A New Mascot for Gold Hill, Please

When you choose to walk a neighborhood, because you are on foot, you see a lot of details missed while driving through said neighborhood. Being a community organizer, I walk lots of neighborhoods, on purpose.

On the morning of Saturday, July 3, I decided to take myself, and a backpack filled with promotional fliers for my new book, into Gold Hill, Oregon. The temperature the day before was over 90 degrees, so I had a vested interest in completing my work long before the sun showed up to remind Southern Oregon who is in charge.

What was my work that day? Specifically, it was opening gates, navigating dogs and stepping onto front porches to tape a black and white flier on a wooden, steel or glass door. For various reasons, door-to-door canvassing is intimidating, thus, most persons do not desire the job. I have muscled through the insecurities that arise from this work over a 26 year career. I am considered very brave, some go so far as to say, I am fearless.

This fearlessness gets amplified when I state, I am Black man and the demographics of Gold Hill do not favor myself, or my message of racial healing.

Gold Hill was incorporated in 1895, thanks to gold being discovered in the mountains, hence the name. The Oregon State constitution expressly prohibited Black people from living in Oregon in 1895. Those Black citizens who chose to defy the State Constitution were flogged once every six months, until they were inspired to leave the State.

This brutal practice of force was relaxed in 1927, when Gold Hill was 32 years old. Unfortunately, the residents did not get the message. According to the census, less than 1,500 live in Gold Hill. The median income is pretty good, approximately $58,000. They are high school educated and young families, headed by persons under 40 years old, live there.

On paper, the residents possess the material and intellectual means to purchase my book, which is only $15. However, going door-to-door, the odds of them choosing to purchase my books did not increase, but decreased.

Gold Hill is 92% white American. Out of almost 1,500 residents only 127 officially identify as non-white. Most of the 127 are biracial, whom I imagine are married to white partners. A sprinkling of residents are Asian. On paper, there are no Black citizens living there.

For those outside of Oregon, who consume the Portlandia comedy show, or associate hippie culture with Ashland's Jackson wellsprings, what I am sharing might cause shock and confusion. As one young person passing through Medford said to me, "It is 2021. How is this possible?"

Let me explain. I noticed a lot of school pride on the front doors. Obviously, there was an elementary school the community was very invested into. I learned the elementary school was named after a woman, Margaret Patrick.

"That's progressive," I said to myself. Then, I passed by the building and saw the school placard and mascot.

Because I teach on race, racism and whiteness, I sent the photo I took of the placard to other Southern Oregon BIPoC residents. "Do you see what I see?" The answer was, "Yes, we do."

What did I see? I saw the pink panther cartoon character distorted enough to avoid copyright laws. On its head was a blue, backwards facing baseball hat. The issue was the color of the character. It was, and is, in blackface.

Talk about a microaggression. Well, that's pretty in your face, so, it is more than "micro." I think it borders on being a signal to Black people to stay away.

At this point, I reassessed my level of personal safety, and chose to stop going door-to-door. I came to the same conclusion I came to during this year's Black History Month, when I distributed my Love Letters in Springfield, Oregon. "I am not supposed to be here. This is a white hostile environment."

For those struggling with white racial innocence, my assessment might land with just as much shock and confusion as a white bodied person expressing racism. After two decades of asking one probing question after another probing question, I (painfully) understand how the white bodied person comes to this conclusion.

The culture of individualism affirms the value system that the only thing an individual has total control over is how the individual responds to external stimuli. In this case, the mascot is the external stimuli. I, being the individual, am the one who manages the internal response.

What does this mean? It means, for those who advocate this perspective, that I can see race if I want to see race and react as if Gold Hill is filled with racist individuals. Or, I can choose to open my mind and ask for the details behind the decision to make the school mascot in this manner.

A simple reframing of perspective is all that is needed.

The Pink Panther is a popular, and positive, fixture of American childhood.

Children today do not have any connection to American history, in a way they would be triggered by the idea of "blackface."

Bringing attention to race and racial concepts is how Black people perpetuate racism. It is an idea. Let go of the idea and racism disappears.

White people do not think in racial terms. The laws have changed and America has changed. White people have to conform to the law, which means, white people have outgrown the oppressive past. Black people are projecting their unresolved emotions onto white people, who do not have to accept such framing.

It is considered growth, by white people, when a Black person leaves this frame of mind and joins them in living outside the idea of race, racism or whiteness. We are human and all we have to do is declare such and demand we be treated as human. It is possible. Universal truths exist. All anyone really has is time, emotion and breath. Focus on what we all have in common and experience less stress.

I find this approach to be an amazing display of cognitive dissonance. This approach assumes there is value in teaching The Boston Tea Party, as an act of protest contributing to the American Revolution. Yet, educators request a compartmentalizing of the fact that the colonists dressed up as Native Americans, complete with red face, as a war tactic to confuse the British. The colonists wanted the Native population to receive the British wrath over the tea's destruction, rather than the colonists paying a political price for their actions.

This approach assumes the fight over national sports teams' mascots as completely unnecessary. It is an image. Why give it any control over your life? Ignore it and live!

At no time, have I heard those who advocate the culture of individualism speaking to how such mascots program their white children how to orientate themselves in the American racial caste system.

When the newly awakened white mind is asked to see race, in order to function as an ally, the very tools suggested to me fail them. The white "ally" who can see the "blackface" I am referencing, "Doesn't know where to begin."

For a few brief moments, the allies cease to view the 1,500 residents of Gold Hill as fellow human beings, able to access the culture of individualism and be responsible for their own internal growth. No, Gold Hill's white residents are frozen in a place time forgot. They are racists. Racists, by definition in the white mind, do not wish to change. There is no internal motivation for them to do so. Racism is irrational hate and irrational hate defies all logical attempts to address it.

Logic is the number one tool the culture of individualism uses to teach. If a person does not agree with a strong argument, the culture of individualism considers it oppression to employ force to inspire a change in their behavior. Once the white person refuses to change their thinking, and therefore their reactions to the stimuli of Black people being in their presence, there is nothing effectively a white ally knows to do other than leave that racist white person's presence.

Thus, the white ally feels impotent and sad. They can understand the physical outcome of Black people choosing to not reside in Gold Hill. They, also, do not know how to help Gold Hill become more warm and welcoming towards BIPoC.

The idea of going through the process of inspiring a healing journey among the 1,500 is just too much emotional labor.

It would require a contentious meeting with the school principal, asking them to see the school mascot as a reflection of racist cultural practices. Facing an authority figure is difficult in, and of, itself.

It is equally difficult perceiving the school educators as highly educated, yet, on the emotional level, committed to maintaining the status quo of white supremacy - not overtly, but through their silent complicity.

Fear over being protested by the other parents for bringing race into their lives looms large. The ally does not wish the experience of being "othered." Better to remain safe(r) in their own whiteness, than to stand out.

Imagining the real world impact on any person of color traveling to a store or diner in Gold Hill, can generate so much anxiety the ally can no longer function.

Lastly, just imagining the depth of this experience would expose, too close to home, how BIPoC might experience the presence of the white ally striving to make racial change in their own lives. So much grace and patience is being extended. Where is the ally purposely blind to race, racism and whiteness?

In the midst of this emotional depression, the white ally, appreciates the courage and bravery I displayed going door-to-door in Gold Hill on July 3. They marvel at me still being alive. At anytime, my presence could trigger a "racist" and I result in an assault, since I was on their "property," meaning their front porch. In fact, however noble and idealistic, it is imagined my actions did not inspire a single sale of my new book, which teaches seven
insights into anti-racism work.

The ally perceives Gold Hill as a hostile white environment, which I survived!

The emotional drainage of the work actually inspires the ally to value my work and not regulate it to "something" Black people are doing easily and effortlessly. Equality, like white racial innocence, is, at this moment, an illusion. It must be created.

Yes, walking a neighborhood brings much clarity to details. You see those elements of the community, which, before, you could easily ignore, because those elements were details in passing.

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Kokayi Nosakhere

Kokayi Nosakhere

Black man living in Oregon's Rogue Valley, teaching pathways to greater humanity. Community organizer! Author. Speaker. Workshop facilitator. Royalstar907@gmail