The Urban League would like to address the events of the April 3 meeting of Portland City Council. During invited testimony on the FAIR Ordinances, Mayor Wheeler appeared to chide Commissioner Hardesty for engaging in direct questioning with a panelist. See the exchange here.
While the Mayor claimed to suppress Commissioner Hardesty’s comments in the name of civility, he did not issue the same call for decorum the next day, when members of the public repeatedly disrespected and denigrated Commissioner Hardesty during public comment. Nor did he censor Commissioner Eudaly for equally direct questions and comments earlier in the April 3rd hearing– nor, to be clear, do we believe that he should have. Asking direct questions is the role of our elected officials. The Mayor’s contrasting response to similar situations, however, illustrates yet another double standard to which Black people are held even in progressive Portland. We hope the Mayor takes time to consider why he was so ready to defend this invited speaker from a routine line of questioning. Unfortunately, this instance is yet another example of the fierce scrutiny Black women experience in the workplace, no matter their behavior or rank. Black women are most likely to be criticized and punished for the same behaviors as other groups at work, as noted in the Harvard Business Review. Commissioner Hardesty conducted herself with all due propriety and consideration for her duties as a public official.
Some have tried to sweep the racial subtext of this exchange to the side. That is a disservice to our experiences, and to the experiences of the many people of color who were in Council chambers in support of these ordinances. Mayor Wheeler acted out the age-old custom of powerful men making an example of Black people who are deemed to have stepped out of line, particularly when white female sensibilities are the perceived victim. Further, Mayor Wheeler appeared to use the proximity of Hannah Holloway, advocacy staff for ULPDX who has led the screening criteria work, as a prop to underscore his admonishment of another Black woman. Commissioner Hardesty’s questions were civil and professional, her demeanor warranted no disruption or defense. The Mayor’s actions appeared to silence a Black woman who was merely carrying out her elected duties.
We elect our commissioners to be thoughtful, incisive representatives for Portland. We want them to ask the questions necessary to cast informed votes. Urban League of Portland is proud to work with community leaders like Hardesty to make our City and State a place where Black women in any office can work without being admonished for reclaiming our time.