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Evan Barrett

EVAN BARRETT

The anniversary of Charlottesville provides an opportunity to reflect on racial hatred and white supremacy; how each of us deals with that ugly side of America. We can also reflect on how the leader of our nation has equivocated about Nazis and white supremacists in stark contrast with our national goal of equality for all.

Each of us has the opportunity by word and deed to live our lives committed to that value and aspiration – to live up to the meaning of our national motto: e pluribus unum – “out of many, one.”

But our top elected leader — a person who claims “good people” are found in white supremacy groups, a person known for ugly, harsh and harmful attacks — routinely singles out people of color for some of his worst verbal assaults.

Of particular concern is how Republican members of Congress and candidates remain mostly silent as the president deeply divides America in a hollow effort to strengthen his political hand. Their values are crassly set aside to protect their political positions.

Some of them may claim the president is only trying to correct “political correctness,” or just call his insults simply “racially-tinged” or “racially-insensitive.” Some may actually think, based on his decades-long record, that he is a stone-cold racist. One or two of them may occasionally speak out. But from most GOP leaders, we hear nothing.

Sir Thomas Moore, modernly made famous in the award-winning play and movie “A Man for All Seasons” tells his accusers of the maxim of law “silence gives consent.” Much of our Republican leadership is, in their silence, consenting to the shredding of our values by the current temporary occupant of the White House. Let us all hope that the diminution of our fundamental values will be only temporary.

American values can be restored if each of us lives by them and demands the same from our leaders. By speaking out we honor our citizenship. My voice, my speaking out, is also honoring what I learned from my parents.

In 1952, when I was seven years old, my Mom and Dad operated a movie theater in a small central Montana town, where the KKK had a presence. With few television sets in those days, the “picture show” was the center of social activity. Live entertainment was often onstage. My folks booked a touring piano player, Robert Allen, to perform onstage. Allen had won the Horace Height Amateur Hour on radio – like today’s American Idol. When Mom and Dad promoted the event with photos in the weekly newspaper, it was clear that Allen was African-American. City “leaders” came to my father, telling him that while Allen could entertain, the sun was not allowed to set with a “negro” in town, so he’d have to immediately leave after the show.

My brothers and I, ages 10, 8 and 7, listened as my parents struggled with the problem. Outraged and offended, they refused to bend to the community code. Dad went to each motel and hotel in town to book a room but, was told there were no rooms available. My parents chose to do what was right. They decided that Allen could stay overnight at our house, within the town limits, and offered that to him.

That powerful lesson has never left the consciousness of the three of us. I strive daily to live up to those American values set by my folks.

Most of us learned to appreciate the values of America in our own way, in our own families. While those experiences may not have been as dramatic, they are personally determinant. If we all live up to our values, our nation will benefit.

In the shadow of Charlottesville, silence does give consent. Do not be silent.

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Evan Barrett, of Butte, retired in 2017 after 48 years in Montana government. He writes columns and occasionally teaches Montana history.

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