27 January 2006

The unbelievable whiteness of Oregon

The DP and I just returned from “five fun filled days” in Oregon visiting my mother during the final leg of the annual family holiday pilgrimage. In all, it was a lovely visit, with both parties being civil to each other, and the snark level remained well below the pain threshold (or that encountered at most any gay bar).

The trip allowed G2 to see a little more of Oregon than his first, brief trip four years ago. I grew up in the state, so my views and opinions as an expatriate Oregonian (or Oregonian in exile) are somewhat skewed. His eyes and ears were fresh, and provided both confirmation of long held opinion and some challenging new thoughts.

1. Portland is an incubator of microcultures. Walking through downtown Portland was fascinating. The sheer variety of personal style on display was amazing. The personal statements were supported by a profileration of small, independently owned business that cater to niche markets (and a few larger businesses, such as Powell's Books that overwhelm with the sheer diversity of material they stock). Is Portland a kind of autonomous cultural zone? Hard to say. In many ways, Portland doesn't feel like an American city. And its relation to its suburbs and the rest of the state is far from clear. File this under “new matter for further consideration.”

2. Oregon is amazingly, unbelievably white. That's not suprising for a state settled by Northern European immigrants. That is not to say there aren't people of color in Oregon -- there are -- and I don't even want to start on the various flavours of racism present. The DP observed another odd thing: People were either dwarves or elves. (No feet were examined, so we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of hobbits in the state. Though we did observe one inappropriately displayed set of manicured toenails.) Oregonians were either tall, thin, and pale, or shorter, wide, and pale. There was very little middle ground. What's up with that?

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