While many Black residents in the city agree that the scarcity of the Black presence within the community seems to rationalize the poor and unfavorable treatment of Black people, Resident Director and Black Student Union adviser at Western Oregon University, Joe Hahn attributes it to something else. Originally from Sacramento, California, Hahn, 27, has lived in Monmouth for just under eight years.
“It’s really important to remember that Oregon, as a whole, was founded being anti-black and was basically a sundown state,” said Hahn. “So a state founded in that is always going to be anti-black even with the changes that have happened. There’s no way to get that out. It’s in the soil. It’s in the roots. How do you rip that out without changing things on a larger scale?”
Occupying both the university and community spaces, he admits that the campus environment does provide a small sense of solace for Black students and faculty. However, even on campus, encounters with racists and Trump supporters are still common.
“We had a truck that drove through campus during the school year that had confederate flags on it,” said Hahn. “Every single time a Black person saw it, they stopped in their tracks and were scared. I was walking my dog once and I was like, ‘this could be it’. It’s intimidating, it’s scary and we live here so we don’t deserve to be in that fear.”
Hahn also addressed that the Monmouth community had an unfitting response to the local BLM protests organized by M4J. “It’s interesting the response to the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Hahn. “People thinking that because we are supporting Black lives, now we are instantly against policing…that immediate thought process that if you support Black lives, you don’t support police just doesn’t go together.”
He further described that the counter-protests that utilize the American flag to oppose BLM are intimidating and completely redefine what the American flag symbolizes. “It makes it so that if I see the American flag, I feel like I can’t trust this person,” said Hahn. “But, this is my country, I should be able to have that and trust that.”