On Saturday night, I was mistaken for a robber.
Let me paint the picture for you… It was a dark and stormy night (no really, it was). Baby Chips and I were about to sit down to embark on “The Godfather Epic,” the seven hour retelling of The Godfather Parts I & II in chronological order. Before accepting this daunting challenge, we needed to stock up on supplies, particularly some Coppola Sauvignon Blanc, preferably a 2012 but I can’t really afford to be picky these days.
Just after 5 PM, I bundled up in a dark hoodie and beanie and burst out of my apartment building into the downpour. I sprinted to the corner, ran across the street, and waited for the light to change to head across the other street to the “corner store.” When the light changed, I ran across the parking lot towards the store.
As I quickly approached the front door, there was another patron walking up. An older white guy. He saw me running and made eye contact with me, then stopped. He put his hands in the air, asking, “Are you going to rob the place? I’ll just wait out here.”
Wait… what? Me?
I’m running quickly toward a store and that’s interpreted by this guy as a sign that I’m going to rob the place? I’m in here at least three times a week. I know (almost) everybody who works here. If this was his neighborhood (like I consider it mine), I’d probably have seen him around. But perhaps most importantly, I’m NOT A ROBBER! So where did this foundationless accusation come from?
This is Portland, Oregon. 43% of residents have a college degree or higher. The average income is $31,839. The average house value is over $350k and the average monthly rental is $1074 (probably higher in my neck of the woods). On the other end of the spectrum, 17.8% of residents live below the poverty line (currently the US FPL is roughly $12k/year for individuals and just under $16k/year for families). And the most uncomfortable-to-admit statistic? Over 77% of Portlandians are white. (More Portland statistics available here.)
I am a 30 year-old white male with a college education and a “lifestyle” job. I pay slightly more than the average rent in Portland and, as a small business owner, I also pay my fair share of taxes. While relatively strapped for cash at the moment, I squarely fit the definition of someone who would not rob liquor stores when the going gets tough. Quite frankly, neither does Portland.
Oregon was the most “moved to” state in the United States last year (2015). Gentrification, that dirty word, is very real here, and as a recent “refugee” myself to the Hawthorne neighborhood in Portland, I very well could be part of that problem. I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar, so was this guy.
Look around, dude! You’re in Southeast Portland now. We’re too busy listening to vinyl, waxing our mustaches, and smoking cigarettes outside these artisanal food trucks to be committing robberies. The real question is…
Are you here to rob the place?