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Vigilance, perseverance, solidarity needed


Vigilance, perseverance and solidarity are and will always be needed. We can never assume because of some progress that hate, bigotry, racism, violence or intolerance are fully overcome, although overcoming was the dream, hope and theme song of the 1960s and since.

We always must be ready to take the risk of speaking out and being targeted by consistently raising our voices and putting our livelihoods and lives on the line. We must continue to educate and resist hate like the few who shouted racial slurs, waved a confederate flag and revved their big truck engines to intimidate the University of Utah women's basketball team going to dinner in Coeur d'Alene.

Their voices and intolerance made the headlines even though other voices from the community stood in solidarity with the team that is racially diverse as are most college campuses.

The community is ashamed that image of of them went out again. Residents, businesses and government don't want Coeur d'Alene known for intolerance that drives away tourists and does not represent the sentiment of most people in the community.

The hate reinforces the assumption of groups who choose not to meet in Eastern Washington or North Idaho because such racism exists. What solidarity might help overcome the stigma that furthers the image we're in a haven for bigots? What actions, coverage and presence will strengthen area residents who promote diversity and decry intolerance and hate?

In the 1960s, people of faith and conscience went to the South in solidarity with the civil rights advocates who invited their help. Southern Poverty Law Center attorneys helped drive out the Aryan Nations here in the 1990s.

What solidarity is needed here today?

As human rights leader Tony Stewart said in a press conference, those who hate feel license to act on their hate because of the current tone of national politics in which bigotry is seen as a ticket to power.

It's not freedom of speech when ultra-conservatives seek to ban books, ban Black history, ban indigenous history, ban affirmative action, ban diversity-equity-inclusion, ban LGBTQIA+ voices, ban immigration and silence others.

Those espousing bigotry and hate use racial slurs and threats to silence voices for human rights and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). They threaten, demean and undermine the confidence, safety, rights and livelihoods of people.

Being white does not equate to being white supremacist or white nationalist but calls for responsibility. In a predominantly white area, most of those speaking out against the hate are white. That does not mean they are safe when they speak or that they won't be targeted by the few.

The incident represents why the Gonzaga Center for the Study of Hate, the Human Rights Education Institute (HREI) , the Kootenai County Task Force for Human Relations, the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force, Human Rights Spokane, NAACP Spokane—along with the antiracism, antisemitism and anti-islamophobia efforts of faith communities, schools, businesses, human services, nonprofits and governments—must not allow themselves to be distracted by progress or when voices of hate tone down.

It's why the Equal Rights Act, Civil Rights Act, Voters Rights Act, affirmative action and diversity-equity-inclusion efforts were, are and always will be crucial.

We see how backlash to electing a Black president still reverberates in the rhetoric of some political candidates who are trying to silence the efforts needed so our nation and our world can live together in peace and unafraid. We want to be able to celebrate our rich multiethnic, multiracial, multicultural, multifaith diversity so we learn from each other and with each other.

That's why schools, universities, businesses, nonprofits, governments and faiths do need diversity training and multiethnic studies.

That's why NAACP Spokane was ready to lead a "Town Hall about Racist Language" in a newsletter sent to parents at Wilson Elementary inviting students to a Jazz Night that would "take a trip back to the times of slavery in America" to discover how jazz grew. It invited students to dress as slaves or hobos.

The NAACP Spokane responded saying this type of entertainment is deplorable, unacceptable and demeaning to African Americans, especially to youth. The town hall addressed what students and teachers of color experience in Spokane public schools when such incidents happen.

The Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane continues to offer BOLD (Building Organizing Leadership Development) to build awareness of race and class, breaking the silence in the region to reject racism and fearmongering.

The Human Rights Education Institute was also present in Coeur d'Alene to immediately speak up about the racial incident the NCAA visiting college basketball team experienced.

In a statement, they said it stirred "a high volume of challenging and uplifting conversations with community members," affirming that "the actions of a few individuals do not exemplify our region."

They call for rising above the racist rhetoric to say there is no tolerance in Coeur d'Alene or the region for "discrimination or hateful acts that seek to intimidate or cause harm and insecurity within our communities, especially among newcomers and visitors. All are welcome here."

HREI also called for working with local leaders to promote vigilance and education and to bring people together to be part of the change that makes the world just for everyone.

They affirmed their commitment to reflect on such tragedies, fight for equality for all, investigate their own privilege, always speak in love, unity and empathy, offer HREI space for inclusive, safe conversations, work to reduce poverty, train local law enforcement on racial equity, increase understanding to reduce prejudice, equip educators in antiracism and oppose any form of racism.

No place will be safe or welcoming if we cave into the backlash, bigotry and threats that always follow any progress toward becoming the beloved community.

Mary Stamp - editor

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, April 2024