ICYMI: Baby Steps to Equity

Meyer Memorial Trust CEO Doug Stamm delivering his remarks during the 2017 Governor's Gold Awards

In October, Meyer was awarded the 2017 Governors Gold Awards for the foundation's equity work in Oregon.

The following is the edited transcript of Meyer's CEO Doug Stamm's remarks. You can listen along here:  

On behalf of Meyer staff and trustees thank you to our Governors for this recognition and congratulations to this year’s Gold Award recipients.

It is an honor to stand here with you all. But more than an honor, being here is immensely important to me for the opportunity to speak with a room full of influential Oregonians.

Our state faces a number of divisions, urban-rural, class, sexual orientation, disability and race, to name a few. The past five years Meyer has set out on an equity journey to develop a deeper understanding of these challenges.

Tonight, I will spend my time focusing on some key learnings from our racial equity work in the hope that you’ll leave this evening committed to taking some of the same steps we have.

First step in working towards racial equity: Forget Portlandia!

Oregon is not a white state now, and it will be even less so in the near future. When we talk about quality of life in Oregon let’s recognize that it looks very different depending on the color of your skin.

Next is History.

Face the facts, Oregon has one of the most racist histories of any state in the union, but I bet none of us were taught that in school.

There is no sanitizing what happened to indigenous people in Oregon. Or to Japanese Oregonians who were interned, or to African Americans, who were first excluded from living in Oregon under our state constitution, then redlined into neighborhoods in Portland they were later forced out of by gentrification.

We’ve long been a haven for white supremacists and hate groups, starting with over 35,000 KKK in the 1920’s, the largest contingent west of the Mississippi.

Oregon’s true history underscores the persistent inequities that divide us. You see its results today in deep disparities drawn along lines of race. And knowing that — our whole history — helps us to face those cultural and structural barriers to equity head on.

Knowing our past leads us to the next step: Getting used to discomfort.

A core concept in racial equity training is the idea that ambiguity and non-closure are part of the learning.

We need to move beyond “Portland Nice” and the comfort of our myopic view of pseudo-progressiveness. And embrace what for many white people are challenging conversations around race and oppression.

If, when we hear reports of football players joining a silent protest against our history of racism, it feels more comfortable to see their bent knees as an attack on our flag, or on America… that's a good moment to pause.

And step back into the tension we might feel about how police brutality and killings occurs against black and brown people at rates far higher than anyone else.

Sit with that.

That discomfort brings us to the place where we can make a difference: Action.

Do something about it. Use your privilege for good. Call it out for what it is.

Like me, many in this room were born into and come from a place of privilege that helped us get into college, get our first job, put a down payment on a house or help our children advance in their careers.

What if we instead use our privilege to actively call out and take on the structures and systems in our state that perpetuate racism and oppression?

I believe we make Oregon a better place by asking ourselves that question until it is second nature to use our privilege for those without privilege.

That is the definition of being a white ally and an extension of the lesson about discomfort.

Oregon doesn’t have Confederate statues standing outside our state house in Salem, or the Southern Cross in our state flag.

What we do have, and it is no less shameful, is the Number One ranking for reported hate crimes. You’ve heard of some of them: the brutal stabbings on the MAX line in May; telephone threats to shoot crowds at a multicultural festival in June; racist graffiti spray painted on the walls of four elementary schools over the past few weeks. All perpetuate notions of white supremacy in our state.

That should be upsetting to each of us. So what will you do with that discomfort? I urge you to an be an active white ally, a co-conspirator if you will, for equity.

You were handed a card as you came in. It has a few next steps to becoming an ally, practical ones, including a simple test, called the American Dream Score, designed to help us better understand privilege.

Take the test and then learn, reflect and show up by using your power, your privilege, in meaningful ways that move us closer to a better, more just Oregon for all.

Thank you!


— Doug Stamm delivered these remarks at the 2017 Governors' Gold Awards benefiting Special Olympics Oregon