Those of us who live in the Flathead Valley do so because it’s a lovely place to raise a family, seemingly separate from the traffic, crime, and pollution that many Americans tolerate as part of their daily lives. It also seems a place separate from the ugly racial tensions and prejudices that permeate American life.
Or is it?
My 13-year-old son had a nasty discovery at the parking lot of a fast food restaurant last week: A one-page flyer spread around by neo-Nazis, warning of “white genocide.”
Days later, the news was full of images of the right-wing terrorist who drove into a peaceful crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, after a grab-bag of fascist torchbearers protested the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue there.
I believe that the Flathead is a conservative place, but not a hateful one. We practice the western credo of “live and let live.” We are not hamstrung by the echoes of the Civil War; we were not the crucible of the Civil Rights era. Because our population is overwhelmingly white, racial issues are not at the forefront of our lives as they are elsewhere in America
But we still have our share of work to do. We still share American history. One doesn’t have to look very far to find scars left by the past. In today’s Montana, how long you live depends on what side of the mountain or lake you were born. An average white Montanan male lives 22 years longer than a boy born on an Indian reservation. That statistic alone speaks much about how historic injustice morphs into modern injustice. The past doesn’t go anywhere.
A friend of mine recently downplayed the recent protests by the neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates and “Alt-right” loudmouths in Virginia. The Nazi menace had been soundly defeated in World War II and will never rise from history’s ash pit, he suggested.
I hope he’s right. But I don’t think we can ever be complacent. A threat to one person’s liberty and well-being is a threat to all of us. We are all on this leaky little lifeboat together.
We might never see a rise of Hilter-style Nazis, just as we will likely never see the Catholic Church repeat the Spanish Inquisition. However, human beings have a nasty tendency toward organized, ideological violence targeting “others.” The price of liberty is eternal vigilance against these kinds of assaults, no matter what style of clothes they wear, or what kinds of theology or philosophy in which they cloak their hatred.
Standing up against hate – and embracing the full richness of humanity – is the right thing to do even if it is sometimes the inconvenient thing to do.
There are also very practical reasons to confront this issue in our daily lives, at our schools and in our community: our children. Our children will grow up in a more crowded and more ethnically diverse world than we did. They will come to need people who are different from them – and those people will need our children. Let’s give them the tools and examples they need to make the world a better place.
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