albina Vision, the nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the Rose Quarter District.
"Those numbers don't surprise me at all. They're consistent with my experiences as a Black man living in Portland for 20 years. And they're consistent with the experiences of other communities of color," said Marcus Mundy, executive director of The Coalition of Communities of Color, a nonprofit organization that supports 17 other nonprofits that serve communities of color in the region.
The study also identified "Portland nice" as characteristic of discrimination in the region.
"It's the idea that Portland, Oregon, is often seen as a progressive, hyper-conscious city with its quirky 'Keep Portland Weird' vibe. Yet, underneath this veneer, participants say people in this region engage in behaviors that disenfranchise or alienate people of color," said the study, which found a mere 1% of participants felt included in their community.
"People in this area practice subtle racism and don't even know it," wrote one participant.
"This is a very passive-aggressive place. It feels like living in a house of mirrors," wrote another.
The "Portland nice" scenario is the most important finding of the study, said Blount International Senior Vice President and General Counsel Chad Paulson, who is Black.
"The image of Portland is wrong. People of color feel isolated and discriminated against," Paulson said.
The survey was conducted by Partners in Diversity, a nonprofit organization which received grants from PGE and the Oregon Community Foundation to help pay for the research. Partners in Diversity launched the Workforce Diversity Retention Project in 2019 based on anecdotes it heard from member organizations and professionals of color. Executive Director Mari Watanabe said that although the findings were sobering, the business leaders need to be aware of them so they can improve their equity and inclusion efforts.
The study was undertaken by Larry R. Martinez, Ph.D., an industrial and organizational psychologist who teaches at Portland State University to conduct the survey.
Participants were professionals of color who took part in one of the non-profit's programs. The survey began in the summer of 2019 and included 30 in-depth interviews conducted by researchers of color, five in-depth interviews with recruitment and retention personnel, and 293 large-scale online surveys of professionals of color.
Most of the participants, 93%, were from the Portland metro area, including Vancouver, Beaverton, Gresham, Hillsboro, Milwaukie, Lake Oswego, Fairview, Troutdale and Camas.
The study that was presented at a Portland Business Alliance webinar on Wednesday, July 15.
"The situation is not great right now," said Martinez, who presented the findings. He was followed by a panel of three employers who emphasized the importance of executives making equity and inclusion a top priority in all aspects of their businesses. They were: Tillamook County Creamery Association President and CEO Patrick Criteser; Ecotrust Executive Director Jeremy Barnicle; and Portland of Portland Executive Director Curtis Robinhold.
The panel was moderated by Paulson, chair emeritus of Partners in Diversity. He noted at although all three panelists were white males, their organizations have made strides at hiring and retaining people of color.
"The power in this community is white men and a few white women. They are the ones who have to lead," Paulson said.
The survey was released as Portland, the region and the nation are experiencing a historic movement to end systemic racism sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man in the custody of the Minneapolis police. Daily and nightly protests have taken place in Portland for more than six weeks, ranging from large peaceful marches to violent confronts with the police by a much smaller group.
All three panelists said the movement makes it more important than ever to increase equity and inclusion in the workplace, even though the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout have made recruiting harder. Robinhold said the ongoing protests have actually made it easier for port employees of color to talk honestly about the discrimination they have experienced. Among other things, the port is now holding weekly "consciousness conversations" about the issue, Robinhold said.
The project began after a 2013 PBA research paper revealed that few minorities were applying for manufacturing jobs in the region, even though they pay an average of 49 percent more than non-manufacturing jobs that require the same level of education.
As part of its work, the project contracted with Portland State University for demographic research. The Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies at PSU reported that the working-age and school-age population in the region is growing more racially diverse. The population that identifies as Hispanic is the fastest-growing, having doubled to 25 percent in the past decade.
During the same period, the Asian population grew by about 50 percent, and the African-American and Native American populations grew by 35 percent. Children under 15 are increasingly nonwhite, with half the students in Portland Public Schools belonging to communities of color.
Readers can find the study at here.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.