Report Reveals Diversity, Lingering Bias in Washington County

 A new report by the Coalition of Communities of Color dispels the image of Washington County as an all-white enclave by revealing its growing racial and ethnic diversity – and pointing to lingering inequities and bias.

A new report by the Coalition of Communities of Color dispels the image of Washington County as an all-white enclave by revealing its growing racial and ethnic diversity – and pointing to lingering inequities and bias.

Washington County is often referred to as the heavily white and well-off suburbs to the west of Portland. That description falls far short of being complete or accurate, as demonstrated by a new report released this week by the Coalition of Communities of Color.

“People of color have always lived in Washington County,” the report says. “We are part of the economy and social fabric. It’s our home and we like living here.”

Washington County’s population in 2017 was estimated at 591,350. The report calculates that 223,748 of those residents, or almost 38 percent, are from communities of color, led by a Latino population totaling 96,034.

A main purpose in conducting research and preparing the report was to measure the racial and social justice of this sizable chunk of Washington County’s population. “Communities of color in Washington County, compared to their white neighbors, experience disproportionately negative outcomes in employment, income, education, community safety and health,” the report says. 

Some specific data in the report highlighting continuing bias:

  • Vietnamese and Filipino workers have lower incomes than white counterparts with the same level of education.
  • High-income black and Latino applicants are more likely to be denied home loans compared to while applicants.
  • Somali-speaking students are 197 percent more likely than white students to be expelled or suspended from school.
  • 68 percent of Native American single mothers with children live in poverty, which is substantially higher than the national average of 48 percent.

“Our reality consists of both experiencing oppression by racist institutions and practices and our resilience and resistance to that,” the report says. “We are made to feel invisible and hyper-visible.”

The methodology to prepare the report is referred to as “research justice.” “[We] start with the premise that the research process needs to be just and equitable, and to shift communities of color from research subjects into researchers, knowledge producers and communicators. Research practices should be anti-racist to achieve the racial equity we seek to achieve in the region.”

The report includes sections about different communities of color including Native American, African, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern and North African, Pacific Islanders and Slavic. Each section shows the size of that community in Washington County and offers a few factoids. For example, 50 percent of Middle Eastern and North African community members have at least a bachelor’s degree and 57 percent of the county’s Asian population are immigrants.

Organizers of the research say the findings aren’t intended as a commentary on current events affecting immigrants. "We were mindful that we were writing this report under the current dispensation, but this report isn't just about the current dispensation," Shweta Moorthy, who wrote the report, said in a Beaverton Valley Times interview.

The report concludes with an 8-point call to action that include pay equity, political representation, celebration of diversity, educational opportunity and culturally specific services. It also includes a plea to continue research justice to track progress.

“Communities of color are experts in their own lives, possessing experiential, historical and cultural knowledge. Mainstream research and data do not capture the full lived experiences of communities of color.”

The full report and an executive summary can be downloaded at no cost at http://www.coalitioncommunitiescolor.org/research-and-publications/leadingwithrace-es