My "diversity beat" at The Oregonian most often is a gentrification beat. For the past few years, I've written narratives about the displaced, about the communities lost. A reader and community leader has often pushed back on some of those stories. Rightly, he asked why I only wrote sad stories about African Americans. He sent me numbers showing the population was growing. Both narratives are true -- African Americans have been pushed out in big cities across the country. But there are others who are thriving, making a home in a place the rest of the country knows for quirky whiteness.
Here's the latest piece I did, the first in a little series that will continue through the fall. Photos by Beth Nakamura, my favorite journalist and best tag team partner.
After gentrification: America's whitest big city? Sure, but a thriving black community, too.
Every few months, a national news outlet travels to Oregon to trek through a familiar narrative. Portland is America's whitest big city, they report. Black people have been shoved out, shut down.
Yes, at 76 percent white, Portland is less diverse than Omaha or Salt Lake City. And gentrification did displace and disperse what was once a dense black community in North and Northeast Portland. Others left willingly, realtors said, for bigger lots and better schools.
But those are not the only stories black Portlanders have to tell. Frustrated by the steady dirge, some of Portland's black leaders have begun sharing another narrative. African-Americans aren't disappearing, they say. Some are thriving.
The number of black Portlanders increased 4 percent between 2000 and 2010, they note. And new Census data, released this year, shows the metro area had nearly 5,000 black-owned businesses in 2012, a 42 percent increase over five years.
"We just don't all live in Northeast Portland anymore," said economist Stephen Green, a 39-year-old African American who grew up in Aloha but lives in Woodlawn, among a few Northeast neighborhoods that have added black residents in recent years.
Green understands why the other narrative proliferates. Older black people miss knowing their neighbors. Young white liberals feel guilty for driving up rental prices.
But that story has outlived its use, he thinks.
If people think Portland has no black residents, they won't support its black businesses. Smart, ambitious young African Americans won't stay or move here.
The whitest city in America will become only whiter.