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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Racism, here? Denial convenient, misguided

Remember the KKK snowman?

In December, a Hayden Lake doofus built a 10-foot, pointy-hooded snowman holding a noose in his front yard. Hilarious. Idaho made the news again.

What struck me at the time was not the bigoted display, but the utter normalcy of the guy’s home. Small and white, with gray trim and a two-car garage. Inside the garage hung a Confederate flag and one touting white power – along with the ultimate automotive symbol of the Northwest mainstream: a Subaru Outback.

Honk if you love white people!

We’re not a haven for racists, exactly. But there is a thread of denial and defensiveness about our reputation as a haven for racists that’s woven tightly into the regional fabric – an insistence that what is right before our eyes or alongside us at the stoplight isn’t really there. Or that if we just ignore it, it will go away. This is our real race problem here in Whiteyville: Our insistence that we don’t have one accommodates the one we have.

The accommodators range from those who don’t want any bad vibes troubling the swells at the Coeur d’Alene Resort to those who think the Aryan Nations did sort of have a point. (Have you been to California lately? So many brown people!)

The latest dose of accommodation comes from the Coeur d’Alene Press, which is owned by grandiosity magnate Duane Hagadone. The Press published an editorial last week glibly dismissing the work of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations as yesterday’s news.

The editorial – which has drawn outraged responses from task force stalwarts Tony Stewart and Norm Gissel – dealt with the departure of Human Rights Education Institute honcho Dan LePow, who raised less money than was hoped.

The unsigned editorial assures readers that “We are ardent supporters of human rights causes in general and HREI in particular.” But the Press’s ardor for human rights runs aground on the shoals of not really wanting to get all specific about local racism. It’s such a bummer. Makes it hard to raise money from the wine-sipping cheese eaters who like their human rights more along the lines of “children’s safety” and “international peace.”

“In our view, there is too much emphasis from the task force on what was, and not enough on what is or what can be,” the editorial says. “Constantly reliving the rise and fall of (Richard) Butler’s pathetic little empire does more than keep the past alive and give it ever greater significance in the annals of North Idaho; it reopens wounds among a compassionate populace. And it provides parasitic modern-day racists with the attention they must have to survive.”

In other words: The task force, by going on and on about racism, fosters racists. I think they might have that backward. And I wonder: Which wounds among which compassionate people are reopened by talk of the Butler saga, exactly?

Maybe it’s some of the folks who commented on the editorial online.

“I just moved here from a state which is in a very sad state of affairs,” writes one. “It is the poster child for ‘diversity’ and tolerance, etc. I moved here to get away from that which comes with the price of gangs, violence and lots of grafitti. … Native Idahoans, be carefull what you ask or wish for. Go ahead and sing Cumbaya around the campfire and welcome everyone here and you’ll really see Northern Idaho go by the way of LA, Oakland, etc. and then … lets see just how much racial tolerance you have. Take a look at what has happened to Moses Lake, WA. I’m not saying bring back the Nazi skinheads but you’d better rethink a few things. Trust me!”

That person does seem wounded, after all. Mentally wounded.

Here’s another:

“If anyone wants to experience first-hand serious real racism and racial fear go to East Los Angeles. Take your families for a lovely evening stroll along the streets of Compton and I assure you will have a mind opening and unforgettable adventure in racial intolerance.”

That poor soul. Visiting Compton! Hurry back to Idaho, where there’s absolutely no racism!

These bigots are here, and they are here, in their own words, because we’re such a white loaf of bread. For every guy who builds a snowman, there is some unknown number of morons telling horror stories about Compton and Moses Lake. And for every one of those, there is some unknown number who would never say that because they’re less socially maladjusted – but who might point out that, while they personally have nothing against people of color, of course, they feel that things have gotten very bad for white dudes. And behind every one of those folks, there’s someone saying ignore it, pay no attention, your tee time’s coming up …

Gissel and Stewart have responded to the Press editorial specifically and at length. Stewart pointed out 22 rock-solid reasons the task force remains a vital organization, ranging from current hate crimes to the organization’s many, many instances of leadership in raising money and fighting bigotry.

We’ll probably never fully win this battle, but we can sure lose it.

Failing to fight it at all would be an excellent way to start.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.
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