June 30, 2014 in On..., Op-Eds by

On: The Whitelandia Controversy

Maybe I just missed the memo because I grew up in Lake Oswego, but why do we spend so much time in the Black people meetings talking about white people? Isn’t that, in itself, a form of white supremacy?

Take the latest “outrage” over the documentary “Whitelandia” for example. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s the next in a long line of “The Sad, Unfortunate Tale of the Oregonian Negro” stories. The film’s description reads like a laundry list of helpless Black Oregonians getting their collective ass kicked by evermore-diabolical whites. As an older brother put it me, it’s really coded language, advertising Oregon as a white supremacist hot spot.

And yet, when word first got out about the project, everyone was hyped for it. The counter narrative to “There are no Black people in Oregon” was finally going to reach a national stage…

And then they found out the filmmakers were white.

To make matters worse, the filmmakers alienated some influential voices in the Black community by using people’s material without permission and leading many to falsely believe the film was a Black production (I’ll let you chew on the irony for a minute).

As a result, “Whitelandia” is now a hot topic. Some people want to take action against the filmmakers. Others want to make a film in response. And then some just want to be mad and let people know about it.

I’ve had too many conversations about the film to count, but one image that sticks out in my mind happened during a Whitelandia-influenced brainstorming session. People were tossing around ideas for a Black arts festival and it seemed like it wasn’t five minutes before the discussion disintegrated into a strategy session to deal with the possibility of the police showing up. We never made it back to the festival but the derailment was telling.

Has the white boogeyman narrative gotten so out of control that we’ve spooked ourselves into creative impotency? What does it say when we can’t finish an idea (sometimes a sentence) without Portland Police turrets? If you didn’t know better, you’d think the police, the Portland Development Commission, and, most recently, the Whitelandia filmmakers, are larger-than-life, Lex Luther type figures.

We’ve been telling the story of Oregon kicking the shit out of Black people for so long that some people really do feel helpless and defeated before any confrontation has even occurred. By default, I guess it’s supposed to be more empowering than “There are no Black people in Oregon.”

But truth be told, I’m tired of the same played out narratives. There’s more to Black life in Oregon than invisibility and oppression. Believe it or not, we’ve actually done things.

Off the top of my head, here are some stories I’d rather see than “Whitelandia.” First off, the city is due for a film on Jumptown, the once bustling hub of Portland’s historic Jazz scene. Then there’s the story of the radical 60s and 70s that produced not just local chapters of groups like the Black Panthers but also award-winning visual artists like Carrie Mae Weems.  Being that this is WOHM, what about a film documenting the history of Portland hip-hop from the early days, where city had its own version of Wild Style to the present, where the scene is as close to popping nationally as it has ever been? And if you want to take it to the fictional level, there are projects like “Number 13” that could be game changers if they come to fruition.

These are just a few ideas that don’t even scratch the surface of the Black experience in Oregon and the creativity bubbling from so many people in the community.

With so many stories to tell, why should “Whitelandia” even matter? We could be utilizing our creative minds to KEEP doing all the dope things we do and maybe inspire a few impressionable minds along the way. Or we could give in to the reactionary mind that goes crazy over white people trying to profit off of Black stories as if that’s somehow news.

Seriously, if you’re not in the process of taking legal action against the filmmakers for violating your copyright, why are you letting this occupy so much space in your mind? Why are you letting your anger do more advertising for the film than the actual people making it? Why are YOU giving “Whitelandia” so much power?

These filmmakers may be the latest people we’ve built up to be more diabolical than they actually are, but just like your most loathed politicians and police officers, they breathe air and bleed just like us. In reality, they’re not so much obstacles as they are opportunities.

If you think I’m being cliché, look at how much coverage Portland hip-hop received on BuzzFeed yesterday, in large part, because of the police making asses of themselves during the now infamous Blue Monk incident.

Yes, I know “they” (whoever that “they” is to you) don’t want us here. But we’re here anyway and we’re doing big things. If you really want to make “them” mad, keep it up.

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