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Controversy Over Alleged Racism  Cancels Festival of Eugene

“People are comfortable with racism here,” Jamie Clark tells EW. Clark moved to Eugene from Texas in part to escape racism and now finds herself in the middle of a firestorm after a racist Facebook comment attributed to Festival of Eugene organizer Krysta Albert made the rounds on social media.

The Festival of Eugene, which came into being after longtime staple the Eugene Celebration was canceled by Kesey Enterprises in 2014, is now also canceled in the wake of social media reaction. This is something that Clark points out was not of her doing, but she says she is being blamed for it. “It’s hard to go in and to be the person who closed down the Eugene festival,” she says.

The incident kicked off when Clark, who is of mixed race, including black, commented on a July 20 Facebook post by her friend Nancy Berge. Both Clark and Berge work with autistic individuals, Clark says. In response to a meme Berge posted calling for girls to do things like, “Stop saying ‘Sorry,’ and start saying ‘Don’t interrupt me,’” Clark wrote, “Thank you for represen[ting] ALL women and not just the females that present right and play well at respectability politics.”

Clark says her comment wasn’t related to race but that Albert took it that way on the thread. A discussion ensued and according to a screenshot captured by others on the thread, Albert wrote, “U r exactly why we call u people niggers.”

Clark says she didn’t know Albert or know she was the Festival of Eugene organizer. Albert blocked her on Facebook before Clark could report the hate speech. Clark, who responded to the remark with the meme “Stay black and remain proud,” was not the one who took a picture of the exchange. 

By the next day the screen capture was making the rounds on social media, and Festival sponsors were calling for a response or posting on the Festival Facebook page that they were withdrawing their sponsorship. Clark says “White voices were amplified” and people called for resolution for the sponsors, who were embarrassed at being associated with racism, rather than calling out the racism itself.

Media outlets contacted Albert for comment, but not Clark, the target of the racist remark.

In an email to EW about the incident, Albert writes of the racist post, “Suffice to say these allegations are untrue.”

Albert adds, “The Festival of Eugene, ran by a dedicated team of volunteers, does not in the past, present nor future discriminate against anyone for any reason; neither race, color, creed, national origin, religious, sexual preference or orientation or political. Nor has it participated in racism, bigotry or any other type of discrimination or hate. The Festival is about celebrating diversity, social tolerance and inclusion of all. For those who have participated in this event in years past know this to be true.”

Albert says in the email that recent posts are “under review” by Facebook. In other posts she has written her account was hacked, the screen capture was Photoshopped or that someone else used her account. 

Many of those on social media said they were aware of past racist remarks or pointed to her support of presidential candidate Donald Trump as an example of racist tendencies. Back in December, after Natriana Shorter, who is African-American, won the crown for Miss Oregon, Albert commented on a KEZI news story that, “I know this is going to sound racist and it’s not my intention. But I can’t help but think it’s awfully strange that a woman of color would represent [the] state of Oregon. The state that has one of the smallest amount of minorities of any race compared to other states. And yes, she is very beautiful.”

Kelly Asay, the publisher of the website Eugene Daily News, posted in Albert’s defense, calling her “a friend to Eugene” and that she would never condone or engage in “this type of hateful behavior.”

Clark says, “Nobody uses the n-word in public as a first-time racist.” 

By July 22, the Festival of Eugene was canceled. Its Facebook presence and website were soon deleted. An email from the Festival of Eugene account reads, “Racism cannot be tolerated. The 2016 Festival of Eugene is canceled. Our sincere apologies for those hurt and affected.”

Clark says that email “wasn’t a direct apology,” nor was it an acknowledgment, calling it “PR spin.” She says the comment smacks of putting public relations concerns before “your good karma and your soul” in the face of a serious human rights error. 

Clark says she sees people in Oregon who are comfortable expressing racism and people around them who don’t call them on it. She says she sees people openly expressing affiliation with the National Alliance, a white separatist organization, and a man who drives around Eugene and Springfield with “diversity is white genocide” on his truck. 

When asked what white allies could do to prevent or respond to racist situations, Clark says to call out friends on things, not let micro-aggressions slide and not wait for racism to directly affect you before you stand up. “Be vocal on the little things that are not little things.” 

According to a 2015 Fortune magazine article, black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs and Clark, who is a health care administrator, says that’s something this area doesn’t want to miss out on, culturally and financially.

As  EW goes to press, KVAL news is reporting Albert’s account was “compromised,” but Facebook has not responded to a request for comment. 

Update

Facebook responded to EW's request for information after the print deadline. Facebook could only confirm that the account was "compromised" but was unable to provide any other details. EW also contacted Krysta Albert for comment but has not yet received a response.