A Portland, Oregon, nonprofit has launched a “Reparations Happy Hour” that offers black, brown and indigenous attendees $10 at the door — with the cash primarily coming from white donors, organizers said.
The first happy hour on Monday evening drew 40 black, brown and indigenous locals to the bar Backyard Social, where organizers gave out a corresponding $400, according to Cameron Whitten, the 27-year-old who hosted the event through the nonprofit Brown Hope.
“If folks say they want diversity in this community, they need to invest in it,” Whitten said. “These spaces are critical, and these spaces need to be paid for by white people.”
Portland is one of the whitest major cities in the U.S. (78 percent of the population is white, according to Census data), and it has a history of strained race relations. That past was thrust into the national spotlight last May when a man fatally stabbed two people on a Portland train after yelling racist, anti-Muslim slurs at two women.
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Portland’s mayor has made fixing race relations a priority — so much so that his job posting for a new police chief explicitly sought a candidate to improve minority relations in light of what he described as a history of “systemic racism,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
Whitten said he expects the “Reparations Happy Hours” to be monthly. About seven white volunteers helped with the event — and were there in part to make sure alt-right or racist demonstrators didn’t disrupt the happy hour, Whitten said.
But why reparations, and why a happy hour?
Whitten characterized reparations as a “cash benefit for historically marginalized people” — whether that marginalization came through slavery, colonialism, genocide, Jim Crow-era policies or something else.
“The idea of reparations is: How do we recognize pain, harm and injustice, and provide an outlet for healing?” Whitten asked. “How did we recognize the emergency of inequality?”
Whitten said the happy hour is not just about the cash, though. He said the event can help create “a pipeline into leadership” for black, brown and indigenous people trying to gain real power and sway in a white-dominated progressive and political scene.
“I’ve seen daily and monthly what it’s like to live in a place like Oregon, which has a spectacular history of creating policies to be a white, Bohemian utopia,” Whitten said. “If folks are saying they want black, brown and indigenous people here, we’re calling on them to pay for that to happen.”
About $5,000 has been donated so far to Brown Hope, the group hosting the events, Whitten estimated. He also said more than 100 people (mostly white) have donated to the group. There was a black woman at the event Monday who donated $500, Whitten said — essentially underwriting the entire $400 spent on “reparations” that day.
Reaction on social media was largely positive, though one Twitter user wrote: “Only in Portland.” Another Twitter user suggested those interested in tackling inequality do “something that'll make a meaningful difference” like “addressing inequalities in pay, housing and education.”
But Whitten said a happy hour and those goals aren’t mutually exclusive, and that it’s important to create spaces that empower black, brown and indigenous people — particularly in Oregon.
“We’re creating a platform to make sure our leadership is being seen and honored,” Whitten said. “This isn’t just, ‘We’re here to socialize.’ We’re here to do the work. In a place like Portland, where our community is so fractured … our first step is to bring us back together, and then from there organize and mobilize to create policies to create justice in our communities.”
The next “Reparations Happy Hour” will be at Back to Eden Bakery, which Whitten said recently had an incident similar to last month's incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks, when two black men were kicked out.