Rights advocate: Trump comment should prompt frank discussion of racism
A Washington County human rights advocate says Americans should confront their own prejudices — even if unspoken — after President Donald Trump's use of a vulgarity to describe countries that are potential sources of nonwhite immigrants.
Peg Pfab, retired pastor of Southminster Church in Beaverton and former secretary of the Washington County Human Rights Council, responded to a question Monday, Jan. 15, at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum.
The forum coincided with the national holiday named in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who was born 89 years ago. The civil rights leader was assassinated 50 years ago on April 4, 1968.
Trump used the offensive term last week to describe some countries in Africa and Latin America during a White House discussion with senators about potential immigration legislation.
"I guess if we have anything to thank him for, it would be making clear the underbelly of white supremacy in this country that has been there — and is there — and seems to have much more permission now to speak out loudly," Pfab said.
"I think if you have to protest you are not a racist over and over again — if it looks like a duck, it walks like a duck and it quacks — maybe it is a duck," she added. "People are perhaps more aware. That's a good thing, so we should organize and talk about it more."
Although non-Hispanic whites are the majorities in all three metro counties, Washington County's share was the lowest at 66.9 percent in 2016. The county led with Hispanics at 16.5 percent and Asians at 10.5 percent; Multnomah County had the greatest share of blacks at 5.8 percent.
Pfab's comments challenged her audience about what needs to be done to bring about King's vision of an equal society, and less about what has been done in the past half century.
She quoted from King's 1963 letter written from a jail in Birmingham, Ala., that was a rebuttal to white clergymen who argued in a newspaper ad that civil rights were being pressed too quickly.
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends," King wrote.
Re-examining 'white privilege'
Pfab said whites should re-examine how a system of "white privilege" came about, and only after then, they can discuss how to achieve equality.
"Systemic racism in this country is a white problem, although it is people of color who suffer from our problem," she said.
"We have to recognize how we benefit from the system before we can really start to try to change it. That is hard, because it means we have to admit we did not get to where we are because we are so beautiful.
"Being white means we do not have to think about privilege. We don't have to listen to people of color. But people of color ignore that system at great risk to themselves and their families."
Pfab said she could not offer easy answers. But she said whites ought to listen to people of color, and offer advice but not presume to tell them what is best for them.
"We need to search out and support leadership," she said, "that directs us to communal values and does not give in to the hopelessness of tribalism."
She said perceptions sharply differ between whites and blacks of job and educational opportunities.
According to Gallup Polls over the years, 60 percent of 1,001 blacks questioned in 2013 said job opportunities were better for whites than blacks, and 39 percent said they were equal — compared with 31 percent of a 2013 all-race sample that saw discrimination and 68 percent that did not.
In 1963, 74 percent of blacks perceived job discrimination, 23 percent did not.
Results were similar for education: 56 percent of blacks felt opportunities were equal in the 2013 survey, 43 percent did not, compared with 53 percent to 41 percent in 1963. In the 2013 all-race sample, 77 percent saw equal opportunity and 23 percent did not.
Pfab said blacks also were more likely than whites to face traffic stops by police, and more likely to be arrested on marijuana charges.