The Urban League of Portland asked that question during its very interesting presentation to City Club today on the State of Black Oregon report (pdf) it released over the summer. Matt and I wrote about the report in July, but even though I'd heard the info before, the experts' presentation to the City Club was chilling.

Urban League President Marcus Mundy addresses the swank City Club
  • Urban League President Marcus Mundy addresses the swank City Club
Urban League President Marcus Mundy kicked off the hour-long presentation with a run-down of some of the demographic statistics dug up in the State of Black Oregon. "We’re seven percent of Portland’s population, but 45 percent of Portland homicide victims are African American," noted Murphy. "Why is it that we as progressive Portlanders accept as the norm the notion of an achievement gap, different life expectancies or an economic divide?"

Portland Public School Deputy Superintendent of Programs Charles Hopson continued the trend with an equally damning speech. Hopson drew contrasts between schools such as Alameda (majority white, majority middle and upper class) with King (majority students of color, majority poor) which are only a half a mile apart. The differences in demographics and programs at those two schools reveal the "failed attempts of integration and desegregation" which has led to a district-wide "civil rights violation of the worst kind.” He posed no solutions but instead a question. "Does this city have the moral consciousness and the political will to... provide the equity of opportunity for every student that many of your students enjoy by virtue of race, zip code and privilege?"

Portland State professor Karen Gibson pointed out that while the state is freaking out about its current 12 percent unemployment rate (and with good reason) the unemployment rate for African Americans in Oregon has been 12 percent since the 1970s. And, says Gibson, things are not getting better economically for Oregon's black residents. In the 1970s, average African American income in Portland was 75 percent the average white income. In 2006, the average African American income was just 41 percent of the average white income. That's the fault of a historic lack of investment in black neighborhoods like Albina, but also present day racism embedded in institutions."As we've seen in the racial disparity in mortgage lending, it's still going on," says Gibson, also calling out the N/NE Economic Development Initiative as "not an empowering process."

Plus, points out Gibson, Oregon spends far more on prisons (which incarcerate a disproportionate number of black people) than community development programs. "Investing in people’s human potential is the very essence of sustainability," says Gibson. "It is not rocket science. It is not sexy. But it is smart."