The Race Factor in Montana

By Beacon Staff

I spoke with a state Democratic operative last week who said he had sent this story from the Washington Post to many of his colleagues. The awkwardly headlined story, “Never could I have anticipated . . . a black man being at the top of the ticket,” looks at voters in rural, central Montana who have had few, if any, encounters or acquaintances, much less friendships, with African Americans. Now, many of those voters are trying to wrap their heads around possibly voting for a black man for president.

While the issue of race has been studied and written about intensely in this election season, this story is interesting in that Montana is so racially homogenous. Kellyn and I disagree somewhat over the value of the story. The consummate editor, he found the story disorganized and wasn’t necessarily sure what the point of it was. But I dug it as a snapshot of a certain portion of the electorate at a critical juncture.

Check out this excerpt of an interview with a Lewistown woman:

Mary Weaver is about to sit down for breakfast at McDonald’s. She’s 56 and works compiling medical records. She says she is curious about black people but is reduced to learning about them from TV and movies. “I’m probably more afraid of black men because of the movies,” she says, reeling off examples of robbers, criminals and gang members. “It gives me the chills. I do make exceptions, though. If the black man is handsome, I tend not to think so badly about him. But just take the rappers in the movies. They’s so angry. They’ve got these gangs. I know that’s not all black people, but . . .” She trails off. She picks back up: “I had a nephew, though, in a gang once. Of course, he’s white.”

She admits she has never had a black friend, or held a long conversation with a black person.

“I haven’t made up my mind about the election,” she says.

It’s certainly an interesting piece, but every time I read a story like this in the national media, I imagine readers all over the country, unfamiliar with Montana, reading it and thinking the entire state is as rural and isolated as the communities portrayed in the story. It’s easy to get a skewed sense of Montana from reading such articles if you don’t know any better.