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NAACP rally speakers articulate climate on race

A tactic that was intended to scare people instead pulled people in Spokane together, said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the national NAACP.

Ben Jealous NAACP
Ben Jealous, NAACP's national president, came
to Spokane for a march in April.

He came to Spokane on April 3 to march with people and call the region together to challenge those who left a bomb along the route of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day march in January.

“At a time that diversity is going up and prosperity is going down, we need to embrace diversity and fix the economy for everyone,” he said.  “Too often when prosperity is down, diversity is used by those in power to divide the community.

“These are tense times in the country,” he said, noting that the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) has many martyrs.  “So it’s great to see a diverse crowd here wanting this to be one city and one country.”

The April march from the Veterans Arena to Riverfront Park also commemorated the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner affirmed, “This is our Spokane.  The placement of a bomb on the Martin Luther King Day march route was a clear call for increasing our vigilance.  We need to pay attention and respond to the subtle and not-so-subtle acts of racism and violence.

“We live in difficult times.  It’s our job to stand up for what is good and right in the community.  Today, we marched together.  We can’t be stopped.  Our steps convey the message that the people of Spokane will not be bullied or threatened.  We will not let our community be defined by an act of violence against people based on their skin color,” the mayor said.

NAACP march 4.3.11
Marchers with NAACP sign in Spokane

Speakers recalled efforts in the region of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations and the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, which were formed knowing that while hate groups may be small, they have a moral and physical impact on communities.

Speakers also expressed dismay at the escalation of bigotry against Muslims since Sept. 11, 2001.

V. Anne Smith, president of the Spokane Chapter of the NAACP, said that “racism affects our children, our jobs and our everyday lives.  We need to live and work together in peace.  Today, the bomb helps Spokane embrace its diverse cultures.  I see in my city every race, creed and color working together.  We need to work together so there is no racial profiling and so jobs are for all.”

Benjamin said the NAACP’s role is to act as the conscience of the nation.  It seeks to raise courageous children to bend the nation toward justice.

His father told him:  “Anyone can be scared, but it’s a question of what you do about it.  We need to be courageous and act in spite of our fear.” 

“We are one nation.  It’s important that we come together in these times,” Benjamin said, repeating that it’s important in times of falling prosperity and rising diversity to challenge attacks on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and other differences.

Benjamin believes “if we talk with our brothers and sisters in the tea party movement, we would find we have common beliefs and visions.”

For example, his father’s relatives in New England laud principles of the Constitution and the Pledge of Allegiance, which says that “we are ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’”

He pointed out that while blacks are one percent of the region’s population, they are less than one percent of public employees and are more likely to be mistreated by police or in schools.

Marchers at NAACP
Marchers along route from Veterans Arena to Riverfront Park

Idella Rattler, an Arapahoe raised on the Blackfoot reservation who teaches at Rogers High School, said that the school is addressing goals to reduce the achievement gap. 

For example, the school reached out to a student who dropped out after his house was vandalized by white supremacists.  Police did not consider it a hate crime.  He knew he would not get justice, so he became discouraged.

“Spokane needs to heal.  We each need to heal,” Idella said.  “My grandfather’s name was Indian Killer.  Without him, I would not be here.  He’s part of my history. I need to heal that reality. We need to heal ourselves, our communities and our nation to understand and respect diversity.”

While there is still much to do, she said she can endure, because at least today there are no longer signs that say, “No Indians and no dogs allowed,” because people came together and worked.

Larry Burnley, assistant vice president for intercultural relations and African American history professor at Whitworth, called for remembering that King was not killed because of his dream but because he reminded people of injustice.

While some talk of being “in a post-racial society,” African Americans still experience a high dropout, poverty and incarceration rates and poor health, he said.  In addition, some consider efforts to redress centuries of “affirmative action for whites”—in policies and practices that gave European Americans privileges in land, employment, health care, education, voting, Constitutional protection and preferential treatment in courts—as reverse racism.

Larry reminds that centuries of “immoral trade of human beings and enslaved labor resulted in the accumulation of massive amounts of wealth for whites.” 

When talking of repairing damage from this discrimination, he said, many whites do not want to be responsible for their ancestors’ sins, but “never question or acknowledge economic benefits they enjoy” because of ancestors’ sins and crimes against humanity.

He calls for teaching at every level about the institution of racism, the African Holocaust during the Middle Passage from Africa and slavery, and the courage of African Americans, whites and others who fought and died in the struggle for racial justice. 

marchers

NAACP marchers unite in call for jobs, good schools, security.

Rachel Dolezal, an activist and professor of African American studies at Eastern Washington University, said racism, hate, fear, intolerance, ignorance and selfishness exist in the community. 

“Although we don’t want to see the effects, we need to see what’s happening and hear what is going on, because nothing in human history ever changed when people pretended it didn’t exist,” she said.

“We wear race, disability, religious and gay blinders to edit out what we do not want to see.  Our goal is no blindness, because blind love is weak love.  We need to see the difference and appreciate it.  We need to take off our blinders and love our neighbors as ourselves,” she said.  “This means loving especially people who are different.  Racial hatred exists.  We can start to overcome it by taking off our blinders.  The greatest tragedy is when good people are silent.”

Liz Moore of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, said some are fooled into thinking that people of color, immigrants, gays or poor families are enemies:    “They are not the enemies. The enemies are racism, economic exploitation and militarism.”

With area school dropout, unemployment and food stamp rates higher in Spokane than the national average, she called for eliminating corporate loopholes that “make Swiss cheese” of the state and federal tax revenues, rather than cutting budgets in ways that increase the suffering of the poor.

“With the United States spending $200 million an hour on war, sucking funds from programs that protect families, we need to stop the military spending that Martin Luther King, Jr., called ‘the demonic, destructive suction tube,’” she said. “We need a movement modeled after the civil rights and labor movements.  We are in it together.  We all do better when everyone does better.”

For information, email spokanenaacp@yahoo.com.