A few days ago I returned from a visit to New Orleans where an incident that occurred during Mardi Gras was related to me. A small black boy sitting in front of his building caught a handful of beads flung from a parade float. An obviously drunken elderly white woman walked up to him, slapped him hard enough across the face to leave a mark, and snatched the shiny colored trinkets as they fell from his hands (you can buy these things for very little in local shops). A group of young adults (white) approached the child's father and told him that he should find a policeman and report the incident, and that they would back him up. When the officer came over, he addressed the white woman by her first name and asked if there was a problem. She said that the boy had tried to take her beads, but that she had held on to them. The officer made no reference to her abuse of the child. The young people and father of the boy were stunned. The incident is a metaphor for our times.
Very white Bozeman, Montana was threatened when members of the National Alliance (now National Vanguard) left leaflets advocating white supremacy at Bozeman homes. Outraged citizens formed the Gallatin Valley Human Rights Task Force (GVHRTF) and put up a Web site, www.embracediversity.org, to address the "problem". They also organized a Martin Luther King Day parade to celebrate diversity and oppose the Alliance, and the parade was promoted on their site. On January 16, 2005, approximately 2,000 people marched along Main Street and in front of the fewer than one dozen Alliance members who held a small demonstration of their own.
In this town, there are very few people who could be classified as minority. I can say in all honesty that I'm certain that the people who promote diversity would be fine with a black doctor moving next door, and in this town of skyrocketing real estate prices, that's probably who would move into their neighborhoods. But if the doctor were to be followed by a family of Hispanic laborers, well that might be another story, not only of race, but of class, and I'd be interested in seeing the reaction.
Beginning in 1986 and during the years when I lived in Tennessee, the Klan held an annual festival in Pulaski, where the organization was founded, as a protest of the Martin Luther King holiday. The event has since been switched to October. Klan members and sympathizers attended, and everyone else pretty much ignored them. But in Bozeman, a group of progressives pounced on the issue with a vengeance, then dropped the ball. More than a half-year has passed since the Martin Luther King Day parade and protest, and I am looking at the GVHRTF Web site. I cannot find any type of contact info -- either names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, or a postal address. They are not listed in the telephone book.
The purpose of this group may be the promotion of diversity and protection of the rights of minorities, but if a person were being abused, he or she would find it nearly impossible to contact the group, or even know that such an organization existed. The site hasn't been updated since February 2, 2005, and there are no entries about meetings or other activities. I'm wondering whether the group was merely a one-shot wonder that had a fleeting interest in human rights. Or maybe the lives of its members are so insulated that they don't have a concept of the world outside their own. The Klan was formed in 1865, and there has never been a pause in their activities.
Perhaps the members of the GVHRTF think they solved the problem with their parade. They didn't. The amount of hate speech on local talk radio has recently become more extreme. One day it's Muslim bashing, the next it's Hispanic bashing. Someone begins by railing against illegal immigrants, then it becomes Mexicans, then Hispanics in general. Many don't even know that Puerto Ricans are born citizens. A few weeks ago, a fifty-year-old Puerto Rican man who stopped for a drink at a Bozeman bar was severely beaten, he believes because of the color of his skin. Although the bar was packed, no one stepped forward to identify the assailant who viciously pummeled him, including with a beer bottle. The man who left him with a cut face and bruised ribs seems to have been protected much the same as the woman in New Orleans. Things change, or they don't. And well-meaning but often uninformed people who speak out for those who suffer discrimination must realize that it is not a sometime thing they can oppose at their convenience, but that it's an ongoing thing that is often accompanied by suffering and pain.
And there are so many who are being targeted because they are or resemble Muslims or Mexicans and other Hispanics who cross the border to find work. Of course, the federal government makes no real attempt to close the borders because they see immigrants as the new consumers of real estate and goods. Real estate and consumerism are keeping our economy afloat, and there is nothing the feds won't do to keep that party going. Soon, more of the immigrant workers who are building our houses and cleaning them will be able to buy them and the junk that everyone else in the United States can't live without. And as more people flood into the country, reaching for and catching the goodies being tossed out to them, we can also expect that American workers, maybe like the thug in the bar, who find their jobs going West, East, and now South, will be looking for a scapegoat. And that scapegoat will likely have a brown face.
Sheila Velazquez lives and writes in Bozeman, Montana. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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