The Keenest Observers

Picture of cover for book, When We Love Someone We Sing to Them


Ernesto Javier Martinez is a University of Oregon faculty member in the department of Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies. He studies how racially and sexually marginalized people engage the larger world through art, despite the forces arrayed against them.

He also engages the world through art. A case in point is his new children's book, When We Love Someone, We Sing to Them, which is now an award-winning film called La Serenata


We speak of wanting diversity in education, but it's taking a while to get there.  Teachers of color can make a big difference in the education of a child of color. 

So non-white teachers are in high demand... but also in short supply.  Monique Morris, author and social justice scholar, wants to see the educational system shift its focus to girls of color, a case she lays out in the book Sing A Rhythm, Dance A Blues: Education for the Liberation of Black and Brown Girls

Book and author are featured in this month's edition of The Keenest Observers, with host Rob Goodwin. 

Adam Jones, Wikimedia Commons

It's a grim anniversary, but certainly one worth noting: the arrival of African slaves in Virginia in August, 1619. 

So 400 years since the door opened wide for the slave trade that marked the development of what became the United States, and that still shows as a scar on the national psyche. 

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is one of many organizations observing the 400th anniversary.  Rob Goodwin takes up the issue in this month's edition of The Keenest Observers, our ongoing study of race issues in America. 

Y! Música, Wikimedia

Racism continues to rear its head and speak loudly in our time.  Will Harris was motivated to write about it, but not in a strictly black-or-white way. 

Harris is a British writer with dual racial backgrounds, and he focuses his work on two other people of mixed race who lived very public lives: Barack Obama and Keanu Reeves.  Will Harris's book is Mixed-Race Superman: Keanu, Obama, and Multiracial Experience.

Rob Goodwin returns with our segment The Keenest Observers to host a discussion on the subject matter. 

Richard Blanco has traveled many miles since his appearance reading his poetry at the second Obama inaugural in 2013. 

And his travels have taken him to Southern Oregon more than once, including his spending time this summer at the Young Artists Institute at Southern Oregon University.  YAI is for high school students to develop their already-demonstrated artistic skills; Richard Blanco will teach creative writing. 

His latest book of poems, out this year, is How to Love a Country


Elizabeth Warren was not the first person of mostly European ancestry to claim Native American heritage, and will not be the last.  "Pretendians" appear all through American history, even at the Boston Tea Party. 

Suzan Shown Harjo, herself Cheyenne and Muscogee, says people who claim tribal ties with no evidence only add to stereotypes about Native Americans, and make it harder for tribes to determine citizenship. 

She talks about the issues in this month's edition of The Keenest Observers, hosted by Rob Goodwin. 


It is a concern in many parts of the world, and has been through history: how can we keep our culture alive?  It is a particular issue for indigenous cultures in lands that have been colonized by people from elsewhere. 

And it is a focus of attention this week at Southern Oregon University, which hosts the Pacific Islander Indigeneity and Education Conference (May 3rd).  Rob Goodwin, the host of our Keenest Observers segment, returns to talk about the issues in keeping culture alive when people--in this case Pacific Islander students--leave home for extended periods.

Portland was a gritty place growing up, from the perspective of Mitchell S. Jackson.  He was constantly calculating what it would take for him to get out of the city and on with the rest of his life, relatively unscathed. 

Those calculations provided the title for his book, Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family.  We welcome Mitchell Jackson to the Exchange on our regular segment The Keenest Observers. 

Oregon Arts Commission

Oregon bears a permanent stain from joining the union (in 1859) with black "exclusion laws" on the books.  Nobody with dark skin was allowed to live in the state. 

The laws neither got much enforcement nor lasted long, but African Americans remain a small minority.  A significant one, though... and the history of African Americans in Oregon is celebrated in the photographic display "Black Legend, Black, Oregon," on display in the governor's office through late March. 

Intisar Abioto is the photographer and artist who assembled the work. 


By many measures of societal well-being, the USA is not number one.  The American Dream or something like it is more of a reality in Denmark. 

So say the authors of The Inner Level, a recent book.  It points to inequality as the root cause of many of our troubles. 


Kiese Laymon has had an interesting life, to put it mildly.  Fortunately, he's a good writer, too, so we get to read about his life and how he's dealt with a number of challenges. 

They include issues with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and gambling.  He presents the challenges, and how he overcame them, in his memoir, titled simply Heavy

Rob Goodwin, the host of our segment The Keenest Observers, returns to host Kiese Laymon. 

Public Domain,

Many of the people who played "Indians" in Hollywood westerns were of Italian descent.  Orson Welles made a filmed version of "Othello" that featured Welles in blackface. 

Cultural appropriation still happens.  And it can be confusing to both the perpetrators and the people whose culture is appropriated. 

Surabhi Mahajan, from an immigrant family of color, hosts an Oregon Humanities Conversation Project on cultural appropriation, with sessions across the state. 

Bruce Haynes is used to studying people and urban communities in particular; he's a sociologist at the University of California-Davis.  But his latest book, with Syma Solovitch, turns the lens around, to focus on three generations of his own family, in Harlem. 

The book is called Down the Up Staircase: Three Generations of a Harlem Family, and it traces the rising and falling fates of the family and its community. 

This is the latest edition of The Keenest Observers.  Host Rob Goodwin returns to interview Bruce Haynes. 

The Keenest Observers: POC In The RV

Nov 27, 2017
Sparrowhawk Media Arts

The Rogue Valley's Nisha Burton has many artistic interests and outlets. 

Her latest short film is part of a project called "The Separation Myth," and is an an exploration of what it is like to be non-white and live in the Rogue Valley. 

She is our guest in this month's installment of The Keenest Observers, hosted by Robert Goodwin. 

By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA - Counter-protest against Donald Trump rally, CC BY 2.0,

Remember the talk of American becoming a "post-racial society?"  It seems like a while ago now. 

Social justice activist Paul Kivel has watched with great interest as the country has twisted and turned in dealing with people of different colors and nationalities. 
He has completely updated his 1995 book, for a fourth edition of  Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice

Robert Goodwin, who hosts our segment The Keenest Observers, handles the interview. 

OSF Photo Illustration

The plays of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival show clearly the festival's commitment to diversity.  Characters of all colors and genders appear. 

And the work of OSF extends well beyond the boundaries of its stages.  The education department at the Festival reaches out to the community in a number of ways, including an upcoming project called "Take Them Into the Dirt."

It's an immersive experience--meaning audience involvement--that explores indigenous stories. 

Rob Goodwin, our host for "The Keenest Observers," is part of the project at OSF. 

The Keenest Observers: Zinzi Clemmons

Aug 28, 2017
Nina Subin,

No one can know absolutely what it's like to live in another person's skin. 

But Zinzi Clemmons shares what it is like to come of age as an African-American woman in her debut novel, "What We Lose." 

Clemmons is Philadelphia-raised, with roots in South Africa and Trinidad. 

And she is host Robert Goodwin's guest in another edition of The Keenest Observers. 

Government Alliance on Race and Equity

Racism continues to bedevil our country. 

Even people who have the best of intentions can be completely surprised when they are shown the effects of their words and deeds from the point of view of a person of color. 

Racism won't vanish without further effort; the Racial Equity Coalition in the Rogue Valley encourages people to learn how to host frank discussions about race through its Race Tool Kit Project, and we explore its features in another edition of "The Keenest Observers."  Robert Goodwin returns to host, with guests Alma Rosa Alvarez and Majorie Trueblood-Gamble. 

The Keenest Observers: The Urban/Rural Divide

Apr 24, 2017
Gary Halvorson/Oregon State Archives

Our region is full of out-of-the way places. 

But being off the beaten path is not a good thing for everyone.  Small towns can feel boring and even repressive to young people looking to make their way in the world. 

The urban/rural divide is the focus of this month's edition of "The Keenest Observers," hosted by Robert Goodwin. 

TKO: Racial Histories Of Oregon

Jan 30, 2017
An Oregon Canyon / Donnell Alexander

The Keenest Observers is an occasional segment dealing with difference and inclusion in a place where the vast majority of people are white.

This month we look at how race is inscribed on Oregon geography.  Donnell Alexander is a filmmaker and writer, whose recent work documents place names and early African-American homesteaders. Randy Blazak is Chair of the Portland-based Coalition Against Hate Crimes (CAHC). He speaks to the history of the KKK in Oregon, and the perennial re-emergence of white supremacist messaging through fliers, websites and radio programs.