Sunday, August 20, 2017

Dad: Not a Book Post

I keep thinking about my dad.

He would be 85 now, and he would be pissed, but not surprised.  (He would also not like me using the word "pissed," but that's a story for another day.)

Sure, there may have been some naivete in his younger days.  When he thought that the reason the black kids entered and left his high school through the back door was because it was closer to their homes.  When he thought that hiring a black woman to help out with infant me when my mom had a heart attack would teach my sisters and I to not be prejudiced.

(News flash: the black kids were expected to use the back door, even if there was no actual rule.  Hiring a black home nurse is a great way to teach kids that black people are there to serve you.  He worked out both of those things after the fact, and was open about how clueless he'd been.)

He was a news photographer, so he saw more of Portland than the lily-white neighborhood I grew up in.  He knew the stories behind the stories, what was reported and what was accepted.

He's the one who told me about the incarceration of the Japanese Americans during WWII.  He also told me that when the residents of Hood River realized that one of the names on their monument to fallen soldiers was Japanese, not Finnish (all those vowels), they chiseled it back off.

He's the one who told us about the Vanport Flood, which was a Katrina-level fuck-up and abandonment of Portland's African American neighborhoods, not an unfortunate act of God.

He's the one who told me about Oregon's shameful sunset laws, ban on black settlers, and  ongoing KKK presence.  He told me about how the local Native tribes were wiped out with smallpox blankets.  He loved this state and instilled a deep sense of place in all of us, but he didn't whitewash our history.  Nor did he deny the racism that still infects us.

I don't know if he knew the phrase "driving while black" or would have immediately known what black people mean by "the talk" they give their children.  But I do know how pissed off he was when his friend Nic was pulled over on our street when coming over for dinner. We'd lived on that street a good 25 years by then, and none of us had ever been pulled over.  None of the neighbors, none of the other guests and visitors.  But Nic, a news photographer just like my dad, driving a family car just like my dad, was pulled over, because he was a black man driving down a residential street in SW Portland.  My dad didn't question for an instant that this was racism, pure and simple.  And he made sure his family knew that this went on all the time, all over town.  He was completely unsurprised when I moved to Canby and pointed out how many of the traffic stops reported in the local daily were for Latinos, and for stupid things like a missing tail light or expired tags--again, things I have yet to be pulled over for.  "That's how they do it," he grumbled.  "Just look for any reason to hassle brown people."

I should note here that both his best friend and his brother-in-law were cops.

Another good friend, Max, is Hispanic.  His last name is Gutierrez, his ancestors immigrated from Spain to the US, and he doesn't speak a lick of Spanish.  They were covering a mine disaster in Idaho in the 1960s when the locals called Max a "Jap" and told him to be out of town by sundown or be found face-down in the river. The National Guard suggested he follow their advice.  My dad the photographer wrote an article exposing the incident and got his editor to publish it.  This is what's known as "calling other white people out" and he was not afraid to do it.

By the time Obama was elected president, my dad was wheelchair bound and foggy most of the time.  He took pictures of the televised inauguration, the closest he could come to covering this story.  "You know, Daddy," I told him, "There are people who say this means racism is over."

He stared at me in disbelief, then sputtered, "They think just because it's not a problem for THEM, it's not a problem!"

Nobody needed to tell my dad about white privilege. He worked that out a long time ago.

So I think of him a lot these days.


  1. Your father sounds like an amazing person :) Very interesting post, thank you for sharing!

  2. Thanks for sharing. I love hearing how your Dad tried to do his part to bring awareness to the issues.

  3. Aww Wendy, this is so, so beautiful. Sounds like your father was quite the amazing man, and he certainly did a fabulous job of raising you to be kind and compassionate and aware. Big hugs, thank you for sharing this with us ♥♥


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