It’s gross that I even have to write this.
Recently, Portland Whiskey Bar DJ Nathaniel Knows got more attention than he bargained for when other local DJ’s caught wind of a racially charged image he was using to promote his ‘Whiskey Wednesday’ night on his personal Facebook. (I’m not posting the image here, but if you want to see it click here.) Several local DJ’s and promoters took umbrage with him posting it, so they planned a protest event outside the Whiskey via social media.
Knows claimed online that he didn’t know the imagery on the food stamp are associated with black stereotypes, or even flat out racist. That’s interesting considering that the original image he altered was that of President Obama on the food stamp, and it’s from a website called racist-jokes.com. (If you feel inclined, scroll to the bottom of this page to see it). Later he backpedaled and stated put his face on it to take away from the racism, but with ‘art’ the meaning is derived by the each individual viewer’s projections on to it.
That’s a fancy way of saying it’s not my fault that you were offended.
It only took a day of all hell breaking loose on Facebook for the Whiskey Bar to kill his night.
Do I think this guy is racist in the sense that he is holding Klan rallies in his basement? Of course not. I actually believe he appropriated iconic racist black imagery thinking he could pass it off as being ‘hip-hop’ and ‘provocative’ without considering anyone else’s feelings, including many of his DJ colleagues on his newsfeed—some of whom are people of color.
Basically, he’s a fool.
What’s more disturbing than the image Knows altered himself were the scores of white people who came to the Facebook event page criticize the protest:
“I’ve witnessed so many cases of actual racism and prejudice, that this all seems a bit silly to me.”
“If I take a picture of me, a white guy eating a watermelon, is that racist?”
“I’m baffled on how this is ‘racist’. I like all the things on the picture. If you’re associating those things with a specific race of people, chances are you’re the racist…or a fuckin’ idiot.”
My personal favorite was from a long conversation string started by a white woman who outed herself as a lesbian early on in the thread. She told everyone since she wasn’t offended it obviously wasn’t really racist. She also told a biracial woman (who—as it turns out—is also LGBT) that she didn’t know what it felt like to be a second-class citizen because she can legally get married in the U.S. She also called that same woman a sociopath for lacking empathy for Knows.
I wish I could say I was surprised when I saw these comments.
Let’s just say I’ve been to a few house parties in town where I’ve met people who work in social services, are highly educated, have “Occupy” stickers on their bike helmets, tend to organic vegetable gardens, and drop racial stereotypes casually into conversations—all while wearing “Human Rights Campaign” t-shirts or pins on their purses that say “ally”.
It’s been nearly a year now since some of the few remaining black business owners on the newly-gentrified Mississippi Avenue, woke up to find a slew of swastikas, n-words, and crude drawings of lynching’s spray painted on their buildings. This is not an isolated incident. Other historically marginalized segments of Portland have found it totally acceptable to marginalize others when it comes to race. In February a North Portland gay bar, The Eagle, booked Shirley Q Liquor— a drag queen that performs in blackface. The performance was cancelled due to a massive backlash a couple of days later, but not before it sold out.
Remember, we’re talking about a city where the citizens routinely overwhelmingly vote Democrat, we elected an openly-gay mayor, we’re always one of the greenest cities in America and we’re known for our love of local businesses.
With 76% of the population, we’re also the largest, whitest city in America.
If you can’t see how disturbing this contradiction is, I don’t know what to tell you.
Just because there isn’t a large racially diverse population in this city, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t and won’t be called out for your racist assumptions and actions. In the words of Roxane Gay: “You are absolutely free to express your opinion. You are not free to express your opinion without consequences or judgment.”
Let’s acknowledge something important; I’m not a person of color nor am I a member of the LGBTQ community. I’m relatively privileged, and some people will disagree with me writing this piece and say that an African American (or a QPOC) in Portland should have written this instead. If you identify as either of those things, I implore you to write about this strange lack of intersectionality and entitlement in the city too. The only racial “taunting” I’ve ever been subjected to here was when a biracial student of mine jokingly asked me not to stand in front of the whiteboard, because he was afraid I would blend in.
If this recent incident with Nathaniel Knows proves anything, it’s that your experiences with this mentality in Portland are so desperately needed.
But I think it’s important that I’m writing this too. I have a Masters degree and my family helped me pay for part of my education. I’ve always voted as left as I possibly can in any election. I have a pro “Occupy” t-shirt and shop at Co-ops. Here’s the reality; a lot of the people in this city who seem to find this kind of racist humor ‘ironic’ sadly, and strangely, are coming from similar backgrounds as myself. And if the online defenders of Knows proved anything it’s that some of these people only acknowledge that certain actions could be viewed as racist as long as other white people from similar backgrounds also think they are.
So from one pasty, privileged, educated, super lefty to another— you should know better. How dare you negate the valid experiences of those who aren’t the same race as yourself. Maybe you should’ve actually spent time listening and absorbing in all those sociology classes you took. Better yet, maybe you should actually apply some of the things you learned in those classes to the way you actually live your life.
A friend of mine said it best when I posted online about Knows and his Photoshop job. He wrote that he came to believe in the concept of intersectionality on his own, just by living his day-to-day life, but “when I read it as a formally introduced academic term I just thought to myself ‘Really? I thought that was just called ‘not being a dumbass’.”