'Are You In It For The Glory?' Portland Black Business Owners Contend With Support

By Tiffany Camhi (OPB)
Portland, Ore. June 19, 2020 1 p.m.

Over the past few weeks Black-owned businesses and Black community organizations have seen a surge of financial support. And a lot of the money has come from well-meaning white people or white-led organizations.


But now that it’s become trendy to attend police brutality rallies and decry systemic racism online in Instagram posts, some Black business owners in Portland are wrestling with the idea that not all donations are coming from a place of authenticity.

OPB's Tiffany Camhi spoke with John Washington, president of Northeast Portland's Soul District Business Association, about what it feels like to be receiving this outpouring of support now.

John Washington with the Soul District Business Association

John Washington with the Soul District Business Association

Flossin Media

Q&A with John Washington


Tiffany Camhi: You represent a lot of Black-owned shops and you're a Black entrepreneur yourself, what do you make of all these donations that Black businesses and organizations are receiving?

John Washington: I think there's a moderate amount of support coming into the pipeline right about now. But we serve a lot of businesses, where I'd say 50% of them haven't received any support. That support may look like it's coming in for Black people, but it has a wider agenda.

Camhi: Does the support feel genuine?

Washington: It's a double-edged sword. Whenever you have a lot of attention placed in a specific area, it makes people stop to take a look at their part in that, what their association [is] with it. Sometimes people have knee-jerk responses to situations, sometimes guilt. A lot of things prompt people to step in and get engaged. But a concern I have is how authentic that engagement really is. In other words, is there a commitment to that or is that just a momentary, knee-jerk reaction?

Camhi: The Soul District Business Association is going to be the beneficiary of an auction that's being held Friday by the folks at Portland Made, which is a majority white maker organization. Considering your previous response, was it a hard decision to decide to work with them?

Washington: I don't necessarily believe that any opportunity to grow and advance an agenda is a hard choice. We're open to take a look at those [opportunities] as long as there is proper intent behind what's going on. Not every gift is a gift of joy. You can get gifts, but sometimes you open them and it ain't exactly fun. They have other things laced in it.

Camhi: Would you like to see more partnerships like the one you have with Portland Made, with majority-white groups, in the future?

Washington: I have mixed feelings about it. There are times when you look at the history of Blacks in this country and you look at some of the experiences we've had, it would only prompt you to believe that we need to resort to self-sufficiency. But in the real world, white and Black people both live here. I think we both share the same visions and the same dreams. And we live and exist in a capitalist society. So it ain't like we can do business with marbles while everybody else is doing business with gold. A lot of times you've got to get behind who's feeding you money to see what their intent is. And so for us, we like to make sure that we just ask those hard questions. You know, are you in here for self-glory or are you in here for an opportunity to help people?

Hear the entire interview in the audio player above.