I am never quite sure if there is a real difference. “Latent” is defined as not visible or dormant. Well, to those of us who feel the effects of this sentiment, almost nothing is missed or ‘not visible.’ Even the dormant talk in their sleep.
There is probably a third category that is simply ignorance. Of course, all racism is borne out of ignorance and when ignorance continues to feed racism, it is deplorable and condemnable. But the ignorance I am talking about is almost innocent. It is not meant as an insult or to be demeaning but is, rather, a function of not knowing or being oblivious to embracing racist ideas or practices with no ill intent. That being said, someone who is not racist certainly can do and say racist things. The difference is that when it is pointed out, they can see it, recognize it and make the proper adjustments.
The defining point for the latent racist is when they are called out on it. Now this goes beyond the guy who says, “What do you mean? I have a black friend” or “What do you mean? I like Indians.”
To me, there is almost a unique category of racism that pertains to Native peoples. As I mentioned, by and large most non-Native people are oblivious to us. The words ‘Indian’ and ‘Native American’ invoke visions of Pilgrims or cowboys and Indians from the movies. We aren’t viewed as a threat or to have any impact on them whatsoever. But among this vast non-Native population an underlying racist attitude has been quietly, but no less insidiously, planted. The trick to all this, in my opinion, is raising awareness without pushing them over the racist cliff.
We see this with the mascot issue and any time we stand together. When the dominant culture around us feels threatened even with the idea of losing something as meaningless as a team logo, that line gets drawn.
An Edmonton newspaper had to shut down its Facebook page in the midst of the Idle No More movement because of the ugly and overwhelming level of hate that erupted there. Every mainstream print, TV/radio and online media outlet that addresses the mascot issue and uses a forum for comments has at least half the comments filled with insult and hate. And depending on their political leaning, a whole lot more than half. This isn’t even a real issue in and of itself; it is merely a demonstration and a symbol of the unique racism held toward Native people.
It is tough to judge the real level of this racism. Clearly, many remain silent on the issues and in doing so are complicit in fostering this sentiment. The loudest and most well funded voices will always get heard above the silent majority but I can’t help wonder where that silent majority really falls on this.
It’s great to hear people say that they never realized how offensive an expression or an image is and to be genuinely regretful for having been a part of promoting such things. I truly believe most people do not harbor ill will toward Native peoples, but plenty certainly do.
Many of those filling up social media with hate speech are not the latent racist variety awakened from their dormant state but are simply the blatant racists, happy in their ignorance and wearing it proudly around their necks. These aren’t just the guys or gals who struggle with generationally embedded racism; no, these are the ones on a mission to recruit more racists and advance social tensions and even violence. Michele Tittler and her attack on a 13 year-old Native girl wearing a “Got Land?” hoodie to school comes to mind. But it isn’t just the lunatic fringe at home with their computers on the Internet that concerns me. There are also guys like Frank Parlato, the owner of the Niagara Falls Reporter, a small newspaper in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Every week, this little man publishes his racist views targeted specifically at the Seneca. He makes his case with lies and half-truths and actually suggests that the non-Native people of Niagara Falls are living under apartheid to the Seneca people. While he and his views may be insignificant, the fact that he generates enough ad revenue to print 20,000 copies weekly of this nonsense begs the question as to how widely held these racist views are and how effectively is he spreading them.
I believe it is our job as Native people in the media, as few as we may be, to enlighten people and provide the information to those willing to receive it. I, for one, feel well received by the non-Native community as I share my thoughts and views. I don’t think promoting Native sovereignty, autonomy and distinction is the same thing as promoting racial tension or hostility. There are vast arrays of beliefs, philosophies, religions and behaviors that I do not embrace, some right within my own communities, but I feel no need to attack those that subscribe to these different views or condemn them unless they truly intend to do harm and use those views for justification or cause. As strong and animated as my own rhetoric may become, it will never be my intent to promote hate or violence or to express my freedom at the expense of others.
For those harboring blatant racism, I hope much of it is generational and will die with them. And the latent racist, well, let’s just hope they continue to sleep it off.
– John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk, a national expert commentator on Native American issues, hosts two weekly radio programs — “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane,” ESPN Sports Radio WWKB-AM 1520 in Buffalo, N.Y., Sundays, 9-11 p.m. EST and “First Voices Indigenous Radio,” WBAI-FM 99.5 in New York City, Thursdays, 9-10 a.m. EST. John is a frequent guest on WGRZ-TV’s (NBC/Buffalo) “2 Sides” and “The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter” in Albany. John’s “Native Pride” blog can be found at “www.letstalknativepride.blogspot.com. He also has a very active “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane” group page on Facebook.