Public Process & Elements of Dominant Culture, from Williams Avenue to Wall Street

Williams Avenue - Portland, Oregon

Williams Avenue - Portland, Oregon

In Portland, a transportation project has raised the ire of historic neighborhood residents, many who feel the city’s sudden will to improve safety on the street is conveniently timed, as most of the neighborhood’s historically black community have now been dispersed to other neighborhoods and a new, more affluent white community has taken their place. Along with those changes have come a neighborhood unlike it was even five  years ago, replete with bustling white-owned shops, bars and restaurants where black-owned businesses once thrived.

The city has responded to this community’s outcry, and a lot of positive and innovative things are now happening as part of the public process around this project, mostly involving discussions of race and class, the historic trampling of the black community by city officials over the past 70 years, the painful wounds still not healed.  Powerful stuff for transportation planners and process facilitators to tackle, but the city deserves some credit for taking the community’s concerns seriously and not ignoring the elephant in the room.

One piece of jargon that has come up a lot through the process is Dominant Culture. What is Dominant Culture?  This is a question anti-racist whites must ask in perpetuity. Below is an excerpt and link outlining how white supremacy has seeped into every aspect of our organizations, businesses, schools and churches.  These characteristics are so prevalent they are often referred to as “normal” or “professional” by white-led groups.

Dominant Culture is powerful precisely because it is so present and at the same time so very difficult to name or identify. The characteristics are used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named or chosen by the group.

They are damaging because they promote dominant ways of thinking to the exclusion of differing ways of being and thinking. The overall effects of these dominant cultural norms is to stop us from talking about power imbalances between individuals and groups …. which stops us from creating cultures supportive of transformation towards justice.

Continue reading Elements of White Middle-Class Dominant Culture.

What’s important to understand is that we aren’t simply talking about PAST injustices, we are also talking about PRESENT injustice.  This is extremely pertinent as many whites do not have a good understanding of white privilege and lack the necessary tools of understanding to actually dismantle systems of racism.  Read the handout, resist an immediate temptation to get defensive, and just take it in.  Going forward, see if you can identify these characteristics in your personal behavior, at work, at home, in your activism.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has succeeded in challenging many tenets of Dominant Culture at a populist level, but the work has only begun.  My hope for the Williams Avenue process is that it will compel more Portlanders to confront their own privilege and racial identity, and help usher in a new era of restorative justice locally.  To hope for such an outcome from a transportation project is why I live in Portland.

Referenced work above is reproduced here for educational purposes only.  If anyone has a better version of this document, I would appreciate receiving a copy.

One thought on “Public Process & Elements of Dominant Culture, from Williams Avenue to Wall Street

  1. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and for the document. I too give a lot of credit to PBOT for being open and willing to let all this dialogue take place.

    I remain ambivalent about all of this… And I just haven’t been able to put it into words just yet.

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