The Air I Breathe

Growing up underestimated in Portland

I recently had a phone conversation with a friend who is still living in Portland. He asked me how I was doing after a harrowing cross-country drive, and I struggled to explain to him what it was about Philadelphia that inspired me to make my way East. Portland, after all, is experiencing a period of unprecedented social and economic growth that is drawing people from all over the country. At some point, it seems, the word got out about the city's socially responsible businesses, bike lanes, organic food, and outdoor lifestyle, and this has inspired a renewal of the Oregon Trail. New settlers have immigrated to the city by the Subaru- and Prius-full, shifting the demographics in almost every way imaginable.

Meanwhile, I have flowed against the onrush of new pioneers seeking to claim a slice of the Oregon way of life, in search of a place where I could simply breathe. It isn't an easy sentiment to verbalize, but it's something many black Portlanders understand. On the phone, my friend could hear it in my voice. I told him that Philadelphia was not a particularly beautiful city, although it is certainly as rich in history as, say, Boston or New York, and in some cases more so. There is something fundamental about Philadelphia that drew me to it, but also wrested me from a place I should, of all places, belong: Portland, Oregon, the city of my birth.

The author in Utah, on his way to his new home in Philadelphia

When I first left Portland after high school in the fall of 1996, I never thought I would come back. Growing up, I always had the sneaking suspicion that no one outside of the five or so blocks that made up my Northeast Portland neighborhood wanted me to be there. Portland did not appear to love me, its own son, but merely tolerated and continually underestimated me. So when I graduated from high school, I left and didn't look back, until I was pulled back several years ago.

I explained to my friend on the phone that I could no longer afford to remain in Portland for any sustained period of time. I described how, on any given day, I could leave my place in west Philadelphia and not see a white person for a half hour or more. My mail carrier was black, the person who served me coffee was black, the person who issued me parking tickets was black, the mayor was black.

But there was more. In Philadelphia, among the monuments of those who founded this country, there are references to people and events deeply rooted in the African American tradition. Woven throughout the narrative of that city's history, and by extension the history of America, are the stories and lore of African Americans who contributed to the founding of our entire culture and identity. The story of African Americans is written, though perhaps apologetically, in permanent ink and projected on the walls of buildings and placards; it is carved in the statues and monuments of black people who make that city what it is.

All of these things brought about a new kind of social and emotional security that may be a given to most white Americans. A sense of belonging, a sense that one's own interests are being looked out for and that the feelings and beliefs of one's fellow citizens mirror those of one's own, a sense that one belongs to a community. For a black person in Portland, this shared sense of history and belonging is notably absent.

It's not that I didn't like Portland while I was growing up, and, to be honest, I do not dislike it today. Portland is an area of land that I walked on, fell into, collided with, bled, spat, and pissed on, used, farmed, and took from while it asked for nothing in exchange. It is in no way a greedy, vindictive, arrogant, or prejudiced place. If only the trees could speak, the grass could nurture, and the steel and concrete could soften underfoot while reminding me that I am part of its story.

Some would call my childhood idyllic. I lived on the eastern border of the Piedmont Neighborhood in Portland, the western border of which was formed by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which used to be Union Avenue, which through it all has been US Highway 99. Nestled among the apple, cherry, and plum trees, I played hide-and-seek with the neighborhood kids in the summers before dinnertime and climbed trees after doing homework during the school year. When it wasn't raining we played basketball or football in the streets, or cruised around on bikes and skateboards until the streetlights came on and it was time to retreat inside for dinner or chores. There were times when I felt proud of my neighborhood, especially in the summers when school was out, before the drugs and the gangs destroyed what I considered to be the last vestiges of black neighborhood life in Portland.

Though I grew up on the east side of Portland, I went to school across the river, on the west side. Twice a day, from third grade until I graduated high school, I took a trip in a rumbly yellow bus, and later public transportation, to get to school and back. I know it might be hard to believe because of the current popularity of places like Alberta and Mississippi Streets, but in the late 1980s and through the mid-'90s, many white people found no reason to cross the river. Friends I'd made in elementary school were not allowed to come over to my house for birthdays or sleepovers, and objections were often raised at the suggestion that I spend time at theirs.

For the first six months of third grade, I felt like an exhibit. It took that long for the other kids to realize that I was just as curious, interested, and articulate about the world as they were. I wasn't often picked first for school-yard sports; in elementary school, when deciding teams, you pick your friends first. You don't necessarily choose kids who are the best athletes and will give you the greatest chance of winning; you choose the ones you understand, the people you are familiar with. (If your friends happen to be the best athletes, that's icing on the cake.) When they found out I was familiar with the way they lived and breathed in the world, I began to make friends.

But even at the age of nine, I could feel a certain sense of fear from them, not about how I looked or even talked, but about what I knew and how intelligent I was. The constant stream of gold stars pasted next to my name on worksheets hanging on the wall was more dangerous to my social life than the color of my skin.

Looking back, I wonder if even then I understood the gravity of privilege and community, though I couldn't describe it or explain it. The vulnerability and feelings of uncertainty and fear I saw in the eyes of my towheaded friends still shake me to this day. I can't remember how many times I intentionally lost a game, offered incorrect answers, or scuttled a sure victory, all to maintain the fragile and delicate balance between a white kid's self-esteem and my sense of worth and capacity for achievement.

There is no place in the world that is immune to bias fueled by fear. Philadelphia certainly has its problems with culture, class, and economic disparities, but it is a city that has grown and strengthened its identity through prolonged engagement in issues of equity and representation. It is a city girded by a deep connection to a history that is inclusive of the contributions of black people. Perhaps the most difficult thing about living in Portland was the lack of an authentic visual and social acknowledgment, recognition, and appreciation of African American people. Without a historical anchor, I fear the potential of what Portland could be in the twenty-first century will be lost to the unrelenting pressure to maintain and preserve a very particular understanding of its history.

I returned to Portland in January 2011, after years spent in Boston and San Francisco, following my infant daughter and her mother after a traumatic and sudden separation. My plan had been to raise my daughter in a place that was sure to value her difference, rather than see it as a novelty. The San Francisco Bay area, even with its extremely high cost of living, was well worth the price for a diverse community, social activism, and genuine value and respect for people of color. But when, one rainy afternoon, her mother disappeared with my daughter and headed to Portland, my responsibility as a father superseded my concerns about my career and misgivings about returning to the culturally sheltered and increasingly homogenous community that is my hometown.

In the midst of intense emotional and legal entanglement, I landed a job at Oregon Public Broadcasting that gave me a means to support my daughter and myself. As the only black person in a creative role at my job, being in the office felt much like being back in middle school in a class with only white students and faculty. Between working and trying to raise a child with an uncooperative and combative partner, I spent most of my time exploring ways to keep my head above emotionally rough water.

The city was very different than I remembered from 1996. It seemed that Portland no longer had any black neighborhoods; instead, it seemed that there were places where black people lived or occasionally came to be for periods of time. In hindsight it is more likely that there were never any truly black neighborhoods, but simply places in Portland where white people did not go out of fear, mostly imagined and exacerbated by isolation and economic factors. Perhaps there still remains a central concentration of black residents around the Northeast Killingsworth area near Jefferson High School and Portland Community College. That area is flanked by the rapid gentrification of Alberta and Mississippi Streets to the east and west.

When I had my daughter with me, I explored the city through a whole new lens, not simply as a black man who was born and raised in a place that was seemingly unfamiliar and unconcerned with its own history, but as a father of a biracial child. Through that lens, I felt deeply concerned for the development of her identity and emotional well-being as an “other.” But she will have a different experience than I had growing up. She will be saddled by the challenges of womanhood as well as the unique biases reserved for her skin tone and the unmistakable evidence of me in the curl of her light brown hair. I wanted her to grow up in a place where she would not experience the feelings of isolation and difference that I did growing up. Now, ironically, I am tethered to this city for the foreseeable future.

I resigned from OPB in the summer of 2014. It took me three years to understand that no manner of exceptional work would lead to any real acknowledgment or recognition of my value to the organization. Maintaining a sense of optimism under these circumstances became a convoluted exercise in self-delusion and poorly managed expectations that ate away at my self-confidence. Among an essentially all-white staff, I found myself misunderstood, my ideas and suggestions held in a kind of creative quarantine. By the time I left, I realized that no one would really ever know I was gone.

I cannot abandon Portland again. I still live there in many ways: because of my daughter, though I have no custodial influence in her life, and because of my own history, I will maintain this connection. I know what it will be like for her to grow up in Portland, where she will surely be singled out by her peers, who will remark on the texture of her hair and the tone of her skin. I worry about her sense of self-worth if she is in a classroom of full of white students.
However, today I feel something like a pause in the collective consciousness of the city, perhaps because the dramatic and rapid transformation of these communities has been so remarkable, unprecedented, and visually stunning. It is as though Portland is staring into the glare of a sparkling clutch of diamonds and suddenly questioning the origins of the jewels.

In my mind it is possible that the city will capitalize on this moment and collectively reevaluate its course. Though there is no precedent for such large-scale social, political, and ethical reform, if there is any city that can investigate the anthill beneath its boot, it is Portland. It is for a purely selfish reason that I hold out hope that this city and the people who control it will chart a new course for the future. I hope it is a course that deftly avoids the pitfalls of other communities in this country, which have fallen victim to a volatile parity that eventually erupts into flames.


Belonging, Gentrification and Displacement, Oregon Humanities Magazine, Place, Power, Race


28 comments have been posted.

Thoughtful piece - I was fascinated by the analysis , Does someone know where my business could possibly get access to a sample a form document to type on ?

Donella Mahler | April 2016 |

I am an African American woman, and extraordinary in my own right. And yet tolerated and continually underestimated, too. And that doesn't account for the death by one thousand cuts of the accumulated microagressions, the vicious inequities, the smiling nature of the people who would collaborate in your annihilation, if they don't have to see it, just cooperate. What they don't realize is the fate they would blindly tolerate for African American people will be theirs, too. Why does the whitest city poison its children with heavy metals? Why is hit and run endemic in the land of bike lanes?

Robin | February 2016 | Salem oregon

Ifanyi, I am reading this quite a while after you wrote it. If you can find the time, I would love to hear from you what you would like to see happen in Portland. I would also like to compare inter-generational points of view and in addition explore our differences in world view given how and when we were raised. Send me an email, drop me a line.

Kathleen Saadat | February 2016 | Portland, OR

"I explained to my friend on the phone that I could no longer afford to remain in Portland for any sustained period of time. I described how, on any given day, I could leave my place in west Philadelphia and not see a white person for a half hour or more. My mail carrier was black, the person who served me coffee was black, the person who issued me parking tickets was black, the mayor was black." Maybe a white person growing up in a mostly African American community would feel the way you feel about Portland. So maybe all these people fleeing to Portland are driven there by the same motives that led you to leave Portland for Philadelphia. Wishing us all the best of luck for our life journeys.

Laura Stone | December 2015 |

Ifanyi, What a beautifully written story! Thank you so much for sharing. As a Jew who grew up in a small midwestern town I can to some extent understand your feelings in Philadelphia. When I visited a Jewish neighborhood in New York it was moving and amazing. I had the same feeling in Israel. Thanks for your touching words!

Good Morning Wallpaper | October 2015 |

I agree with commenters 9&10;. Rebecca and Brian. Apart from consciousness raising and the kindness and welcoming of people of different racial backgrounds than me, what else can I do to be inclusive?Sometimes I feel excluded by people of color myself. Could this be happening as they defend themselves from a perception of my view of them. I look forward to a time when we don't notice color or race, but just see each other as people.

Bonnie | May 2015 | Tualatin, OR

Ifanyi, I sincerely appreciate you sharing your story. Like a pebble in water, exclusion in neighborhoods of people of race, exacerbated by current practices of gentrification, ripple affects to those of advanced age, lower socioeconomic groups and those with disabilities also being marginalized and excluded. Thank you, Ifanyi, for your honesty and bravery.

Suzanne | May 2015 | Portland, OR

Philly huh? I have had similar experiences (because I'm a brother) that I've scratched my head about, felt saddened about, and have come to the conclusion that make me know there has to be a better place to live. It's just hard to leave this weather.

DeWitt T Osby | April 2015 | NE Los Angeles ca

Mike Bovos - thank you for your addition to this complex topic. As your situation points out, this is a very difficult and complex problem. How do people of different cultures and subcultures and races and even genders and gender identities learn to be comfortable and not prejudiced with those who are different from us? I have always tried to 'walk a mile in their shoes' as best I can. It may not be possible in many situations, especially when the is a negative history between groups. Still, if history and other areas of education are learned in a truthful and inclusive manner, children might grow up with a better perception of people who are outwardly different. A case in point - my childhood was filled with games of 'Cowboys and Indians' which were very stereotyped. Over time, Native Americans' history and ways became much better known to anyone who had an interest. I have to admit that I always played 'Indian' roles in our games. I have always had a love of nature and felt that 'kinship' with people who lived close to the earth like the early Native Americans. At one time in my adult life I became a care salesperson. After selling a car to a lovely lady, she convinced me to sell water filters in a pyramid scheme. We were just fine until she took me to see "Dances with Wolves". I just loved the movie and was lost in the story. Suddenly, I was pulled out by my partner's exclamations of shock and disbelief at our hero killing the whites that were such violent Indian haters! I was shocked, in turn, that she would side with the clearly ignorant and vicious whites in the movie! We quickly found that we had a problem and our relationship soon came to an end. I began to see her as 'different' from me in a very important way. I could not get her to understand that the Native Americans had become 'his people' despite the color of his skin. She did not want much to do with me after the movie. I had become 'other' to her and she had become 'other' to me. I found no sign that she any interest in understanding anything than all whites belong together and that all other people were not as good as whites. Now I am in a community where blacks and whites have a disease in common and it has really brought us together. There is genuine love and support for each other. Yet, I see that the whites sometimes express negative ideas about blacks who do not suffer from our disease! It is as if the blacks in our group are not a part of 'blacks' in general. I have not had much success in convincing the whites that it is prejudice when they lump all other blacks in a group that is 'different'. I have come to think that a lot of so called racism is really classism, but that is another subject.

Melissa Henry | April 2015 | Hampton, VA

Thank you for sharing your story in such a heartfelt and articulate manner. I really can't even begin to imagine what you have been through but I would like to add something to the discussion (hopefully something worthwhile). One thing I would share, speaking from my experience, being white and coming from a predominantly white area of Salt Lake City, is that rarely being exposed to people of color, makes one uncomfortable and maybe even afraid, when on rare occasions one does encounter different people. Exposure and experience are the main factors, in my humble opinion, that change the way we feel and think about others. Of course one may be taught to believe that we are all created equal, but when first encountering people of different color or races I believe it is normal to look and to be inquisitive at the least. This I'm quite certain would elicit feelings of prejudice, hate, or negativity of some sort given the current racial climate in America today. However children do this when encountering new things, they check it out, they get used to something, then the novelty fades, and they continue on. Taking notice of different or new things is natural, as is getting used to them. I also understand the value of communities as my parents were both Greek immigrants and lived in the Greek community, now quite spread out, but spent a lot of time at the local Greek Orthodox church in SLC, largely for social reasons, teaching kids Greek, building the structures there as dad was a carpenter, and so on. I am just not sure that having whites in one place, and African Americans in another, lends to the exposure and experience which helps eliminate our fear and uncertainty about different peoples, even though we all need "somewhere to breathe." I am now living in the middle of the Navajo reservation working for the government and am one of the very few white people and we live in housing that is separate so do also understand the need for hanging with the other, non-native people (mostly white), to have some similarities and acceptance as part of a pseudo-family here. Unfortunately this may, and I think does contribute to an "us/them" attitude that is so detrimental-just look at what has been going on in communities across our country. I too hope that you find some peace and good air to breathe.

Mike Bovos | April 2015 | Pinon AZ

Thank you, Bill Bear, Bill Bear's thoughtful response is much appreciated. I cannot say how much more rich my life is for my relationships to those who differ from me - in small ways and in large ways! Perhaps one of the best parts is the joy that I feel to have close family that are in interracial relationships and the amazing grand children that have come from these unions! Now an 'intentional nephew' is in grad school and is dating a young lady of a different racial group. I am so proud of this young man! He may not be a blood relative, but I have such love for him.

Melissa Henry | April 2015 | Hampton, VA

Social capital has two forms, bridging and bonding. Both are essential to the individual and to their community. When bridging social capital is low and undervalued it is a reflection of low assurance and value of the individuals of themselves. Finding commonality is a powerful and very positive human ability. Allowing only commonality and avoiding diversity in interactions and relationships is an indication of deep seated fears of one's own worth and ability to contribute to their community. All human beings need strong friendships and community. That is the social capital we use to develop our lives and make a creative contribution to our community. The unwillingness to engage in transforming relationships with people different than ourselves could be the result lack of strong relationships with anyone. Our culture is so isolating of people from anyone that it provides little social capital to anyone. No surprise when we can not risk the little social capital we have by engaging in relationships with people who are in even small ways different than us. I found Blink by Malcom Gladwell to be insightful about my own automatic response to people and situations I was uncomfortable with. It is possible to override these unconscious default reactions and make deliberate choices about what I will do. I am richer for valuing people around me in all their ways. I also value my community. It is not just a place where I live and work for the moment but it is the people I know and who know and value me.

Bill Bear | April 2015 | Shoreline WA

If it was difficult for a black child to grow up with such a feeling of separation, I would think it is even more difficult for his daughter in this new Portland. It makes me so sad to read Ifanyi's eloquent story. I think that this is a feeling that many 'others' can recognize to some extent. I am a Caucasian female of 65 years. As a student at a VA Community College, after integration, I had many more black students in my classes and in our Drama Club than went to my high school under integration. We were very mixed race in our cast. One day, only one black, a lovely young lady, came to rehearsal for our play. She acted so strange and anxious and uncommunicative! After repeated pressure to explain her behavior, she said it was because she was alone with all of us white's without any black cast members there. She explained that it made her feel like she could not be her self, that she had to put on a mask. Other black students expressed much the same thing in other classes. I was able to relate to those feelings and realized that I had felt much the same way since moving to VA. As a child of an officer in the integrated Air Force I had not really seen racism and prejudice in action. I did not talk like these people and did not understand their social rules, either. I struggled until I learned to wear a mask and to loose my self in books. No one should have to live like that. It is one of the reasons that I have been trying to open the eyes of whites since that experience. The members of the dominant race are so ignorant of history and the way that minorities are made to feel. They do not see their prejudice and indifference to blacks and others who are 'different'. "The Air I Breathe" is the heartfelt truth of Ifanyi Bell's life. I wish that I could make all white people read it and understand what he is showing us. I do hope that many people of all races and ethnicities will read this powerful truth. For anyone who has ever struggled for air in a world where they felt that they were alone, this is a revelation. I am so filled with gratitude that I was led to read this. Thank you, Ifanyi Bell!

Melissa Henry | April 2015 | Hampton, VA

Welcome to Philadelphia, Ifanyi. My son grew up being called Ifanyi (his middle name). He is now 40 years old. I hope you two can meet some day. "With God all things are possible."

Terri | March 2015 | United States

Ifanyi, this is a very good article and thank you for taking the time to deal with an awkward side of our city's history and present. As a fellow Portland native, it is disappointing (although, unfortunately, not terribly surprising) that many persons of color still have an uneasy sense of 'otherness' here. There have been times when I have felt like a fish out of water that had nothing to do with my race, but just the surroundings that made me feel vaguely unwelcome. Which was what made this article so easy for me to understand and (even as 'Johnny Whiteguy') identify with. Our city is somewhat unique given our cultural homegeneity. Oregon's early history with respect to race relations was not particularly pleasant. Even though we have, for the most part, evolved for the better over the past 60 years, too many of us here have little experience in interacting with persons of color and probably do gravitate towards people that remind us of who we grew up with. Indeed, it wasn't really until I had moved back east and lived in Washington DC for several years (I just moved back to PDX this past August) that I was able to develop many black friends and learn to not feel afraid of saying something to insult them or make them uncomfortable. So yes, I am one of those 'well-intentioned' liberals that probably (however unintentional) been a part of the problem thus far but, like Rebecca and Brian, would like to be a part of the solution that makes everyone (regardless of their background or who their parents are) feel like Portland is their city and that Portland loves them too.

Jason | March 2015 | Portland

Part of the problem is the legacy of land ownership in Oregon. The U.S. government in 1850 granted 320 acres of land for each white (at least 50%) male adult and 320 acres for each white wife. In this way -- first by military control, then by heavy population influx -- whites were given legal ownership of the nature-based means of production, income, and capital accumulation. This privilege, along with that of other whites that moved here from other states, along with the economic injustices of World War II internment, redlining, etc., gave us the current situation of endemic African American and Native American poverty.

Jeff Strang | March 2015 | Portland, OR

Beautiful essay. Thank you. I grew up in Portland and lived there until I was 21, apart from brief stints in NYC, Athens, Greece, and Olympia, Washington. The lack of diversity bothered me deeply -- and I'm white -- and still does. It's one reason I could never imagine myself living there again, because it's simply too culturally homogenous to be interesting, and because the overwhelming whiteness seems at odds with its progressive politics. (Maybe it's easier to be progressive when you're never confronted with those you perceive as Other.) In any event, know that at least some of the white people who grew up alongside you in Portland were disturbed by the way your community was ignored, disrespected and feared, and that we left because we wanted no part of it. I always felt welcome in my wanderings around your neighborhood in search of music, food and culture, and I'm ashamed that you never felt similarly welcome in mine. The "gentrification" of the Northeast neighborhoods would seem to be the final straw in that process.

Jackie | March 2015 | SF Bay Area

Ifanyi--I love you and wish you were my friend. The words of your essay flowed like poetry and made me reread and reread. Your eloquence and exspressiveness , honesty and transparency make me look forward to your future work. May God bless you, your daughter and even your combative-ex with His riches of blessings and may he heal your heart. Grey-headed grandma

Leslie Yoder | March 2015 | Portland Oregon

Thank you, Ifanyi, for so eloquently sharing your story. As a Caucasian male I won't pretend to fully understand your experience but by reading and hearing your story (as well as others) I am trying to understand so I may contribute to a better community for both of our daughters. Like, Rebecca, I would welcome more direction in how I can help Portland "capitalize on this moment and collectively reevaluate its course."

Brian | March 2015 | United States

Thank you for your touching and clearly heart felt sentiments. It broke my heat reading it. I love Portland... and I am one of those white transplants. I've been here for 9 years and am a decidedly normalizing and gentrifying force. I also grew up in NY and was accustomed to much, much greater diversity (in pretty much every way). Two of my closest relationships as a young adult were with African Americans, whom I love dearly and respect completely. I have to be honest, I have no idea how to be supportive here. I would love to hear what I, as the "negative force" gentrifying white person could do. I would love to hear and understand.

Rebecca | March 2015 | Portland

What an eloquent story. So much hope and exasperation. The isolation in a sea of people in Portland plus finding yourself visually and culturally "represented" in Philadelphia rings both true and a familiar tone to my ear. Thank you for your voice.

Linda Ginenthal | March 2015 | Portland Oregon

What a beautiful the Caucasian grandmother of an African American grandchild, I read these stories and realize how connected I am to them. She has had some amazing friends both white and black and my heart would break if she fled she could not breathe in the City where she has grown up. Huge thank you to Oregon Humanities for sponsoring wonderful conversations around the city and state.

Norma Massier | March 2015 | Corvallis

Infanyi, this is a beautiful article and I identify with your sentiments, having graduated high school the same year, but in the suburbs, leaving that fall, and not returning until 2014. I always said the lack of diversity was a dealbreaker and that I would never live in PDX again, but circumstances and family brought me back. I have some different experiences as a biracial female, but I particularly appreciate your sensitivity to your daughter's future. I will say that it seems that areas like Beaverton are way more diverse and integrated than Portland proper, which is very interesting and worth noting.

NYC-PDX | March 2015 | Portland

The Rural Organizing Project is forming a statewide network of locally based Oregon groups that are working for racial justice (either as a single issue or as part of broader organizing, and in cities as well as small towns). Anyone interested can contact Jessica Campbell at "For over 12 years, ROP has used values-based organizing to advance a progressive vision of democracy in Oregon, the 10th largest state in the country where all 36 counties have a rural profile." It works for immigrant rights, economic justice, LGBTQ rights, and racial justice.

Faith Reidenbach | December 2014 | United States

Ifanyi Bell's experience and his concern for his daughter. I think the experience he described is similar throughout the state of Oregon. I'm a biracial woman with two younger brothers. We grew up in Monmouth, Or during the 1990s and early 2000s. As a children we adapted to our environment and I think out of pure social and emotional survival we did not realize or identify the traumas of our experiences. Of course not being aware did not prevent the impacts. As we aged, each of us in our own way and time started to recognize our contempt for the the community we were raised in. I think once we started to reach our mid-twenties we started to recognize our lack of connection and relationship with the people we grew up around.I started to realize my constant second guessing of myself, my built in mechanisms of guarding myself and, reluctance to open up to friends came from my early experiences. As I have matured and came to terms with the feelings of rejection and outsiderness I've learned to assert myself and embrace that some people will just not see me for who I am. Although, it has been confusing and painful, I do believe there is a way to learn from it and in some weird way it seems to give me a unique perspective on humanity and how pervasive racism can be in white communities. I have never relocated outside of Oregon but every time I visit some friends that moved to the east coast I feel a sense of community that I have never experienced in Oregon - not even Portland. I appreciate Bell's story.

Abyssinia | December 2014 | Portland, Oregon

Thanks for writing this Ifanyi. I disagree with parts of it but so what. I wish more people could write from the heart and tell their stories. You are a lucky man. And by the way, you are missed at OPB. Good luck and keep pushing. Michael

Michael Clapp | December 2014 | Portland

Efanyi's isolation is tragic. But as an employee of OPB I know his frustration at the creative inertia at the station is shared by many talented people there. The fact is the place is burdened by mediocrity at all levels. He could have commisserated with and exchanged ideas with equivalently motivated and ambitious staffers had he or white colleagues found a way to transcend the racial divide.

Norm | December 2014 |

Thank you for articulating the sophisticated emotional and psychological navigation that goes on for a person of color in a primarily white environment. As a mixed race female, my circumstances have been different than yours but the overlay and inter-sectionality of our experiences creates a sense of familiarity and recognition of my own sacrifices and pains needed to maintain my own emotional and psychological well-being. Your words and depth of experience detail the world within which we live so well and which goes so unnoticed by the masses of a mainstream. May you find ongoing peace in your life and in raising your daughter. She is lucky to have you as her father, such a source of pride for her.

Jennifer | December 2014 | Portland Oregon

Related Stories

Also in this Issue

Messy Business

The Late Show

Feel-Good Feminism

Boxed In

Are You My Mother?

Gone Astray

The Air I Breathe