These last two weeks Americans have watched Ferguson, Mo., with sadness and dismay. Can’t we do any better than this? Haven’t we moved beyond racial profiling and violent response?
Churches, civic groups, government officials and average citizens stepped up and said no to the violence, and no to the racial profiling. In some ways it seems very far away from us here.
Montana and Wyoming are among the least racially diverse states in the union, (and also the most sparsely populated). We have a hard time relating to the kind of urban tinderbox that set off the tragedy that took the life of a young man, ruined the career of another, and broke a fragile trust between races.
And yet we have our own legacy of racism and violence here in this land that was claimed by European Americans for their own use, as if people didn’t already live here. Native people did live here and do live here, and still suffer from the arrival of Europeans on this soil.
This past weekend, Havre residents woke up to find leaflets from the Ku Klux Klan on their doorsteps. Havre, situated between the Fort Belknap Reservation and the Rocky Boy Reservation, has a large Native American population. Havre citizens, both Indian and non-Indian, were shocked to find these missals of hatred at their front doors.
Racism is an insidious and ugly thing. It dehumanizes us all by treating human beings as if they are less than human. We see it all kinds of places — between Israelis and Palestinians, between Sunnis and Shiites, between Tutsis and Hutus, between members of rival gangs, between religious groups who both claim the truth and denounce everyone else.
Diana Eck, a native of Bozeman teaching at Harvard, wrote a book titled "Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras". In it she describes a range of attitudes towards “the other.” The first is exclusivism, a closed position which says: “I am right and everybody else is wrong.” The second is inclusivism, a more open position which says, “I acknowledge your position and your right to it, I just happen to think mine is right.” The third is pluralism, a completely open position that is so genuinely accepting that it accepts the possibility of being changed. Eck write about religious attitudes, but the same can be applied to attitudes about race and culture.
We live in a delightfully pluralist world in which intolerance is obsolete. We don’t all have to think alike, believe alike, or act alike. But we do need to respect diversity. And we need to say no to hatred and intolerance.
Billings faced a would-be Klan effort a number of years ago, and defeated it soundly. Billings said “no” to the leaflets, and “yes” to being a community of tolerance and diversity. I am confident that Havre will follow suit. There is no room in our state for hate.
Jessica Crist, of Great Falls, is bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Montana Synod.