Driving hundreds of miles to murder “Mexicans”….. Yes this was a hate crime in El Paso. Yes, the Department of Justice has a new website page addressing Hate Crimes. It clearly states that a crime plus the motivation for the crime based on race, ethnicity, other specific identities equals a hate crime. Teaching is not a crime so teaching race-based stereotypes cannot be a hate crime. It is the seed of racism and other types of group mis-characterization through the use of stereotypes.
This blog has been intentionally silent for almost a year. I have been posting regularly on my Facebook page which is linked here and elsewhere on this site. My reason for silencing this blog has been my awareness that the national and local political environment has been so fraught and hostile as to leave many caring people exhausted and often overwhelmed. Yet the work progresses. As the national divisions expand, as the violence and rhetoric escalates and as another school year opens it is time for an update along with a call for action.
In Massachusetts where I live there are five bills in front of the state legislature dealing with Native American issues. The one related to banning Native American athletic team names, logos or mascots in public schools and requiring schools to choose a new team name, logo or mascot should they now have such a team identity is Senate Bill 247. Testimony has been taken by the Joint Committee on Education at which I testified. The testimony was the last bill of the day which isolated those testifying while denying us the opportunity to educate others testifying on other bills in front of the same committee. I shared this concern with committee leadership for hearings in the future and will continue to pay attention to this important but subtle step in the legislative process.
Does your local school present a Native American sports team identity to the students and community? Does your local school play teams with these identities? Do you yourself understand that these teams teach the students, staff and communities the concept of stereotype as an acceptable way to judge a group of people? When these stereotypes are race-based they teach racism. It is that straightforward, that simple. Do you support the major professional sports leagues, attend their games, watch their games? If you are silent on these issues do you realize you are part of the problem? Have you been indoctrinated into oblivion on the issue? Do you know how to talk about this insidious racism? Or are you simply too tired to engage even if you feel guilty about your silence? Does your family have ties to these teams, in schools, colleges, professionally? Do you friends? Do you?
Here over the coming weeks I will explore possible courses of action, share research and offer ideas. I will open a conversation to all who wish to honestly, appropriately and reasonably engage. If most or all who read this wish to simply read then that if also fine. I appreciate your willingness to consider the ideas. I know from personal experience how hard this can be. Over the years sometimes it has been all I can do to show up into what I know is a hostile setting. That setting can be anything from a holiday family dinner table to a government hearing room to a newspaper office or an online radio station call. By now I am well enough identified with this issue that people associate it with me sometimes even when I am discussing something entirely different.
Short story—at a church meeting where I was talking about elderly housing and clergy involvement in the issue here in Boston one of the men in attendance, not young but still generally deferred to, started yelling at me: “Racism, racism, racism. All you talk about is racism.” This was the second time he had verbally attacked me. This time others in the room defended me but given the setting we were in I made the decision that it was wiser to leave rather than upset others or publicly showcase what was essentially an internal conflict. The group was small and in another setting I would have, and have, stood my ground. I share this to let readers know that this work can be contentious, complicated and nuanced. There are no hard and fast rules, no one size fits all set of guidelines. Social and legal changes are messy, often fragmented and generally imperfect—rather like all of us. And good progress still happens.
Different communities have different standards. Even within the same overall community various backgrounds and levels of understanding always exist. I wonder how many people reading this know that there are various definitions of the concept of racism with very different implications. I will explore this in a separate post as it deserves a rather thorough discussion but certainly in the online world my readers can find some of the differences themselves should they be interested.
Here are some links to several movements for social change which highlight these realities.
Indigenous Rights in the Americas
Women’s Voting History in the United States
Equality in Education
Land Ownership in the United States
I find the single most important factor in achieving good outcomes is persistence on the part of all involved. There is something everyone can do to bring good to all our communities. From leading protests to sharing new ideas across a cup or tea or coffee to showing diverse and inclusive films at local libraries, in local schools and churches, to letter writing campaigns each of us have opportunities all around us. We do not live in the world alone, we cannot change the past, we can learn from it so we can do and be better, for ourselves, our children and all who come after us. This will be a good legacy we can all be proud of.