Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
"Losing those spaces means that you lose a critical element of who you are."
When Ifanyi Bell was growing up in Portland, Oregon, he was very conscious of being African American in the majority-white city. Bell, a digital producer and visual journalist, writes about his experience in an essay titled "The Air I Breathe" in Oregon Humanities magazine:
Growing up, I always had the sneaking suspicion that no one outside of the five or so blocks that made up my Northeast Portland neighborhood wanted me to be there. Portland did not appear to love me, its own son, but merely tolerated and continually underestimated me.
Bell left his hometown after high school. When he returned several years later in 2011, those “five or so blocks” he talks about had undergone a massive transformation. He writes:
The city was very different than I remembered from 1996. It seemed that Portland no longer had any black neighborhoods; instead, it seemed that there were places where black people lived or occasionally came to be for periods of time. In hindsight it is more likely that there were never any truly black neighborhoods, but simply places in Portland where white people did not go out of fear, mostly imagined and exacerbated by isolation and economic factors.
Bell's essay confirms what many already know about Portland: that it wasn't very diverse to begin with (history made sure of that), and that it has seen a lot of gentrification. One recent report names Portland the most gentrified major city in the United States.
A new video by Oregon Humanities called "Future: Portland" builds on Bell's experience. It explores what the scant spaces occupied by black Portlanders mean to them, and how heart-wrenching it is to be forced to leave these spaces. Charles McGee, CEO of the Black Parent Initiative and one of the interviewees in the video, summarizes the sentiment:
Losing those spaces means that you lose a critical element of who you are.
Watch the video here:
H/t: Oregon Live