May 21, 2011 in Editorial, Opinion

Editorial: As region’s complexion changes, stay committed


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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In sports it’s sometimes called a moral victory when you fall short of the leader – but make a surprisingly valiant showing.

So it’s a moral victory in more ways than one that’s reflected in the 2010 Census figures for racial and ethnic demographics in the Inland Northwest.

As human rights activist Tony Stewart stressed during an address in Coeur d’Alene this month, the notion that an all-white homeland could be established here has been utterly repudiated. Richard Butler is gone. The Aryan Nations compound is gone. And while the separatist agenda they tried to cultivate hasn’t exactly died, it is showing signs of shriveling.

Stewart noted that in 1990, 3.4 percent of Kootenai County’s population was nonwhite, and 7.3 percent of Spokane County’s. In 2010, the retired political science professor observed, the respective figures are 9.3 percent and 10.8 percent.

Yes, this area remains largely monocultural, but at least we’re a slightly darker shade of pale. Here, about one person in 10 belongs to a racial minority. Nationally, more than a fourth of Americans do.

Still, the degree of change deserves admiring mention. Spokane County and the state of Idaho achieved diversity growth at a slightly faster pace than the nation as a whole. That’s good, but Kootenai County’s figures showed a demographic shift four times as fast as the rest of the country.

Kootenai County – the same Kootenai County where neo-Nazis, skinheads and other racist misfits burned crosses and paraded down Sherman Avenue – made diversity gains over the past 20 years that tower over other areas.

In reality, again, Kootenai County started statistically way back. It had more potential for improvement.

But this is also the same Kootenai County where Butler and his followers thought recruiting an army of bigots would make the community so hostile to nonwhites that they would flee and stay away. The same Kootenai County that stood up to the thugs and won a Raoul Wallenberg award for humanitarianism.

That happened not just because courageous local leaders such as Stewart, Bill Wassmuth and others energized the community’s sense of decency and fairness, but also because upstanding citizens heard the call and heeded it.

It wasn’t always comfortable for them, knowing some of their neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances might be silently sympathetic with Butler’s basic beliefs. Even today, some readers undoubtedly will grind their teeth over these words, so the need for human rights warriors – and followers – remains.

Diversity in numbers is only a statistic unless it’s matched by authentic celebration of human values. Compared with the nation, Kootenai County’s dramatically changing complexion represents a victory over Butlerian thinking. A moral victory, perhaps, but also moral justice.

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