Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tell me Portland is not only made up of white, heterosexual 2-parent families with kids?

Portland's very white, heterosexual families
Race underlies everything. Scratch the surface a little—immigration, renaming a street, what neighbors moved in down the street—and up it pops. Or the not-so-subtle ways it shows itself when the media reflect back to us, through photos and stories, a society where we don't see ourselves a part of. We are "the other."*

Race is becoming a part of the national dialogue with Obama running for President. Wow, to think of a national dialogue about race? When we can't even talk about race among neighbors or friends or family? I welcome that, wholeheartedly. But racism, and defining "the other", it's in our daily lives, in the little things, where race and privilige live, and where I'm seeing them more and more. What can I do when I see and hear these things? Do I shrug them off and let them go? Do I become part of the problem when I let them go? And my mom would agree, it's not really in my nature to let things go. (My friend Donna Red Wing is a professional agitator: I like that title a lot.)

So today I had a late breakfast, and sat down with The Oregonian's FOODDay section. The cover story was a large feature—the whole page!—about trimming household grocery budgets. You can see the page I took a snap of above. I mentioned to AdRi what I felt about this story—that it made me feel invisible—and she laughed. As a woman of color she's used to it. Me? Not so much. But it's becoming more obvious to me, and in places where I normally feel I belong.

So this is the letter I sent to the writer, and to The Oregonian.
Hi Leslie;
I really enjoyed your article today in FOODday, and I love the budget challenge for families to trim their grocery spending. We have such a great foodie scene in Portland, and it's easy to waste food and resources. There are some great ideas in your article and I look forward to reading some of the corresponding recipes next week.

But I have to tell you that when I read your line, "We took the dilemma to four Portland families who look a lot like many FOODday readers" and I looked up at the photos, my heart sunk a little. I looked at the families you profiled, and then read their stories: you chose four families, and they all are white, heterosexual couples with kids. No single parents, no families of color, no gay or lesbian families. And all of a sudden, I felt very invisible. And surprised. Because I often read FOODday, and your articles, and am able to reflect personally on them, but this time I realized that nothing about my family is reflected in the examples you show.

Now I know that certainly not all types of people and families could possibly be featured in a story like this, but it seems that when you have the opportunity to profile four families, you could at least make sure the families you're selecting are more reflective of the real community. We both know that not all Oregonians, or Portlanders, are white, heterosexual couples, 2-parent families raising children.

And you see, it's not only reflected in the photos, and seeing a whole front page full of white faces and families, but in their stories, as well. No references or ideas for tortillas? Greens? Culturally relevant foods? Couples without kids portions? What we eat can be such a great unifier in class and culture, and also very distinct. With such a large feature story like this, our cultural differences were completely erased with stories from such a specific white viewpoint.

The media, and you, Leslie–and FOODday–have such power to influence not only what people know but how they feel about their community. The media, in conscious and unconscious ways, communicate important values and sends us messages about what or who is important or not. It's not that I think anyone did this with malice, but instead, what appears to be a lack of focus and, perhaps privilege, that can cloud decision making like this. Oregonians include all different kinds of families: I wish I could see more of them, in our paper, and reflected in daily life in areas such as FOODday.
I hope I hear back from them. Do you think I will?

*Sidenote: for a great history and viewpoint on immigration, and discussion of "the other" watch this, thanks to my lowrider librarian friend, Max.


Anonymous said...

Great letter and I hope you hear back from them. As a lesbian-parented family of five we are very conscience of the money we spend of groceries and what types of groceries. I don't know if anyone else has noticed but I have seen a huge jump in prices lately and it doesn't look as though it's going to get any better.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to write and submit a letter to the editor—it is something I wish more people did. I hope you hear back; I have heard back almost every time I have contact them.

Your post made me think a little...

I am part of a "white," heterosexual couple (no kids, we have a dog if that counts) but I don't look at those pictures and feel that I am necessarily included as well. On demographic information, I always put other or do not disclose ethnicity. Just because my partner and I both look like "white Americans" does not mean that we identify as that. Both of us feel that our ethnic heritage is important and that we aren't just "American." Additionally, it would make me very sad if we really lived in a community that was represented by those four families. I like to think that my opinions or your opinions aren't the same as everyone else's and that my life or anyone else's life is not the same as everyone else's in our community. It would be a very sad day for all of us if it was.

LeLo said...

Thanks RSG and Amy for your thoughts and feedback. RSG, this is a timely article, isn't it? I noticed the other night that tortillas are coming in 8 packs instead of 10 packs now.

Amy, thanks for such a thoughtful comment. I guess I see these photos and this story for such a great opportunity to reflect a diversity of people, and it was totally lost. I think many types of people and families look at this cover page and don't see themselves, and what a great opportutnity lost for a diversity of stories, ideas and opinions! But how can something like this happen at Oregon's largest newspaper? I'm pretty surprised and disappointed.

witchtrivets said...

great letter. I agree.

But I have little hope for the Oregonian. It is just not a good paper. Not reflecting the average Portlander is just one of many issues I have with it.

Anonymous said...

Good for you writing that letter. They are so unimaginative. Always have been, probably always will be. Last laugh will belong to the bloggers and the Internet.

"Haw haw! Your medium is dying!"
-- Nelson, to news journalists on the Simpsons

Rozanne said...

Way to go and to harness the power of blog!!! It's appalling that when looking for families to feature they didn't give any thought at all to representing Portland's diversity. Very, very disappointing performance from a paper published in a city that is known for being progressive.

I hope your letter gets into the Letter to the Editor column and/or that you get a response from the writer. And I hope that the editors take what you've said to heart and stop making these kinds of thoughtless, sweeping generalizations.

I will be very, very interested to see if and how they respond. We shall see!

Unknown said...

LeLo, you are awesome as usual. I love the letter you wrote, particularly the honest, non-accusatory tone of it. I think it's easy to alienate people by assuming they somehow intended to be non-inclusive, and you didn't do that, and at the same time were clear about the result of the action.

My experience with the Oregonian is that you will usually hear back and that the journalist often really wants to do things better in the future. But they often just take the path easiest to them because of time and energy considerations, and so pushing them can have at least a temporary impact. I love that you have taken action on something that most people would just grumble about--you inspire me to find a way to make my world better today. thank you! --Roey

A Lewis said...

I do hope you hear back, and I think that you very well may. It's pretty typical, I'm afraid. And it's everywhere, as you've found out. By the way, you can see some more shots of Mason in my most recent photo set of my trip to Boise last week:


Anonymous said...

GREAT post. Linking...

Alan Cordle said...

I'd just read that "article" about an hour before I read your post. Yeah. It was a pathetic sampling.

Anonymous said...

I read the article and thought nothing of race. This article isn't about race. Sorry the article struck a cord with you but get over it. It was all about saving tips on groceries and they had some pretty good ones. It's just a sample and you shouldn't be bugged just because you weren't chosen.

Alan Cordle said...


Anonymous said...

You're not wrong in being upset, but I guess I was surprised... I thought the article was kind of funny.

As someone who spent several years selling plasma to afford groceries, I didn't need to read an article to figure out that I should buy things on sale and give up the daily $7 coffee drink. I'd bet that single parent families and people of color are over-represented among those who have these habits out of necessity- not because of a newspaper challenge and not because the latest economic downturn is forcing soccer moms to cut corners.

So maybe that's how the Oregonian is making other families invisible; by ignoring the fact that they depend on these skills every day.

I took the article as a way to teach white middle-class heterosexual couples with kids how to do what so many other people learned long ago. And the only thing I could do was laugh.

John Judy said...

Call the whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaambulance. Many of us weren't represented in the article. Many of us aren't represented in much of what's published or aired. Personally, I'm sick to death of media dealing with the choices people who aren't like me make. It's interesting for a bit, but it loses pertinence after a few years. My solution? Rather than whine that a media outlet that really isn't structured to represent me isn't representing me, I find another that is, or create my own. I realize that most media is comprised of people trying to grab the attention of the majority. I'm not part of the majority, so they're not always going to try to talk to me... And I like it that way. To put it another way, it doesn't bother me in the least that I cannot go to McDonald's and get a great steak and a nice bottle of wine. I'd rather enjoy that experience with people who love it as much as I do.

I'm sure if I bothered to read more of your blog I might find we agree on far more issues than we disagree but if your life is so lacking in substance that a perceived slight by "Food Day" represents a real problem for you then I doubt it would be worth the time. I'm not saying I've written anything worthy of serious consideration but c'mon... Food Day? If you're going to complain about not being represented, at least complain about a publication that matters in some way.

There's plenty of media out there for you no matter what type of life style you lead. Find it. Read it. Contribute to it. By demanding that everyone include you in their party, you're just as "fascist" as the people you complain about.

tl;dr - Dude, seriously... Food Day?

Kevin Allman said...

Lelo, I read the article too and came away with another - and, frankly, I think, larger - point.

Did you see the tips on stretching the family food budget? They were almost completely pointed at a certain demographic of Portlanders, from the recommendation to look past boneless skinless chicken breasts to the suggestion that one has one's food delivered. About 1/3 of the whole thing was about getting a better deal on organics, for Christ's sake.

Not a word about dollar stores, about dented cans, about day-old bread or bulk peanut butter or The Millionth Use For Spaghetti or which expiration dates on food are firm and which ones can be fudged.

I get your point about variety in subjects...as someone without kids, I had the same thought: can the O write one damn story about a family where "family" doesn't automatically mean "kids"? A middle-aged couple living with an aged mother, for instance?

But I think gay/straight and racial issues both pale in comparison to the real problem, and that's the inability of the Oregonian to include poor folks as "average Portlanders" in any story unless it has something directly involving poverty. Hell, in this case, it DID, and they still couldn't see the obvious point of the story when it was right under their collective snub nose.

Anonymous said...

Look around. Do you really think any of the groups you feel were not represented add up to 25% of the local population? I'd say that single parents would make up the largest portion, just a guess, and it might even come close, but does every damned article have to go out of its way to be to be totally inclusive? Honestly, I think to many people are looking for stuff that they can take offense to.

And how is it any different for a lesbian couple to save money on groceries, or a black, or hispanic family? The article was trying to help people, and, regardless of race, blah, blah, blah, it does give some good ideas that do just that.

You are an excellent writer, and very perceptive. You just need to pick a subject that hasn't been forced down our throats for the last ten years. I mean no offense to anyone gay, or of color, or with freckles, or red hair, or...oh, hell with it anyone can find a way to be offended with it, and if that is how they want to live it's their choice. I am done apologizing.

Sorry for all the grammatical and spelling errors, it's late.

LeLo said...

Oh how i love it when anonymous commenters make my points for them themselves. Classic.

Lots of great points coming up in the other comments though: thanks for commenting!

Middle Girl said...

I was going to say something about the the A commenters' rage ... "ramming down our throats", etc. but, I think you've covered that ground nicely.

Interesting article and interesting POV which in turn elicted interesting comments.

Fun stuff. Peace.

Neva said...

Sounds like it was yet another all-around crappy article from The Oregonian. I'm glad you wrote to them--they needed to hear that.

Anonymous said...

I wonder this a lot: If I don't have kids are we a family? Not according to the Oregonian apparently. And if I don't shop at the Farmers Market I guess I don't eat food, either...

Anyway, I wanted to compliment your letter and the way you presented the article and then your reaction to it. I wish everything I read in the Food Day (I rarely read TheO) was as well written as your letter to them!

Jennifer said...

This artical makes me feel "icky" This is not reflective of Portland AT ALL!!! Good for you Lelo in Nopo..Please post the responce.

Max Macias said...

Yes, the Oregonian does suck--it sucks so much I won't even read it.

I appreciate your letter.

I think it is representative of a culture that sees itself as supreme (western culture).Living in a country that has the three foundational pillars of Genocide, slavery and land theft i am constantly besieged by this kind of stuff everyday.

Stuff can just go straight to your subconscious if you are NOT aware of it.

I would like to see a national dialogue on the genocide perpertrated in this land, the land theft, and slavery as well as "race relations (Race relations almost sounds pretty--don't it?)"

Thanks for the killer post and letter yo!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you wrote that letter. I read that article and was just struck by how amazingly white bread and middle-class it was. The tips were not helpful! It just reflects the Oregonian's need to reflect their dreamworld of white upper-middle-class perfect het couples (and the occ. gay male couple) onto the world.

I agree with Roey -- you have a lovely tone there. Will you be my mentor??

Unknown said...


A giant smile spread across my face after reading your post (but that usually happens after reading your posts); however, this time it was due to the fact that you tackled a subject that has bothered me, deeply, since moving to Portland, two years ago.

I moved to Portland from the East and while I knew that it was going to be a "white" city; I did not know the pervasiveness that the "whiteness" of this city runs deep in politics, culture, and everything else.

Hands down, Portland is the most racist city that I've ever encountered. From not wanting to talk about gentrification ramifications of the N. Portland neighborhoods of Alberta, Mississippi, St. Johns, et al to just a general barrier between interacting with anyone who isn't reflecting of your own skin tone.
(For the record, I'm a Caucasian).

This is such a GREAT city in many other ways (liberal thinking, sustainability "mecca", great food, etc.) that I find it appalling that people don't even want to acknowledge that there is a conversation that needs to take place in this city...NOW about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Because all it is going to take is a series of ugly incidents for it to boil over.

Please continue to use your blog as the great communication medium that it is in getting attention to these very important issues.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Lelo! Well written, and something that needed to be said, and said so well I might add. THANKS.

Alan Cordle said...

Have you ever noticed how it's always a gay male couple whenever they feature a house remodel or interior design? Nice stereotypes, BIG O.

bemused said...

Your letter was well-written: non-accusatory, tactful and conducive to discussion, which is the first step to learning and understanding. Nicely done!

I attended 2 lectures by the same speaker at Seattle's flower show in February. In both talks, he made a point of mentioning that one garden was owned by a gay couple. It stood out for me because he didn't say one word about who owned any of the other gardens. In this case, I think omission would have been less bigoted than mentioning who owned the garden. I mean, why bring it up at all? What point was he trying to make? I couldn't help but think of the line from Shakespeare's Hamlet, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

LeLo said...

Thank you for all of the great thoughts, comments and feedback (well, most of them.) A few things....I think it's really great that different people see different issues in the story: whether what is most aggregious to you is the aspect they were all white, or heterosexual, or with kids, or obviously upper or middle class: the reality is, the paper had an opportunity to select a swath of families and instead of reflecting a diversity of different kinds of Portlanders, they chose 4 families that were all very much alike. By doing that, they alienated quite a few.

I could see this happening in a glossy lifestyle magazine, that's geared towards a specific demographic, but when it comes to the state's largest daily newspaper, I'd like to think they would be more in touch with the general population of Oregon, and Portland.

One of the things the article was specifically geared towards, was identifying "foodies" for examples. Are foodies only those that look like the examples used?

Someone commented, well, if you don't like it LeLo, go elsewhere for your news, or create it yourself. And you know, I do, consistently. All the time. But it's one thing to have this kind of conversation within the confines of people who think just like me, and another to be the one who brings it up in daily life, in little ways, in places just like FoodDay, where the majority are, and where people like my family silently read and continue to not see ourselves.

And for those that are checking back to see how The Oregonian has responded to my letter and e mail, the answer is nothing. NOTHING. There has been no response or reply. Which is yet another complete lost opportunity.

Known Alias: Ingrid Tuesday said...

The Oregonian in general is such a vapid publication that when they announced they were going to send me thirteen weeks for free, all I could think of was how much paper was going to waste.
Except for the daily Sudoku. I looove Sudoku.

Sarah Bott said...

Hi Lelo,

I like reading your blog. I'm over here in NE Portland.

About The Oregonian article in FoodDay, I think it's great that you took the time to write, and a well written point at that.

I read The Oregonian every day and have written my share of feedback letters. I think the reporters/columnists generally appreciate the feedback on their work. So I hope they get back to you.

The fact that you blog about this stuff does raise awareness of issues of all kinds. Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. Thank goodness for the blogosphere for delivering more points of view to my laptop.

My own personal pet peeve (well, just last week's) was when The Oregonian put a front page pic of the men's NCAA tournament winner, but the women's tournament was relegated to the sports page (below the fold). I thought about writing a letter, but didn't (have written them before about the bias in women's sports coverage).

In closing, carry on with your wonderful blog and telling your truth to the world.

A fan in NE Portland

Anonymous said...

Good for you -- I agree with you and the commenter who noted that they didn't check in with any poor people or provide really hard-core tips.

Also, I've noticed that even thought I've been increasingly applying frugal shopping strategies, the grocery bill is still high. I'm not stretching my dollar as far, even with the hard-core techniques. Those of us already shopping toward the bottom aren't going to have much further to go soon.

Anonymous said...

The author of this piece is just a leftist crypto-fascist mini-dictator, obsessed with micromanaging and re-engineering everything around her to suit her own personal fetishes.

If people don't like the way things are in a place, they are free to move somewhere else, where things are more to your liking.

Is there something preventing the author of this piece from moving to LA, Cincinatti, Washington DC, or another country on Earth?

But that would interfere with her innate need to exert control and manipulation onto the people and environment around her.

She's a mini dictator and racial engineer, but instead of coming from the right, she's coming from the left.

A Hitler analogue if you will.

Silly crypto-fascist leftist liberals and their phony self-righteousness.

LeLo said...

Wow Anonymous! Who knew someone from the Rhode Island Network For Educ. Technology had such an axe to grind when googling "Portland+very white" and lands upon this blogpost and voila! Leaves the freaky comment that you did. Don't let the door hit ya on the way out.