Think Out Loud

Respond to Racism in Lake Oswego launches ‘Life After the Bubble’ interview series

By Allison Frost (OPB)
Oct. 20, 2023 1 p.m. Updated: Oct. 20, 2023 8:20 p.m.

Broadcast: Friday, Oct. 20

Bruce Poinsette was raised in Lake Oswego and has been helping lead the Respond to Racism community program since it was founded in 2017.

Bruce Poinsette was raised in Lake Oswego and has been helping lead the Respond to Racism community program since it was founded in 2017.

Courtesy Intisar Abioto


Since 2017, Bruce Poinsette has helped lead a neighborhood effort to interrupt racism in Lake Oswego. Called Respond to Racism, the group holds regular community meetings to engage people in conversations and anti-racism action.

Poinsette recently launched a new online interview series talking to people of color who have left the “bubble” of LO. He joins us to share his own experience in the bubble, discuss Respond to Racism’s work more broadly and describe what he’s hoping to accomplish with the latest video series.

Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. For the last six years or so, Bruce Poinsette has helped to lead a program in Lake Oswego called Respond To Racism. It holds regular community meetings to engage people in conversations and anti-racism action. Now, Poinsette has launched a new project. It’s a series of online interviews with people of color who have left the so-called “Bubble of Lake Oswego.” Bruce Poinsette joins us now to talk about it. Welcome to the show.

Bruce Poinsette: Awesome. Thank you for having me.

Miller: So this new series is called “Life After the Bubble.” What is the bubble?

Poinsette: Right. So Lake Oswego, it has a number of different nicknames. I think the one that’s most in people’s purview and it is also probably the most..

Miller: Problematic?

Poinsette: Problematic and incendiary is probably Lake No Negro. And the other one that I think I’ve heard the most growing up was the idea of the bubble. So on one hand, geographically, it’s just that there’s not a lot of public transit and it can be just difficult to get in if you’re just going through 43 going through Dunthorpe to get in. Or I think it’s not a coincidence that the two most diverse parts of Lake Oswego are the parts near I5,

going into the Oak Creek area or going into the River Grove Elementary area. So that’s on one hand. But also because of just the amount of wealth and privilege and political power concentrated in Lake Oswego, and this reputation as far as very intense racism and classism, it’s an area where a lot of people are not… people aren’t going to feel sorry for you in that area. So the plight of Black and Brown people in the community specifically is kind of invisible, and also the level of accountability people feel to practice anti-racism, to not treat people like second-class citizens, isn’t really there.

Miller: Because life is good for everybody, goes the thinking?

Poinsette: Yeah, it’s like if everyone has… it feels like people have the privilege, the resources. It’s fine and I understand that, but also it allows for a lot of really bizarre things to happen within the community and sometimes those stories make the news when they’re particularly gross. Like, there was an incident a few years ago where some severed deer heads were left in a family’s lawn next to their Black Lives Matter and Biden-Harris signs. Or honestly, what happens in the school district, which is kind of the incidents that inspired life after the bubble. But for the most part, these stories don’t make the news and a lot of families of color have to basically fight these institutions on their own.

Miller: You do a lot, and I mentioned just one aspect of your jobs in my intro. But you’re a writer. You lead regular community meetings to engage people on these issues. You have a radio show on The Numberz, a Portland radio station. Why create this new project?

Poinsette: Yeah, I just, I feel like especially in Lake Oswego, the perspectives of former students of color is very valuable because one, they’ve been at the epicenter of where some of the most intense visceral racism exists in the schools. But also they’ve had some time because this series features students who graduated between 2006 to 2021.

Miller: Are you in that time period?

Poinsette: Yeah. So I’m a 2007 graduate. A couple of the people I interviewed were either classmates or teammates during that. So even that was interesting just to kind of get their reads of sort of shared collective situations.

Miller: A kind of retrospective of your own life as well.

Poinsette: Yeah, I mean, I’ll just give an example. So for a classmate, also class 2007 Farbodd Ganjifard, we were both in seventh grade when 9/11 happened. And he, during our interview, just talked about his experience as a Persian student in a post-9/11 world during this time of the war on terror, during a time of heightened Islamophobia, and having to deal with just particularly all the crass media that was happening at the time. And on one, hand being a recipient of all kinds of slurs and racist comments by his peers, but then on the other hand, having even teachers and people look to him to also be the expert.

Miller: You’re a 7th grader, explain what’s happening in Iraq right now.

Poinsette: Yeah. And just the intense psychological… and just the intense trauma that comes from having to navigate that. And it’s one thing in the moment, but then even having to process it afterwards and all the after effects of that. So, I think about that in this moment right now because that’s what a lot of this could be with the Israel-Gaza situation right now. [For] a lot of students, this could be a defining moment of their experience in Lake Oswego and Clackamas County, and, well, obviously throughout the country.


Miller: I’m interested in the after part of this new project because I’m wondering what you think that leaving a place can help you understand about that place.

Poinsette: I think when you grow up in an area like Lake Oswego, that again is just so isolated, you assume that’s how the world is. And then even just Portland is not exactly a bastion of diversity, but it’s different even in my own experience going to University of Oregon. Again, Eugene is not a bastion of diversity, but it’s a little bit different and you have an opportunity to connect with other people. In some cases, people who’ve kind of grown up in the same areas and are also having that aha moment.

But then also being a part of whether it be social justice groups, whether it be just arts, community building, and getting to see like, oh, there actually is a different reality and bringing that perspective back, either to the community or even right now. So, I’m wearing this. Obviously we’re on the radio, but I’m wearing a sweater from Cultural Blends, which was started by another one of the interviewees, Troy Douglas, and has since become an institution. They have a store, Back to the Basket on Hawthorne right now. They co-host weekly community building through basketball events called Hoops in the Park now, and Hoops in the Gym for the winter. That was created based largely on a lot of these experiences from Lake Oswego and trying to create something different based on being able to connect with the culture community afterwards.

Miller: You gave us a couple of people there? But can you give us a sense for the range of the people that you’ve talked to so far?

Poinsette: Right. So, yeah, again, like talking about the class of 2006 graduates through the class of 2021. It’s about 11 interviews and it spans across different races, backgrounds of students, because I really want to just give current students a chance to see themselves, see people who’ve been in the places they’ve been. And it’s also interesting just to, in that span, look at how similar some of these stories, especially… Part of the project is not just meant to be trauma porn. I want to be very clear about that. There are stories of trauma, but there are also stories of what people have built and forged in the midst of Lake Oswego and have built and forged afterwards and created whether it’s just creating spaces for students by creating projects. It’s a range of different backgrounds, ethnicities, experiences, genders and just talking about really just trying to get into all the intersections of that, get into all those experiences and give it just a little bit of the gravity it really deserves that I don’t think this happens in a lot of these conversations.

Miller: The first full interview that you release is with Cameron iizuka, a recent high school graduate, who talked about their fear of creating conflict or not feeling safe to express their opinion, especially if it might make a white person, even a friend, feel uncomfortable. Did that come up in other interviews, as well, that particular feeling of not feeling free to be who you are?

Poinsette: Yeah. Yeah. It is again, kind of like that common experience of just navigating on one hand because you are… Again, it’s predominantly white. This is kind of like the environment you’ve grown up in and normalized in, and that can be hard. Even for non students, like right now in our Respond to Racism work where you are just to be transparent about it, just navigating a lot of white fragility. And with any nonprofit,

no matter how big the roles or the membership is, oftentimes a lot of the work is being shouldered by a small few. So you need help. But on the other hand, you don’t, I don’t know how else to put it. You don’t want to scare all the white people off because the need for labor is real.

Miller: I’m curious because these are issues that, for a lot of white people, came to the fore in ways they had not been in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. That was now a number of years ago. What people just a couple of years ago called the racial reckoning, but you’ve been doing this work before then and you’re doing it still. I’m curious what you think, if something has changed since that time, that we called the racial reckoning.

Poinsette: Right. Right. I don’t want to downplay this because I think there has been some changes in Lake Oswego in terms of the level of awareness or at least levels of having these conversations in a sustained way. There’s been one offs and things like that, but, I think there’s a little bit more familiarity, I guess with having these conversations. But on the flipside, a lot is very much the same. It’s a lot like cosmetic changes. So, one of the things we’ve talked about over these years is just public art by artists of color depicting community members of color, depicting issues that speak to community members of color, depicting culture. And I want to say right now, maybe there’s three pieces of public art in the entirety of Lake Oswego, which I think is the biggest city in Clackamas County. One of them most recently is a mural of my mother, one of the co-founders of the organization. It’s on the city hall wall now. And on one hand, you can look at that and say ‘wow, this is there.’ And obviously, to me personally, it means something, but also when I look at the issues that students are going through right now, it’s still the same thing. To the point about Cameron, they graduated two years ago. And some of the things that people might tote as measures of progress like, ‘here’s a DEI committee that was created,’ here’s this other thing that was created’, these are things these students worked on and they went through a lot in that, a lot of demoralizing stuff behind the scenes in these experiences where they don’t have as flowery of a view as people on the outside, mainly white, mainly retirees might say, ‘wow, this is great. Look at all the progress we’ve made.’

Miller: You recently shared some Respond to Racism work and Life After the Bubble work, if I’m not mistaken, with students at Lakeridge High School. What did you hear from them?

Poinsette; Yeah. So that’s always the interesting one, again because you want to talk with the people closest to the issue.

Miller: Is it fair to say ‒ you said this earlier ‒ that part of your reason for doing this was so those kids today, young people today, would see this? They did. At least some of them did. What did they say?

Poinsette: Yeah, on one hand, it’s funny because the school district touts us as a partner to the work and you go in and talk with students and find out how many of them are actually not aware of what we’re doing, which is interesting in itself. But also I just point to one comment after speaking with students where a student of color an Asian student. I mentioned that only because that’s the collection of Asian communities are kind of the largest minority group in Lake Oswego – just came to me afterwards and asked,

there’s so few of us, so why does this all matter? Which can be kind of heartbreaking to hear.

Miller: Why does this matter? Meaning why are you doing what you’re doing? How did you understand that question?

Poinsette: Yeah. So I just took it as why is fighting for this important if there are so few of us and we’re only going to be here for however many years.

Miller: And if we’re not going to accomplish what you think you’re going to accomplish, is that also embedded in the question?

Poinsette: Yeah. Honestly, as I’ve had to learn in my own life and experiences and being privileged enough to be around experienced organizers, getting counsel like this is beyond lifelong work. Everything we’re doing in this justice is, I guess, like a continuum, this lifelong fight not even lifelong, beyond lifelong generational, whatever you want to call it. But it is important to – and I understand how hard it is to not accept second class citizenship as a norm. So yes, there may be fewer students of color in general in Lake Oswego, but they deserve every right to be able to thrive and prosper just as much as anyone else, regardless. And even the fact that we have this kind of large collective acceptance of that second class citizenship, that’s a problem. I don’t know if I was particularly effective in conveying that whole point, but it is a larger thing I want to get across to where, just because second class citizenship is normalized both by students, but then especially by people in power, by institutions, that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. And there is power, I guess, in really pushing back against that.

Miller: Bruce Poinsette, thanks very much.

Poinsette: Thank you.

Miller: Bruce Poinsette is the creator of the new online video series “Life After the Bubble.”

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