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By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)
As most of us knew from the very beginning of this political season
when a Black man and a White woman entered the final leg of the
presidential contest, gender and race would also enter the arena.
Since day one Sen. Hillary Clinton has taken her lumps for being a
woman. Sen. Barack Obama started to get his lumps last week on the
heels of the comments made by his pastor Jeremiah Wright. But in the
case of Obama, the Republicans chose to attack him more for what
they called his lack of patriotism rather than his race. Attacking
him for his race would have been much too blatant and would have
been seen as overt racism.
However, the comments by the Rev. Wright about America really
steamed Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and the Glen
Beck of talk radio. Of the attacks on the twin towers on September
11, 2001, Wright said it was the “Chickens coming home to roost.”
Instead of “God Bless America,” Rev. Wright said it should be, “God
Damn America.” Now that is like waving the red flag of
anti-patriotism in the faces of the conservative talks show hosts.
Their main despair was if Barack Obama sat in the pews of this
church and heard these attacks upon America, which he admitted
doing, why didn’t he leave the church? Or, according to many white
Americans, why didn’t he cast the Rev. Wright out of his life?
The gender thing started early in Sen. Clinton’s campaign. For
instance, have you ever heard anyone on television or radio comment
on the suit worn by Obama or about his hair style? There have been
plenty of comments about the clothing worn by Sen. Clinton and about
her hair styles. In fact when she wore a yellow pants suit it was
called her “Bumble Bee” outfit by Ingrahams. Does this say something
about bringing gender into the race?
Let’s get back to the issue of race. Americans, black and white,
seem to think that racial discrimination only involves African
Americans. Even in his speech to dispel doubts about his connections
to the Rev. Wright, Obama talked about Hispanics and Asian
Americans, but he did not mention American Indians.
When it comes to race relations, Native Americans are the invisible
people. Any Indian living in North or South Dakota, Montana, Idaho,
Arizona or even Washington, has felt the pain and the shame of
racial prejudice. It has come in the school yard, in the search for
decent housing, in restaurants and department stores. When I was
publisher of Indian Country Today, the paper covered the story of an
Indian man suspected of shoplifting at a department store in Rapid
City and how he was wrestled to the floor and humiliated by the
store’s security only to find out that not only was he not
shoplifting, he was also a minister in the Episcopal Church. By
reporting this story my newspaper lost a very valuable advertiser.
The local daily did not carry the story.
There are still many issues about race that arise nearly every week
in the states I mentioned involving Indians and Whites. Several
school districts in South Dakota have taken the issue to court and
won. The ACLU has stood up for the rights of the Indian people
across America because the state and federal courts have often been
so lopsided in dealing justice to Native Americans. In many Western
states there is a dual system of justice when it involves Indians.
But even in the face of bigotry and discrimination, Native Americans
have continued to be among the most loyal and patriotic of any
ethnic group. According to The American Legion Magazine, 181,000
Indians have served in America’s wars. 21,947 American Indians and
Alaska natives are now on active duty. 3,868 American Indians and
Alaska natives are currently deployed in combat zones. 47 American
Indians and Alaska natives have been killed in combat in Iraq and
Afghanistan since the war on terror began.
For several days last year our local daily newspaper printed the
names of individuals with outstanding arrest warrants. Starting with
A and running to Z the daily list was tedious, but it was noted
immediately by nearly every Native American reading that newspaper
that the vast majority of the names listed each day were those of
Native Americans. This brings up the question: Are all Native
Americans prone to criminal acts or is there an awful lot of
profiling going on here? Although Indians make up only 10 percent of
South Dakota’s population, nearly 33 percent incarcerated in the
South Dakota State Prison are Native Americans.
I have no doubt that if either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton is
elected president there will be a solid review of race relations in
America. I only hope that they also include the long history of
racial prejudice and discrimination against America’s smallest
minority, the American Indian.
(Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, was born, raised and educated on the
Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was a Nieman Fellow at
Harvard in the Class of 1991. He can be reached at email@example.com)
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Vernellia Randall. All Rights Reserved
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