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Politically Incorrect

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My great niece (Maddy) and my grandson (Tyler) My great niece (Maddy) and my grandson (Tyler)

Fed up with racism

At last year’s Festival at Sandpoint, thousands of people were charmed by the infectious, energetic performance of the Matsiko Children’s Choir, a group of young singing, dancing, at-risk children from Uganda drawing attention to the plight of youngsters in their country.

Not all were charmed, however. One couple left early in the performance, which was the opening act for Poco and Firefall, the kick-off to the 2009 season. Walking out the front gate, the couple were overheard to comment, “Niggers! I can’t believe they have niggers on the stage!”

Yeah, there’s still some bigots around.

I was reminded of this when I heard a story just the other day of a young man—who happens to be black—entering a downtown Sandpoint retail business who, upon being spotted by the (owner?), was blatantly ignored until he finally gave up and left the business.

I was born in Chicago, a town with its own long history of racial tension, and my parents were hillbillies, one from Texas and one from Tennessee. It would not be surprising to many to learn that my upbringing was steeped in racism, yet it wasn’t—somehow my parents managed to raise their children to be almost color blind. When my little ‘sister’ Chrissie went to kindergarten, she came home quite irate, asking “Why didn’t you ever tell me that black people were different than us?,”—a  ‘knowledge’ that had apparently been shared with her by either her teachers or her classmates.

Racism has been much discussed of late in light of the incident in which a black government employee was the target of a video slice-and-dice ploy to make her appear a racist herself; only this time, it was the all-powerful black woman exercising power over those poor, defenseless white guys.

That’s not to say reverse racism doesn’t exist: that was also demonstrated to me during last year’s Festival at Sandpoint, just one night after that oh-so-offended couple walked off the field. “You guys are all right!” That’s what I thought the lady said who came up to the information booth during the lull between performances. “Thank you,” I replied.

She gave me a rather strange look, then said to me, “No. You guys are all white!”

It was my turn to look dumbfounded.

She expanded. “Your performers, your volunteers, the people on the field. You’re all white!” It was obvious she wasn’t simply making an observation; this was in the nature of complaint.

Overlooking the irony of the Native American standing in the booth just behind me, I mentioned to this lady that the Festival was not as ‘white’ as she was assuming. I shared with her the performance of the Matsiko Children’s Choir of the night before,  and found myself, defensively, wanting to list every person of color included in the almost 700 volunteers and staff who are involved in putting together each year’s concert season.

And then I stopped. It was obvious this lady didn’t want to hear that her observation might be less than accurate, and she certainly didn’t want to hear that yes, the people staffing most events in this area are predominantly white because this community is predominantly white as well. Fact of life, honey. 

I, for one, am glad that the Festival has remained color blind in the sense that I was raised: they simply don’t notice the race or nationality of the people who descend on the field each and every year to make this event come off. And they certainly don’t take note of the race or nationality of the performers—black, white, Mexican, Chinese, Canadian, Irish, or Jamaican—by booking acts to fill in some type of culturally appropriate check box. Instead, they simply book acts that perform great music, regardless of their color, which means they book a great variety of races. Perhaps none of the artists reflects this cultural mix better than this year’s performer, Michael Franti, who was “born to an Irish-German-French mother and an African American and American Indian father in Oakland, then adopted by a Finnish American couple,” (according to his website).

Too often the arguments on both sides of the divide of racism not only have nothing to do with reality, they have nothing to do with achieving a better world. They are just about one person bitching and moaning about the world around them. In the midst of all this venting, people aren’t interested in hearing truth.

In the earlier mentioned Shirley Sherrod video—the real video, not the edited mashup put out by conservative Andrew Breitbart in order to, presumably, not just discredit Sherrod (a black government official) but to discredit that other black government official, the President of the United States—she suggests that racism was invented as a way to keep poor people divided, unable to join together to address the very real issues they face while trying to achieve the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” promised by our Constitution.

I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know it’s working. While we distract ourselves with the chimera that our skin color somehow makes us different from each other, we continue to deposit our hard earned money into banks too big to fail; continue to elect people to represent us who are too busy making sure they get their next handout from the lobbyists to actually do the work of representing “we the people;” continue to ignore that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is becoming more difficult to achieve every single day. And we continue to do nothing about it but bitch about the wrong things.

We need more events like the Festival at Sandpoint that showcase the talents of groups like the Matsiko Children’s Choir to remind us of our melting pot of cultures and races, an inspiration to other countries for hope. By focusing on ignoring black men in businesses, scoffing at underprivileged youth from Uganda, and editing videos of black women in politics, white people are discrediting the great country we live in.

As that Irish/German/French/African American/American Indian has said, “A child is born and a momma’s torn about the life that it’s bound to live. A sun and moon, and a modest home is all they asking the Lord to give. But politics and big events, they never seem to notice the little guy. So make a plan or hold a hand but don’t ever be a passer-by.”

The reality of this bright and wonderful America we live in today is that racism is alive and well, and while bigots can be found just about everywhere, with skin of every color, most of the racism that exists today is directed by white people against people of color.

It’s time to stop. It’s way past time to stop. 

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Landon Otis

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Sandpoint, Festival at Sandpoint, racism

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