Since its appearance, the York sculpture has sparked important conversations. It got us talking about this person, York, and how Lewis and Clark relied on slavery to make their way westward. York is one of many Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, and other people of color who are invisible in our regional historical narratives—silenced by the white supremacy that permeates our institutions, our social interactions, and our physical spaces.
And white supremacy will not disappear quietly.
After repeated racist assaults, it is tragically fitting that this magnificent piece was toppled Wednesday morning just three days after a mural depicting George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery was defaced. Some people were scared of what we might see in these pieces, so they tried to take away our ability to see these pieces at all. And they were scared of what we might see in their actions, so they acted when we could not see them.
But we see them, and we see their actions. They indicate that last summer’s protests happened for good reasons. Our city continues to not live up to our expressed values, and it is our collective work to change that.
We begin with changing ourselves: thinking critically about our actions and our words, and leveraging that critical thought to unlearn racism in ourselves. We must disrupt racism in others—engaging the elements of white supremacy that are all around us, calling it out, and refusing to let it determine us. It means authentic dialogue and engagement to address past physical and economic violence, inequitable generational wealth, and community safety.
And it means continuing to make art about, and to learn from, York, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless others who were victims of racism. This sculpture has forever changed that space atop Mt. Tabor into a valuable venue for critically engaging our region’s history. We are excited for what comes next, in that space and across our city, working with our partners at the Regional Arts & Culture Council and Portland’s vibrant arts and culture community.