Portland | Race Against The Past -- Preview

Last Updated Oct 30, 2017 9:11 PM EDT

Portland's image as a bucolic, progressive haven in the Pacific Northwest is a "mask" that hides a racist past and a troubling, white supremacist present, according to the people who know it best. Historians and academics who have studied Portland's anthropology told CBS News that white supremacy in Portland is never far from the surface, and in reality, has never been that well hidden.   

The "Portlandia" stereotype was shattered for many people late this May, when two people died and another was hurt in a stabbing on a Northeast Portland light-rail train. The assailant yelled racial slurs at two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab, and then launched an attack at two men who tried to defend her.

The perpetrator, Jeremy Joseph Christian, appeared to brag about the attacks as he sat in the back of a police patrol car, saying "that's what liberalism gets you," according to court documents. Christian, 35, shouted "You call it terrorism! I call it patriotism!" and "Death to the enemies of America!" as he made his first appearance in court not long thereafter. 

For some people, this attack came as no surprise. "Oregon is a racist utopia," said Walidah Imarisha, an Oregon historian who explained how racism is baked into Oregonian history. In 1857, its constitution contained a provision that stated "No free negro or mulatto...shall ever come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate, or make any contracts, or sustain any suit therein."

Racist provisions banning blacks from entering the state remained on the books, even if they weren't enforced, until 2001. And in 2017, racism and white supremacism may have become less overt, but are no less sinister. 

Now, Portland is grappling with decades of bigotry, and the tense legacy that leaves behind. It's a challenge for police, as white supremacy is fostered in the state's nearly all-white prisons and exported as prisoners are released. But it's worse for Portland's minority residents, who deal every day with bigotry and hatred which now hides in plain sight.