One of the more subtle elements of the white supremacy in which we white folks were raised is the privilege to insist on politeness from those who are screaming in pain. We have been taught that we have the right to make others be nice to us, in order for them to be heard by us.

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed this tendency by white people (particularly white Christians) who often said to him: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods … .”

But those who react to the pain of others before they have really listened to them (no matter how that pain is expressed) are supporting the system of white supremacy and privilege, not dismantling it.

The response of many Portlanders to newly elected Charter Commissioner Nasreen Sheikh-Yousef’s critiques of City Manager Jon Jennings show this tendency in all of its ugliness, ignorance and short-sightedness.

With the voice of Commissioner Sheikh-Yousef (and others like hers) gaining prominence in our community, we have a new opportunity to collectively take on the cause of anti-racism in Portland. We should embrace these voices, not dismiss or silence them because they are uncomfortable for us to hear.

Todd Ricker

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