There is a LOT going on in Southern Oregon, where I live. There has been a very long history of racism and white supremacy in Oregon (founded as a whites only state) and that dynamic exists today. We have active militias (which terrorize people) and we have both covert and overt racism.
I live in a small town with a reputation for being a blue dot in a red region of a blue state, and in many ways that’s true-people do tend to vote DEM here, but that belief of Progressive-ism often keeps it’s residents from really seeing how racism plays out on the daily-in shops with collateral that is racist, or treatment that is racism, tailing BIPOC folks in shops, and of course fetishizing the BIPOC people here in ways that is uncomfortable for them. The narrative of a liberal oasis gets challenged, rightfully, and people resist and hold tight to an old story that makes them feel good
This narrative, which allows residents to think the town is safe for all, means that the places where it isn’t safe for Black Indigenous People of Color are ignored and dismissed. That lack of seeing means that the violence, false arrests, fear in the student bodies of SOU and Ashland High are not truly addressed. And now? We’ve had two deaths of Black men (one not even 20). One death, which I believe is still being investigated, was of Michael Ewell in July. The other, of Aidan Ellison, just happened. He was living in a hotel after he lost his home in the Almeda Fires. A white man, older and one who also lost his home in the fire, confronted him in the early hours of the morning and shot him point blank in the chest. He claims it was due to “loud music” and then the shooting occured in self defense after being punched, but he had no marks on his face, nor did Ellison have any injuries indicating he struck the man. “Loud music” is often a narrative code for urban music or Black music. It is not clear that music was even being played, and this code, which is racist in nature, is being used to blame the young man rather than keeping attention on the man with the gun. Nothing warrants a chest shot, and the media’s claim of that reason distracts us from the real issues.
A local TV station reported on this with foolishness, praising the man who shot Ellison as a good father and so forth, producing a typical narrative that an upstanding white man was merely acting in self defense and in great fear.
The FBI is now investigating and I’m glad for that. OPB and other outlets are reporting on what’s happened and I’m glad for that. There are strong activist groups here made up of Black and BIPOC leaders doing incredible work on this. I stand ready to help as needed.
I want you to pay attention to this little rural paradise, to what’s happening. Pay attention here, because it’s happening everywhere. The narrative is part and parcel of our culture. And I want to broaden this conversation by making a pitch for all of us white people to do some more anti-racism work, and stat. There are other stories possible, but they only are heard if they are given space and volume.
Racism, White Supremacy are banes. Are sins. Are cruel historical patterns and dynamics that our culture at large has held onto even as they deny they are there. And when I mean the culture has held onto them, I mean that.
There are groups of people for whom white supremacy holds great appeal. Just look at the tea party, the rise of Trump, the killings we’ve seen over the past years, decades, well…lynching never stopped.
It can feel very uncomfortable for most white folks to confront this in the self. To say, I know I am racist. I know I have been raised in white supremacist cultures and so it is and has been part of my DNA so to speak, probably if you follow epigenetic, literally. It feels dark and shameful and most of us avoid even thinking about it, we get defensive and fragile about it.
I work to dismantle that racism in myself. I work to dismantle white supremacist thought and patterns in my DNA and body. I was raised in it and I’m glad for the interventions I’ve found in my life. It does not harm me to say this. It helps me be better, at least a little bit. As a storyteller, I use stories and narratives to help me do this work and to help me note and make sense of what I see around me.
We white people, if we do not do the work, we harm the BIPOC people around us by our inaction and what seems like inability, but actually is a lack of will and a willingness to LIVE differently. To be a race traitor. We harm people we think of as friends and family and colleagues. We just do.
We don’t have to though. We can, with will and with determination and with vulnerability with each other (my fellow whites!) identify, observe, and grapple with these patterns, beliefs, structures. We may not be able to change huge institutional systems, but we can change ourselves, be bold and embrace a kind of Love we’ve never really experienced.
It matters. Black Lives Matter. BIPOC Lives Matter.
Aidan and Michael’s lives mattered.
If you, as a fellow white person, ever want to talk grapple argue feel cry wrestle — I am here. I am imperfect as hell, but I am here for the work with you. We can hear and learn from other stories and we can be a part of building a new story together.
A Statement From The Truth And Conciliation Council of Ashland Oregon
“The Truth and Conciliation Council releases the following statement from Aidan Ellison’s Family:
Many people are wanting to know more about Aidan Ellison and who he was in his short time on this Earth. What can be said about this teenager who was full of spirit? He was just getting started on his lifelong journey when he was taken from us.
For those who want to know who he was, it’s too late. He’s gone. That opportunity has been missed, and no eulogy or summary of his 19 years will suffice to describe it.
What you need to know is that this young man’s life was taken and nothing can justify that. Nothing he did, legitimizes the cold-blooded response of being shot in the chest.
Enough is enough. How many Black men have to die before this community takes hate crimes seriously? How many #BlackLivesMatter signs have to go up for this to be addressed in a constructive way?
We know from our own experience living in Ashland, Oregon that this heinous murder was racially motivated.
Aidan often said there were two rules for living in Ashland:
1. Have a big smile
2. Be white
He was hyper-aware of this community’s denial of his experience in a Black, male body, and this country’s denial of how it targets people like him.
The culture of white supremacy is entrenched in this valley and as we have seen following Aidan’s tragic death it is ingrained in policing and reporting here. By victim-blaming Aidan in the headlines, we can already see the rough road ahead to ensure justice for Aidan.
We insist that this community be forever changed by what happened to Aidan. We are calling for an end to this violence and oppressive white supremacy in Oregon now.
We hold Jackson County to the task of prosecuting this crime to the fullest extent. A clear and firm message must be sent, that this violence and aggression towards Black bodies will not be tolerated under any circumstances.
We call on the community to support us and hold the justice system accountable.
We feel that everything happens for a reason and we know God has Aidan’s spirit now.
If you wish to help you can contribute to a Go Fund Me account set up for the family: https://gf.me/u/zacitn “