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Residents speak about experiences with racism, view Netflix documentary '13th'

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Tony Iyke (left) and Robert Ward speak about racism in West Linn.A sense of belonging. That's what three Black West Linn citizens said they don't always feel from the community.

At a gathering Saturday, Aug. 15, Joy Mutare, Tony Iyke and Robert Ward spoke to a crowd of about 50 people — including City Council candidates, members of the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board and a state representative — of their experiences with racism and their views on the concept of race.

The conversation, which was organized by Ward, was followed by a screening of the Netflix documentary "13th," which illustrates the harsh realities of systemic racism in America.

Iyke, a fashion designer from Nigeria who moved to the United States 17 years ago, recalled some of the troubling encounters he and his cousin have had with West Linn police.

After seeing a driver in a car watching his house one night, Iyke said he called the police. When officers arrived, according to Iyke, they were not concerned with the driver but what Iyke was doing in his own house.

While the car Iyke was concerned about drove away, the officers were still questioning him about his address and what he was doing there, and asking to see his ID and passport.

Iyke also said his cousin rides his bike around West Linn when he visits and is always pulled over while riding. He said he wondered whether everyone who rides a bike in West Linn gets pulled over.

Iyke and Ward also denounced the realities of DWB or "Driving While Black."

Ward said he was pulled over on Rosemont Road one week ago, for DWB. The officer told him he was speeding, though Ward said he was carefully watching his speed while driving because he knew an officer would be there.

Iyke also spoke of the way people here look at him with fear.

"I'm in an elevator with someone, wearing a three-piece suit, and they're clutching their purse," he said. "I wish they could just say 'Hello. How is your day going?'"

When he first moved to West Linn, Iyke said he went around to introduce himself to his new neighbors, and from some of them he could sense that same fear.

{img:287271}Mutare, an instructor and graduate mentor in the sociology department at Portland State University, said she is also constantly defending herself for being here.

Before moving to Oregon, Mutare lived in Harlem and Syracuse. Not until moving here, Mutare said, did she realize that she was Black.

"This is the first time that I looked around and the rhetoric and the politics said that I was not wanted here," Mutare said.

Having moved to the U.S. from Zimbabwe in 1997, Mutare said when she goes home she doesn't have to think about race.

"I can shed being told that I'm not wanted here, that I'm depleting people's resources or that I come from a 'sh*t hole country,'" she said.

Here, she constantly has to tell people what she's contributing to defend her right to be here.

She recounted a time when she told her daughter's principal they were going on vacation and her daughter would be missing class Thursday and Friday.

On Saturday, she said, she received a call from her daughter's friends who relayed what their teacher had said. The teacher had told the class Mutare was abusing her daughter and belonged in jail. After emailing the teacher and principal, Mutare said the teacher apologized,

but Mutare wasn't interested in apologies.

"You don't talk like that lightly in front of a classroom of 13 year olds who already hear the rhetoric that immigrants need to be in jail," Mutare said.

Like Mutare, Iyke said he didn't think of himself as Black until he moved here, proving to them that race is a social construct.

Iyke asked the crowd to stop treating people based on the box of stereotypes they associate them with.

"Hate is taught," he said. "Nobody is born with hate."


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