Susan Yaddof, a mixed-race woman of white and Asian descent, had darker skin than most of her classmates while growing up in Ridgefield. Yaddof, now 56 and still living in the small city, said she wants to remind the vast majority of her neighbors of the privilege that accompanies whiteness.
“I know that Ridgefield itself is a white town,” Yaddof said. “We have black people in Ridgefield, and I feel that we as privileged people, we need to be aware that we have privilege, and we need to understand that there are people around us that don’t have privilege simply because of the color of their skin.”
On Wednesday, Yaddof led a protest on Pioneer Street west of Interstate 5 that drew as many as 300 people at a time and lasted more than two hours. The protest, which remained peaceful, was one of many held across the country after the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police Department custody.
Large-scale protests in major cities, some of which led to violent clashes with police and looting, have been highlighted. But smaller communities, including Camas earlier this week, have also had people demonstrate.
Several conversations on race have been amplified since Floyd’s death. Yaddof focused primarily on one of those discussions — advantages that white people have over people of color.
Ridgefield’s population has roughly doubled in the past decade to just more than 9,100 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 91 percent of residents identify as white, with those of Asian or mixed descent representing the next two biggest racial groups — more than 8 percent combined. A fraction of residents are black.
“Ridgefield is predominantly white, and there’s a lot of privilege here, and we need to make it clear to those who are privileged that not everyone is as fortunate,” Yaddof said.
Earlier this week, Yaddof texted 12 of her friends.
“I just said, ‘I’m going to stand at the roundabout and hold a sign. Will you join me?’ ” Yaddof said.
Her friends then asked if they could invite others to join. Eventually, the event was announced on Facebook, attracting the larger crowd.
Some comments on Facebook questioned the protest, and the occasional passing motorist jeered those holding signs Wednesday afternoon.
But mostly, those in attendance said the atmosphere was supportive.
“It was just a constant blare of horns from people driving by and supportive of it,” Ridgefield resident Marshall Pittman said.
Pittman, originally from Tennessee, last joined a protest in 2003 in response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He moved to Ridgefield two years ago and said he wasn’t uncomfortable attending demonstrations in Portland before hearing about the Ridgefield protest.
“This has become something you just can’t really ignore,” Pittman said. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is and support because it’s in my hometown.’ ”
A handful of police officers were at the scene as well, and those in attendance characterized the interactions as positive.
“It was great to see them there,” Yaddof said. “It was great to have their support.”
Ridgefield Police Chief John Brooks talked with protesters, thanking them for participating.
“Exactly what I would have expected from a group of people that drive around with bumper stickers that say, ‘Be kind, this is Ridgefield,’ ” Brooks said.
Yaddof said she was pleased to see children alongside their parents.
“Those conversations start at the dinner table,” Yaddof said. “If those families are coming to a protest, then that is a child who isn’t going to learn about hate, and that’s fantastic.”
But the protesters also hope that discussion of racial issues extends beyond the dinner table, the site of the demonstration and this time period.
“When conversation breaks down, that’s where trouble starts, and (Wednesday) was a good day to have a conversation,” Pittman said.