The Spokesman-Review


Editorial: NAACP leader’s visit can advance our dialogue

Benjamin Todd Jealous, head of the NAACP, is leading a march in Spokane today to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. After the walk from Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena to Riverfront Park, he will deliver a speech.

For some, his appearance will shine an unwanted spotlight on the Inland Northwest. Spokane was chosen because of the bomb found at a Martin Luther King Day Jr. march on Jan. 17, which added to the area’s litany of white supremacist activities. The alleged would-be bomber is a Kettle Falls native who lived near Addy. His extensive writings at racist websites have been well-documented.

Some who are skeptical of Jealous’ visit wonder when the commotion about racism will ever end. Probably never. No community has ever stamped out the darkness that infects the hearts and minds of bigots.

But public soul-searching itself has a cleansing effect. We prefer to view his appearance as an honor and another opportunity to have a forthright discussion about race and tolerance.

We doubt the leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is here to talk down to Inland Northwest residents. After all, his organization is going through changes that challenge the thinking of the old guard. At age 38, Jealous is a relatively young leader. He was born five years after King’s assassination and 19 years after Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court decision that signaled the beginning of the end of segregation.

The NAACP has only recently begun knocking down some internal walls. Its recently revived Worcester, Mass., chapter selected an openly gay man as its president. A New Jersey branch chose a Hispanic leader. A white man was selected to lead its Jackson State University chapter in Mississippi.

This diversity push has rankled some longtime members, but it is a reminder that intolerance can take root anywhere and sprout in many forms. It especially likes to grow in places where complacency provides ground cover.

While some Inland Northwest residents may wince when being told that “excessive racial hatred” still exists, there is no denying the troubled history and the role of passivity. Newly arrived racists interpreted the area’s “mind your own business” culture as tacit acceptance. If not acceptance, they figured they had found a place where they wouldn’t be bothered while they followed their sickening beliefs.

But in response to racist activities, local human rights organizations have formed and events have been established to walk the beat against intolerance. Jealous’ visit should not be viewed as community chastisement, but as a continuation of this encouraging trend toward a consistent and outward embrace of tolerance and diversity.

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