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Monday, October 01, 2007

Measure 37 and the case for affirmative action

Among the many arguments swirling around Oregon's Measure 37, there is a gaping hole that would be apparent to any who observed the many legislative hearings held on the topic:

You pretty much have to be white to have a Measure 37 claim.

Those hearing rooms were always filled with white people. In fact, if the lobby area outside of a hearing room was packed with angry middle-aged white people, then the chances were it was about M 37.

The drafters of Measure 37 wanted to take Oregon back to yesteryear, those halcyon days when the state’s minority communities were effectively barred from owning real estate and obtaining the keys to wealth building that home ownership offers…

…and the argument M 37 proponents offer is “fairness.”

In those days, just a few decades ago, redlining was the norm.

Financial institutions wouldn’t have lent an African American citizen the money to buy property outside of certain areas in Portland, much less prime real estate in the Williamette valley.

But the issue is about fairness….

Oregon’s Japanese citizens were locked away into interment camps in the 1940’s, their properties unreimbursed losses. Many sold their property under extreme duress, a direct windfall to the white citizens who scooped them up.

The M 37 argument is about fairness….

Oregon’s Latino and Chinese communities were also effectively barred from the wealth-building opportunities that real property ownership affords.

Native Americans were continuing to suffer from overt racism and actual genocide, and few would argue today the absence of fairness in driving property owners to the brink of starvation in order to motivate unwilling sellers.

Much of the Indian land was parceled out for free, exclusively to whites.

Fairness, indeed, is the argument….

The fact is that M 37 claimants have already benefited from the institutional racism embedded in Oregon laws and the Oregon Constitution.

Measure 37 claimants benefited originally from the fact that they bought their properties at a time when Oregon’s racial and ethnic minorities were excluded from the marketplace and competition was stifled, keeping prices lower than they would have been had the market been truly free and fair.

The further one goes back into Oregon’s history, tracing property ownership, the closer one gets to the days when the land taken from the Indians at the point of a gun was redistributed for free—exclusively to white settlers.

This is not an argument, but a reading of the actual history of the state, and not so long ago.

It is difficult to argue persuasively with people who are unfamiliar with history, who take the present for granted.

One would think from watching the M 37 hearings that the desire to build a few homes for retirement or to pass on to family members is a whites-only phenomenon, embedded in the genetic code.

After all, one would think, if Oregon’s racial and ethnic minorities valued these goals, then they would have bought up the land when it was there for the taking….

But the Oregon Constitution itself barred racial and ethnic minorities from residing in the state and purchasing real property for more than 100 years.

Oregon’s founding fathers sure knew how to put a selective damper on immigration.

An overwhelming majority of voters removed the last of that racist, exclusionary language from the Oregon Constitution only seven years ago...

…but 300,000 Oregon citizens voted to keep the racist language in the Constitution; again, only seven years ago.

That is ancient history for a lot of folks, and looking back thirty or forty years in time just makes people impatient.

“If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us.” --T.Allsop 1831.

Fairness goes the M 37 argument, focus on the fairness…fairness, indeed.

Let’s focus on fairness.

I'm supporting Measure 49.

--Sean Cruz, October 1, 2007


Armand D.F. said...

Oregon, like several other states west of the Mississippi still labors (perhaps suffers) under the mindset of sets of self-righteous Anglos who banded together in establishing some territories in the American West, later to become states, in the 19th century as liberties were being established in homelands to the east, at least under legislation and enacted law--liberties that were breaking the shackles of minority and ethnic peoples from the injustices and bigotry of a past that stem from colonial times in those areas of the New World founded (some would say exploited) by Europeans, especially English-speaking peoples.

In the West, white, fear-filled founding fathers of states like Oregon found, in remoteness then from Eastern climes, refuge from progress in liberating others and integrating harmoniously with them. And the mindset stays inherited and entrenched unto today. The wonder is that the U.S. Supreme Court never has considered the "constitutionality" of the very constitutions of states like Oregon that had embedded into law discrimination and injustice. That the mindset still exists today is no surprise. If the black experience especially in the Deep South, if the Native American experience throughout the entire continent of North America, are any indication of the length of time involved to begin to erase such a mindset, then Oregon, Oregonians, and would-be residents of the state have another hundred years to witness themselves still mired in a mindset of bigotry and injustice that is antithetical to the Bill of Rights as well as the original U.S. Constitution and its amendments enacted through the years.

You, indeed, have tackled a very difficult State of affairs in involvement with political life in such an environment. You will continue to smell something rotten in the State of Oregon--which many whites consider "God's country"--for the rest of your days, the days of your children and grandchildren as well. What is most admirable is the lack of fear you display to discuss the issues head-on as they are and to take on the inevitable struggle to right the wrongs on political and social levels. We need more voices like yours crying in the despoiled wilderness of God's country. It may take a very long time, but the cries will be heard and the prayers behind them will eventually be answered. You and your supporters in an environment such as Oregon are to be commended in staying the struggle for justice and equity. May you and your followers prevail, and may the fabled rains of your western coast at some time in the future wash away the lingering remnant of a tainted legacy left by a morally corrupt set of founding fathers across the length and breadth of the whole of Oregon.

I, who have no particular vested interest in your state, say so in very strong language and approve the dissemination of such a statement, written in haste, but in honesty and earnest.

As always, como siempre, and the equivalent of all the languages currently spoken today in your multi-cultural state still dominated by one culture steeped in historic bias,

Armand D. F.
Resident in Florida

Jim Labbe said...

An incisive, historically informed angle on the injustice of Measure 37. Thanks for this.

Jim Labbe