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Is black the new black?

Was new Portland police chief picked because he is black?
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  March 4, 2009

Along with the nation getting a new top man in the White House sporting brown skin, the city of Portland just got a new top cop of similar hue. It seems like something that should make me happy, given that I'm black, but it really doesn't make me jump for joy. Don't get me wrong; I'm not sad or angry about it either.

Oddly enough, I'm concerned.

No, not about his safety. No, not about how the rest of the police force will react. Not about whether he's qualified. What concerns me is that there's a nagging little part of my brain wondering if he got picked because he is black.

James Craig, who was expected to be confirmed as Portland's new police chief by the city council Tuesday, has an impressive background, including having spent the past four years overseeing the Los Angeles Police Department's gang and homicide unit.

But I wonder if his being African American tipped the scale in his favor. I wonder this because a lot of people are eager to declare that we're in a post-racial America now. I think that a lot of people, both consciously and subconsciously, are going to be putting people who are black into positions I suspect they might not have otherwise.

As I recall, the last time the Portland PD was looking for a new top guy, the two finalists were Tim Burton, who was already on the force, and Anthony Hallowell from Clearwater, Florida, who happened to be black. Some folks, myself included, wondered if Hallowell lost out because of his blackness. In the end, I decided not. My father was a former lawman himself, and from what I understand, hiring for an important position like that is often going to mean giving the job to someone who's busted his ass in the department for some years already.

Honestly, I think Craig would make an excellent addition to the force in terms of experience, even though I wonder how dealing with gangs and homicides in LA translates into a perfect fit for Portland. He has a background in community policing, which is a huge plus, but his resume seems a better fit with a larger and more definitively urban city. Also, police departments have their own culture and he's coming from a culture waaaay different than here. Will he mesh, and will the department mesh with him?

Perhaps I'm stretching in thinking that on some level, picking Craig is designed to show race doesn't matter; to enforce that the city is not racist. And yet...

Anyone notice how folks are trying to turn Michelle Obama into a fashion icon? The nation seems to want to make her the black Jackie Kennedy for the new millennium. I love her. She's competent, she's strong, she's in good shape, and I think she's beautiful. But she's not fashion-icon pretty, and her taste in clothes can frankly be hit-or-miss.

That's why I wonder. Why I am wary that black folks may become an accessory. Or perhaps worse yet, trendy — because trends tend to go in and out of style really fast. I want to see more non-whites in positions of authority and influence. I want to see minorities and women get the kind of representation in elected office and corporations and such in the same proportion they are in the population as a whole. But I don't want them in those positions as some transient thing.

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Related: In the same boat, Uh, race still matters, folks, Looking Back, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Los Angeles, Portland, Michelle Obama,  More more >
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