Profiles: Understanding Whiteness

Profiles is an ongoing series, seeking to create spaces of affinity, where similarly identified folks have a space to talk about the perceptions, nuances and actualities of their identity.  



Within American society, historically and currently, economic, political and social power has been largely dominated by white individuals. As our country and world becomes more and more colorful, the experiences of white people are boldly modulating with time. This shift in white perception, fragility and racial competence has come by the way of our ever integrating society. We sat down with two young white men, who have spent a majority of their lives in radically diverse settings. A complete shift in power and influence has been made in the spaces they constantly inhabit. These two offer up their experiences as the perceived epitome of American privilege-- straight, white males. 

Owen O, 17


I was in the 7th grade, really fully understanding it. I joined the Roosevelt Youth Football team and that was the most diversity I had ever really seen. I had never really thought about race as much as I did, until I joined that football team. 


My mom had always raised me and taught me things about race. She never really go too far in to it. I don't think she really knew how to tell me certain things or how the world works. But she taught me know so that if I was ever in a situation, I would not let race effect it. Just treat everyone the same way.  


Say me and my black friends are in an altercation with the cops, even if I feel like I have to stand up for them, I cannot really do anything because that puts them in a worse position than me. Trying to stand up for them in a situation with police brutality, its not going to effect me or hurt me. So she [my mom] has told me things like that.


I don't know. I don't think being white means that much to me. If I identify with anything, like I'm still white, but I like to identify more with my culture, being Greek and being Irish. I identify with those more than anything. But I don't think being white is super important, like I have anything to prove. It is just a matter of living out my life and looking back and being happy with what I have done. Going back to the question, it is more about identifying with my culture instead of race. I feel like the racial element, brings in more of the white supremacy and inequality. 


The whole thing with stereotypes has gotten really weird on social media. I don't get mad when people make fun of white people. But I get so mad, because I don't get what the point is.What do you get from this? In a country, where we are trying to progress for human equality this is setting us back, giving everyone a bad rep. Me personally, I am all about this country moving past, so don't make it even harder. 


Indiana C, 16


To me, being white is just the color of skin I was born with. The difference is that, being white makes me realize that I don't have to explain my self or what I'm doing in most circumstances. It doesn't mean I am more or less then anyone else. It's just the color Of skin I happen to live in. Spiritually we are all the same. I feel blessed by those around me no matter what color skin they live in . I see the beauty in all flowers of humanity.



Growing up in an ethnically diverse setting allowed me to realize the similarity'sare much greater then the differences. I was able to grow up in the best possible situation where I saw the equality in my friends and my neighborhood. It shaped me in to a much more well devolved and up to speed and focused person. The family's of my friends are strong and loving like my own. Doesn't matter what culture or religion you are. It's always you're inner self that shows who you truly are. Growing up in diverse places takes the fear out of the world. It's something money can't buy.




Profiles: Discovering What it Means to be Black

Profiles is an ongoing series, seeking to create spaces of affinity, where similarly identified folks have a space to talk about the perceptions, nuances and actualities of their identity.  



The concept of black identity has been one fraught with a single narrative and stigma of what it means to be black in America. With diverse images and stories beginning to show and develop in mainstream society, there have become more ways to express blackness. Blacks are now left with the job of taking on their own understanding of being black, without adhering to what society tells them they must be or how they should act or who they can be. This is their world, this is who they are, who they deserve to be and will never fall victim to being anything but themselves. 

TRIBE, The Real Inseparable Black Experience, is the name of our affinity group here at Catlin.

Being black, African-American, Afro-American African, a ‘Negro’ as they use to say, back in the day just means being a part of such a rich culture and history. Now, what is black culture, is an entirely different conversation on its own. Being able to connect with people who look like you on that level. It’s like being exposed to an entirely different world.
— Juma S, 17
Being black means having to live in a society where you were set up to fail from the beginning. Being black is being followed around in a store, and being afraid for your life when you get pulled over by the police. Being black is having your culture constantly mocked, but also having it, while other minorities try to mimic.
— Jordanos L, 18
I just really think being black, means to be beautiful and strong and powerful and resilient. If I had to pick one word to describe black women, it would be RESILIENT.
— Aaliyah J, 17
What does it mean to be black? I think it means being whoever you are. Thats how I answer that. There are so many different variations of skin tone, personalities and jobs and the way people speak. I think whoever you are as a black person, is what it means to be black.
— Damien G, 34

Profiles: The Beauty, Love and Passion of Islam

Profiles is an ongoing series, seeking to create spaces of affinity, where similarly identified folks have a space to talk about the perceptions, nuances and actualities of their identity.  



The fear of Islam and Muslim believers has become overwhelmingly socially acceptable. Critics of Islam, who blame the faith for the actions of radical, fundamentalist terrorists have misjudged the religion that well over a billion people worldwide have found salvation in. The hypocrisy that persists is one that does not apply this same standard to Christianity, a faith that saw the enslavement, mass genocide and centuries of war throughout time, internationally. Despite this all, Muslims within the U.S. are staying truth to their identity. Amidst the rhetoric, young Muslim-American men and women are challenging their fellow citizens and communities to solve the myriad of social injustices that permeate our society, with the teachings and principles of Islam. 


Ibrahim , 17

on Living as a Muslim in America 

"I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas… We lived in a neighborhood, our car would get egged and someone put needles under our cars and we would get hate messages… Ever since then, we moved out of that neighborhood and I have gotten any physical abuse for my religion. I would walk with my sister and people would look, because my sister wears the hijab… Part of the Muslim experience is not abuse, it kind of undermines what American means to you… It kind of amuses me the lack of ignorance of what people think Islam is and what isn’t."


on the Meaning of Islam 

"‘A Muslim is not a Muslim if he knows his neighbor is hungry and goes to sleep full.’ And so Islam is helping people and keeping your connection with God." 

Semerdin, 16

on Perceptions of Muslims

"The media kind of portrays this idea of Islam totally differently. Islam is one of the largest religions in the US… It is really surprising how many different people have that basic idea of Islam and twist it to their own imagination. That takes a larger effect on Muslim individuals."


on Islamic Values

“Islam is a religion that means you have to help yourself and help others, keeping up with good deed, that’s what Islam is all about… Islam provides a sense of interdependence that all people should value."

In Conversation with Youth from Brazil About Identity

The perceptions we adopt of the people and places we are unfamiliar with can be quite dangerous. To assume and project the ideas or messages we receive from the world to the unknown, creates an us v. them complex. This complex allows us to feel a sense of security in finding our own perceptions and ideologies as good or just, and those of the ‘other’ as not.

I noticed this most during the Olympics this past summer, when reports of the Brazilian government forcing people out of their homes, and wrongly mistreating the subsequent protests, to build the infrastructure for the Olympics. When speaking to others, they seemed to find the actions of the Brazil as an anomaly, a special case, an outlier amongst world governments. None of that is true. The basis of some of this city's foremost problems lie within forced removals of people experience poverty from their homes and those experiencing houselessness from finding safe spaces to sleep at night. The homes that people have lived in almost their whole lives, have just been destroyed to make room for more desired attractions. What is more desirable than home? Rio de Janeiro and Portland, share qualities that are one in the same.


Yet, that is not the perception that I have seen portrayed. So often I see, stories of Brazil that focus that are reflective of few things-- soccer, Carnival, beautiful beaches, the deforested Amazon, favelas, crime, corruption and violence--almost as if they separate from society, or removed from the larger social systems in place. Rampant poverty and crime takes on a different face and medium here, but it still exists. However, in that very statement, the skewed and biased perceptions of an entire nation is summed up. How often do we see the regularity and simplicity of day-to-day life portray in Brazil? How many movies have you seen set in the sequestered favelas, ridden with gang violence and no order? Often. If not, frequently.

My perceptions were completely changed when 12, racially, ethnically, sexually and culturally diverse Brazilian students, spoke with me about their stories. With big smiles, big hair and big personalities these 12 individuals dive deep into this open space. These youth Brazilian Ambassadors from all over Brazil, visiting with the World Affairs Council and the US State Department, were the brightest, optimistic and realistic people of their communities. They were overrun with this desire to share their experiences. To create their own platforms, to stand, with full attention and relay the entirety of their respective lives.

It is almost ethereal when people from completely different worlds come together to discuss their worlds. It is so subtle and beautiful and simple, that is almost seems divine. The impact of two hours on the lives of thirteen individuals, including myself, is not conscious in the moment. Rather it builds. Going from topics about water accessibility to opportunities to better our lives, every point struck a chord with each of us. Initially, I functioned as the facilitator. But, soon found myself looking upon this moment, outside of my own self, looking on, as these people transcended their  geographical, political and social barriers to instinctively connect as human beings. To not argue. To have each and every one of our stories validated by one another.

Truly, I began to see the parallels of our country’s horrific racist pasts, playing out in being followed around at the mall or treated differently when we were with a darker parent, rather than the other. I began to see the purposeful limitations and barriers established to stop, thoughtful, engaged and intelligent young people from changing the systems that provide profit for those in power. I began to see that the objectification of the female body and the degradation of the female spirit as an ugly universal reality. I began to see my own privilege of being born in a place where aspiring to be better was not just a dream but a potential reality. I began to see my own privilege in never having to worry about having water, but instead drowning in a wasteful abundance. I was beginning.

To begin is where all progress starts. Forcing ourselves to challenge our perceptions, to empathetically address the plight of people universally, to acknowledge our blindspots, to connect. The power of connection can fortify and destroy the largest and most minute perceptions we adopt. Allowing our perceptions to persist, even though we know no one of those we are perceiving is beyond ignorant-- it is an active decision to discriminate.

Begin to interrogate your understanding of everything you know or perceive to know. In doing that, I have 12 new friends and a redeemable invitation to a place just as racist, corrupt and unconcerned as my home now. Only difference, is the people there more authentic and human.