1.) I read a book this week entitled A Hundred Little Hitlers by Elinor Langer. I have been looking for books about the history of race relations in Portland and this is one of the only sources I could find on the subject. The central story is about the beating and murdering of an Ethiopian man by a group of skinheads in the late 1980s. I had briefly heard bits about this event somehow or another, but I was shocked to find out that the murder happened literally one block away from my house. The book also attempts to provide a history of the uprising of the Neo-Nazi movement, with Tom Metzger as the main character in that story. Metzger is a name I remember hearing growing up because the headquarters of White Aryan Resistance(WAR)/his house was located in Fallbrook, CA where my parents actually currently live. The other main piece of this whole story is that of the history of racism in Portland since its existence as a city. Initial laws basically banned African Americans from residing in the state. Then a low-income community called Vanport came into existence during the shipping boom, but that community dissipated due to a flood and whatever blacks were left moved into NE Portland. The most shocking piece of information to me was that the state of Oregon did not even ratify the 15th Amendment (the one that lets any male citizen vote regardless of race) until 1959. And actually due to a wikipedia search, I was even more surprised to find out that Oregon wasn't even the last state to ratify the 15th amendment...California, Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee all ratified after 1959...Tennessee didn't until 1997!
The case and the histories were all very interesting, but I think the overall point of the book was that after the constituents of Portland and Oregon got their symbolic victory over their history of racism...it really was mostly symbolic. The family of Seraw (the man who was murdered) was awarded 12.5 million dollars but only a fraction of that money would ever make it to the family. Metzger was made to sell his house, but other than that there wasn't much in the way of assets. Even the money that he would receive from supporters of WAR was often just diverted to another more anonymous PO Box. The organization that served as the prosecution for the case, profitted immensely by increased recognition and notoriety and therefore an increase in donations. Metzger is still able to conduct racist propaganda, meetings, and lectures and essentially hold on to his power withing the White Supremacy movement due to the First Amendment. And the Northwest, even specifically Portland, still maintains a reputation for skinhead activity and for many within the movement the Northwest still represents the "white American bastion."
2.)Last weekend I was finally able to see Night of the Living Dead. This may seem unrelated to the above writing about neo-Nazis, however I do think there is a connection on the basis of race relations in this country. I do not typically like horror films as a genre, mainly because I usually think they are just dumb, but I do have an appreciation for certain films and subgenres such as "zombie movies." I think a good horror film is one that uses visceral, maybe even ridiculous imagery to provide social commentary should one choose to read the movie that way. Zombie movies can be particularly telling about the current state of government/societal/technological control in a given country. Night of the Living Dead came out in 1968 and was mentioned in some reviews as a critique of American involvement in Vietnam. The movie takes place in middle America and features tons of American "casualities." However, I think the racial aspect of the film is particularly interesting and not all that often mentioned.
The plot of the film is basically that a group of people seek refuge from zombies in a farmhouse whose owner has already been killed. The group includes a small family, a young couple, a hysterical white girl, and the level-headed, extremely competent black man, Ben. Ben acts as leader and takes charge of boarding up windows and doors and doing what he can to protect the well-being of everyone in the house. In contrast, the white husband/father of the small family does weasley, self-centered, cowardly things on multiple occasions, even nearly getting Ben killed. Throughout the movie, one by one, everyone gets killed until Ben is the only one left. Simultaneously a posse of rednecks, led by the local sheriff have discovered that zombies can be killed by shooting them directly in the head and deactivating their brains. They basically act as a militia group and are quite successful at destroying the zombies in their community. They go to check out the farmhouse for any signs of zombies and end up shooting the only survivor Ben in the head, apparently mistaking him for a zombie.
Although the director, George Romero, claims that the only reason a black man was cast as the protagonist (still a fairly rare occurence) was because "he auditioned the best." I find it extremely difficult not to read things otherwise. 1968 may have been near the height of Vietnam, but it was also a key year in the Civil Rights Movement. Society has often dictated that a black person must put forth more effort, success, virtues than the average white person in order to be accepted, and even then people will seek to push you back down. The fact that Ben survived an extremely tense and diffcult ordeal, overcoming not only the zombies, but problems with other people in the house, only to be shot by the honky redneck posse seems incredibly ironic, but also incredibly apt for those times. It's also difficult not to see echoes of the assassinations of MLK and Malcolm X in a scene like that.