PORTLAND HAS A LOT to offer in the way of restaurants, scenery, farmers’ markets, sportswear, and art, but one of its biggest shortcomings is its lack of diversity—most notoriously its measly six percent black population. (Speaking of which, you should check out black-owned restaurants like Pink Rose, Po’Shines, Mama San Soul Shack, and Kee’s Loaded Kitchen the first chance you get.) Being the only person repping melanin in the room really gets old fast, so you’ll need to actively seek out a more diverse circle if you want one. Luckily, with all the transplants coming here, the number of POC is growing. And since Portland is a super small city, the circles we run in are tight-knit—almost hilariously so. It’s easy to make friends here if you just set the joint down (okay, take it with you) and for the love of God get out of the house.
As you bop around town and get to know people, you’ll see A LOT of familiar faces. You’ll also probably be caught off-guard at first because Portlanders are really, sort of annoyingly nice. Assuming you’re not sketch, the typical socialite is probably willing to exchange contact info with the intent of working together or inviting you to brunch. Just ask Seena Haddad, a Persian American filmmaker who created, wrote, and directed X-Ray, a webseries about what it’s like to be a new artist in Portland’s hip-hop scene. When he wanted to immerse himself in Portland hip-hop, he made a connection with Mac Smiff, the editor of We Out Here magazine. Haddad quickly found that people were surprisingly receptive to his miniseries.
“I was just some dude that started showing up at shows and telling people I was going to make a project about Portland hip-hop,” Haddad says. “But I never got any backlash about that, nobody was like rude to me. And everybody was down for me to use their music and that was pretty cool.”
As far as nightlife and the “urban” club scene, Portland is notorious for sucking and closing down places that play mostly hip-hop and black music. Ever heard of Blue Monk, Harlem, or the Crown Room? You probably won’t, because they no longer exist. There are, however, a few bars and venues that have made it their business to host hip-hop and R&B shows, and events that appeal to multiple cultural identities. Check out Holocene, Kelly’s Olympian, Ash Street Saloon, Hawthorne Theatre, Roseland, and Crystal Ballroom, to name a few.
Many Portlanders of color have started attending recurring shows, parties, and art events like DUG (Deep Under Ground), Mic Check, and the Thesis. Even if the thought of attending a local hip-hop show at a small bar wouldn’t normally appeal to you, when you’re black in Portland it’s sometimes necessary for survival. However, it’s likely that after one or two concerts you’ll find at least one local artist who you’d like to see again. Familiarize yourself with the names in the local music scene so when one of these talented artists actually makes a come-up you can say you saw them before they blew up (and maybe even for free!): Aminé; Myke Bogan; the Last Artful, Dodgr; Blossom; Chanti Darling; and Mic Capes are just a few local artists you simply must go see live.
One of the most consistently happening social music events in town is YGB, a semiregular social that’s half dance party, half live music, and celebrates all things Young, Gifted, and Black. When you enter the room—whether it’s at Killingsworth Dynasty, Holocene, or Doug Fir, you’ll likely catch a whiff of incense and enjoy visuals being projected to the beautiful and diverse crowd. The resident DJ, Lamar LeRoy, is truly phenomenal and plays both old and new cuts, while Renée Lopez (Miss Lopez Media) runs a portrait photobooth and takes candids throughout the evening. The event is, of course, open to people of all cultural identities, and always LGBTQ-friendly.
Now let’s talk hair. Jayah Rose Salon has a slew of multi-talented stylists who will slay your scalp (not literally). Regardless if you have naturally curly or textured hair, wear relaxer, braids, twists, or have a weave installed, or just need something simple like a haircut or deep condition, Jayah Rose is the most reliably bomb place in town. Just sit in the shop for a couple of hours and watch the clients all leave looking professional and photo-ready. I recommend calling the shop to get a referral and set up a consultation. They really are the dopest.
Asian? Apparently no one goes to Chinatown anymore to connect with the Asian community. In addition to keeping up with the Asian Reporter, Asian folks now flock to Beaverton or Southeast Portland to find their people. Nowadays it’s all about the Jade District in the area surrounding SE 82nd and Division. Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) is the nonprofit that started a new night market as of a couple of weeks ago, where you can shop local Asian groceries, eat Korean barbecue, and enjoy live entertainment.
Old Town’s new identity has become a place for dirty, regrettable nightlife on weekends, but during the day it’s a little hub of creativity for those with an urban lifestyle: Compound Gallery, Upper Playground, black-owned Deadstock coffee shop, and IndexPDX sneaker consignment store bring a more upscale vibe to the area while also selling designs from local designers. The first two make an especially cool stop on First Thursdays, and have been known to put the work of tattoo and artists on display.
As a person of color, life here can be a challenging, frustrating, and lonely existence if you don’t have an outlet to engage with people you identify with. Local photographers Intisar Abioto (theblackportlanders.com) and Renée Lopez (@MissLopezMedia on Instagram) both provide an ongoing and beautiful reminder that you are not alone, and there are plenty of thriving black, brown, yellow, and LGBT people living in Portland. You just need to go find them.