Why Oregon's largest college is hosting its first Whiteness History Month.

Whiteness is very much a thing. That much we know.

GIF via Snuggie.


But whiteness is not simply "being white." Whiteness refers to the often invisible yet elaborate and pervasive system of privilege afforded to white people in our country and much of the world. Those with privilege, whether they want to or not, receive advantages and decision-making power in the media, private sector, judicial system, and policymaking. The idea of whiteness is ingrained in our systems and ways of thinking, and it has numerous cultural, economic, and legal consequences.

As far as cities go, it doesn't get much whiter than Portland, Oregon.

Photo by iStock.

As a new resident of Portland, I've quickly learned it's much more than brunch, beer, and bikes. Portland is home to great soccer, delicious food, and so, so, so many white people.

In fact, 76% of Portland is white, making Portland the whitest big city in the United States.

That's why for the first time ever, Portland Community College is offering a Whiteness History Month.

Developed by a subcommittee of the PCC Cascade Campus Diversity Council, the project, officially titled Whiteness History Month: Context, Consequences, and Change, is a month of programs and events to explore the origins of whiteness and its impact on the campus community and culture.

To be clear, Whiteness History Month is not a celebration of white power and privilege, nor is it Black History Month for white people.

The goal of Whiteness History Month is not to open old wounds or point fingers for the heck of it. Instead, the goal of the project is to develop new solutions to societal and community problems that are born of racism and privilege.

Big problems like over-policing, and small problems like the fact that when I went looking for a stock photo of a "college classroom" the first photo that came up was literally all white students:

Photo by iStock.

PCC's planning committee is currently soliciting programming ideas from students, faculty, and the community for the month-long event.

PCC is Oregon's largest post-secondary educational institution, serving over 90,000 students across four campuses and eight specialized centers. Programming for Whiteness History Month, to be held this April, will take place at all four campuses and may include discussions, lectures, films, presentations, artwork, and even plays.

It's all in an effort to spark dialogue, improve campus climate, promote student retention, and build partnerships in the community.

"Join us! When they're not shooting at us, it's fun over here." Photo by iStock.

Though the goals are admirable, some are calling the month-long diversity initiative "white-shaming."

GIF via Erykah Badu's "On & On."

And sadly, those voices are missing the point.

Whiteness History Month is not an attempt to shame white people for colonialism, racism, or even having privilege.

It is, however, an effort to get a very important conversation happening — one that is often derailed because we have difficulty talking about race or prefer to advocate for "colorblindness."

But when unarmed black people, even children, are gunned down by the police; when black people continue to die in jail cells under suspicious circumstances; when applicants with "ethnic-sounding" names are less likely to get job interviews; when being black is akin to having a credit score 71 points lower in the eyes of mortgage lenders; when transgender women of color are murdered at an alarming rate; when not one person of color is nominated for an acting Academy Award; when people in the 21st century are still dressing in black face; when protestors have to block shoppers and travelers to get people to pay attention to their messages; when I wake up every day as a woman of color hoping my name's not a hashtag by sundown, maybe, just maybe there's a problem here.

We can't fix racism until we can talk about how going through life with white skin is different from going through life with dark skin, and Whiteness History Month seeks to open the doors to exploring those differences so that we can at least have those conversations.

Demonstrators marching for an end to gun violence and the resignation of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Racism is in our neighborhoods, our courtrooms, our boardrooms. Much of it stems from whiteness and the inequality it creates and perpetuates, knowingly or not. We're not going to be able to tackle those problems until we acknowledge that the system isn't set up for everyone to get a fair shot.

As #BlackLivesMatter activist DeRay Mckesson suggests, those with privilege need to acknowledge it exists and use it to signal boost voices that too often go unheard.

While the name could use some work, Whiteness History Month has the potential to raise awareness of this important issue.

Portland Community College, a major employer and place of higher learning for the Pacific Northwest, deserves applause for taking bold steps to address the problem of racism and oppression in the campus community.

Real change isn't going to happen until we have some tough conversations and begin working together.

This inaugural event may not bring an end to all racism everywhere (that's a very tall order) but it's a much needed start.

A woman holds a sign with a quote from MLK during a march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo by Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."