Northwest NEWS

April 3, 2000


This isn't just a problem of 'them'

   I toyed with the idea of writing this anonymously. I considered not writing it at all. I love this community. I love our beautiful Valley. I'd rather ignore disturbing incidents. I'd rather keep silent. I don't want to think that if I overturn a stone, I'll find a great pit of ugliness underneath.

   When I saw a Jeep sporting a Confederate flag in the Duvall Days parade last May, I was mostly puzzled. In my Pacific Northwest oblivion, I didn't know the implications of that flag. Then, during Art Walk, I saw neo-Nazi literature in a local business, with a sign inviting people to take it--free. This time, I wasn't puzzled; I felt as if I'd been hit in the stomach with a brick.

   While we are not Jewish, we have, for reasons of our own, celebrated Jewish holidays in our home for the last several years. This hasn't seemed to bother anyone. Yet a friend tells me her daughter, on the school bus, heard a student call someone a Jew, as if it were an insult.

   I've been thinking anti-Semitism and racism aren't a problem for me or for my community. We don't seem to experience strained race relations here. Suddenly, I've realized that we experience relatively few race relations at all. We are living with the legacy of segregation, which separated us for most of the last century.

   Until 1948, restrictive housing covenants prevented most people of color from living outside of specific areas. After such covenants became illegal, the practice continued with voluntary agreements between realtors and homeowners until the mid-to-late 1960s. In Seattle, groups such as the Urban League and Christian Friends for Racial Equality worked throughout the '40s, '50s, and '60s to promote open housing. Even so, we are still largely separate a generation later.

   I can no longer pretend that racism, anti-Semitism, class-ism, and whatever other walls we build, are not here. I see what I do not want to see in my community and am then faced with overturning the stones in my own soul.

   I must appraise my attitudes: Why are most of my friends white and Christian? Why have I not bothered to learn even rudimentary Spanish, when there are many Spanish-speaking people in our valley? Why has it taken me so long to read the works of Maya Angelou and Alice Walker?

   This isn't just a problem of "them." It isn't "those bigots out there." Bigotry begins with our own pain and fear, salved by identifying ourselves with people "just like us." Bigotry is reinforced by isolating ourselves from those "not like us," and finally, by making assumptions about those we have never come to know. I am as guilty of this as the local neo-Nazis and Confederate flag-bearers.

   I write this with pain in my heart. I write it not wanting to give power to evil. I write it knowing that during the Holocaust, during the time of Jim Crow laws, during the internment of Japanese-American citizens, it was the silence of the majority that most damned us.

   What am I to do? What are "we" to do?

Katherine Bond, Duvall