By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Searching the past for roots of racism

Part II of a Series: “I am not a racist.”

Last week’s column considered whether its self-proclaimed “nonracist” writer has the self-awareness needed to be “antiracist.” It also reported claims that antiracism movements are a form of totalitarian social control.

Setting aside those complex questions for now, let’s reflect briefly on the history of a land where “all men are created equal.”


Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

Three centuries of transatlantic triangular slave trade connected Europe, West Africa and the Americas. Slavers traded European products for human cargo from the African coast; survivors were sold as laborers for large plantations in the Americas; products harvested by those slaves were traded for European goods, and on it continued.

We all know the U.S. Civil War was fought over economic, cultural and political issues surrounding institutionalized slavery in the South. We don’t all appreciate the depth of that evil and the wedges of racism it drove into the long-term psyche of Americans.

In 1859, Oregon became the only state to join the Union under a Black exclusion law. Our per-capita Ku Klux Klan membership in the 1920s was highest in the country. That helps explain why Black citizens represent 1.9 percent of the state’s population compared to 12.8 percent nationwide.

Chinese people who came to the California Gold Rush became primary laborers for the completion of our transcontinental railroad system. But single-race immigration was banned by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and resulting violence was similar to treatment of other minorities by White Americans.

As a nation, we have segregated and abused generations of Black citizens; demonized Chinese immigrants; herded Japanese-Americans and American Indians into internment camps and reservations. Our history represents the antithesis of antiracism.

In 1999, Oregon acknowledged its past “racial discrimination, exclusion, bigotry and great injustice toward people of color, including Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans and Pacific Islanders.” A legislative resolution stated:

“(We) recognize Oregon’s discriminatory history, acknowledge people of all races and ethnic backgrounds who have worked for positive change and celebrate the progress made and encourage participation in honest interracial dialogue essential to positive social change … (we) resolve to increase public awareness of racial discrimination and work toward the full participation of racial minorities in all aspects of Oregon life, and that this Day of Acknowledgment provides focus for planning constructive dialogues and actions as we work toward a future of racial equality.”

It was a start to a still-long journey.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at or 503-687-1223.


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