George Boardman: Racist attitudes aren’t preparing youth for the world they’ll live in
Observations from the center stripe: Accountability edition
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An impressive number of people mobilized on short notice recently to protest an incident of racial harassment in Grass Valley, and to make it clear they will not tolerate discrimination or hatred.
The demonstration, dubbed the “Love Walk,” filled Mill Street with an estimated 1,000 people in response to a report of a car full of young white males harassing a black teen as he walked down the street earlier in the week. If anybody else saw the incident, they didn’t protest or report it to the police.
People who participated in the walk expressed pride in their community, and the willingness of their fellow citizens to stand up to intolerance. I’m sure everybody who was there felt better after the walk ended, but only the naïve would believe they did much to improve attitudes toward minorities in this country.
California may be the bluest of states, but it is not immune to the racial animosity that infects many Americans. The Anti-Defamation League reported recently that California has the largest skinhead population and the most developed white supremacist gangs in the country.
The California Department of Justice reports that hate crimes increased 11.2 percent in 2016, the second year in a row of double-digit increases. Race-related hate crimes were up 21.3 percent, the department reported.
Many people want to blame this negative trend on the rise of Donald Trump, but that’s a simplistic and false explanation. The people who harbor these attitudes have always been among us, but have been pressured by prevailing attitudes — political correctness, if you insist — to keep their opinions to themselves.
These people also believed in the past they had an economic edge that implied superiority to minorities they disliked, so they didn’t feel threatened. The hollowing out of the blue collar middle class has taken away that edge, increasing fear and animosity. That also helps explain the rising antipathy toward immigrants, who are blamed for job loss and low wages. Racist groups and their fellow travelers grew in size and became emboldened before Trump became a presidential candidate.
Is there overt racism and discrimination in western Nevada County? It’s hard to say because as the second whitest county in the state, there are few minorities to discriminate against — the latest census figures show there are fewer than 500 blacks in the county. But that doesn’t mean all locals have a positive opinion of our black fellow Americans.
Before the Mill Street incident, there was the theft of two banners proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” from the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains in Grass Valley, and an incident at Rollins Lake more than a year ago when a black family was allegedly threatened by a guy wielding a shotgun. The district attorney’s office never charged anybody with a crime.
There’s been at least a half-dozen incidents in the 17 years I’ve lived here where black athletes and their supporters were harassed while competing against local teams at Nevada Union and Bear River high schools. One incident even triggered a fight after the game.
The most recent incident reported in The Union was in 2014, when the girls basketball team from Sheldon High School reported taunts and coins being thrown at them during a playoff game at NU. (NU’s principal and athletic director were at the game, and said later they saw nothing unusual.) Teenagers — particularly those who have never been exposed to people of other races — learn these attitudes at home.
But many people born and raised here have apparently never had much exposure either. I walked into a major grocery store in Grass Valley several years ago and noticed an attractive black woman who was expensively dressed — probably a lawyer or some other professional who was in town on business.
What fascinated me was the reaction of customers who were near enough to see her — primarily older white folks. They stared at her, slack-jawed, as if an exotic bird had just flown into the store. The woman knew she was the center of attention and was clearly uncomfortable, completing her shopping as quickly as she could and then heading for the checkout line.
It may be difficult for people living here to comprehend, but whites are a minority in the world. Based on current trends, they will cease being a majority in the United States during the lifetime of the county’s teenagers. It has already happened in California.
Our youth are going to have to co-exist and work with Americans who don’t look like them. If they attend one of our public colleges or universities, their classmates and teachers will span the spectrum of racial and ethnic groups. If they join the military after high school, they will be taking orders from and living with blacks, Hispanics and others who don’t trace their ancestry to Europe.
If they seek a career outside Nevada County, you can bet the people they work with won’t resemble those in their graduating class. Even if they never leave Nevada County, minority influences are everywhere.
Do you drink Pepsi? Charge with a MasterCard or American Express card? Use Yahoo? Take medicine manufactured by Merck? Attend games of the Sacramento Kings? All of those firms were founded, or are run or owned by minorities.
We’re not preparing our local youth for the world they’ll live in by perpetuating racial and ethnic animosity.
Maybe the kids will be smart enough to figure that out.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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