The Silver Valley Race Issue: Past, Present, and Future
North Idaho is a Mecca
Northern Idaho is a Mecca for people who want privacy and seclusion. “The U.S. Census published only 15.6 people inhabit each square mile in Idaho, compared to the national average of 79.6” (Lirette, 2011). It has been rumored that people come to Shoshone County to enjoy isolation and freedom to teach their children racial hate and intolerance. I can neither confirm or deny this statement, I certainly hope it is not true. Racism defined by the Encarta Dictionary is, “animosity toward other races or a belief in racial superiority.” Discrimination and bigotry may not be as obvious in Northern Idaho as in some parts of the United States, but the hidden truth about Northern Idaho is that white power is unfortunately alive and well, and classism, is as prevalent as racial prejudice.
The Idaho Panhandle
Looking around Kellogg, Idaho, I see only white people everywhere I go with the exception of the occasional biracial child, which is rarity and the two families that own ethnic food restaurants. Kellogg, Idaho is part of the Idaho panhandle. The Idaho panhandle encompasses the ten most northern counties of, Benewah, Bonner, Boundary, Clearwater, Idaho, Kootenai, Latah, Lewis, Nez Perce, and Shoshone. Shoshone-County is often referred to as the Silver Valley. The name links the area to a rich history of silver mining. This writer is Caucasian. The people of my community are primarily the same as I. Kellogg (Shoshone-County) is comprised of 93.7% White alone, 1.8% Hispanic, 0.3% Asian alone, 0.3% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander and 0.1% Black alone (http://www.city-data.com/city/kellogg-idaho.html#ixzz1DUaOU5rQ).
The Silver Valley
The leaders in my community are individuals who have been in leadership a long time. According to Christina Mace, a newer community leader in the Silver Valley, “New people come in and out of the community, but they are referred to as transplants and are also viewed differently than those who were born and raised in the Valley” (C. Mace, personal communication, February 9, 2011). The leaders of the community are often very familiar with the history of the Valley, but their bias and prejudicial ways follow with the history in the decision-making of the community. They resist any deviation from the past because it is new, and the result would be unknown. They bring with them prejudices against poor members of the community and those that, in their minds, do not have the right to come into a community like the Silver Valley with a strong, but difficult history, and make changes. Mrs. Mace goes on to say, “Racial difference are not directly challenged in the leadership of the community because no one voices them, however there is never any African American, Native Americans, or Mexicans Americans in any leadership role.” Individuals within the leadership come from different cultural backgrounds like Italians, Germans, or Europeans. The leaders of the community do not seem to make any decisions based on cultural differences between themselves and others, but do make decisions that are seemingly self-serving. From my familiarity, this community is more prejudice against the poor of the community rather than any particular racial minority. And there are no plans to revive the community, or bring jobs. In contrast, all interest from outside business has been turned away. There are no programs for the teenage population, expect for a few church programs. Dave Smith was allowed to purchase and tear down a historic building that housed the only movie theater in town. The loss of the movie theater was difficult for the lost adolescent children that were trying to stay out of trouble and to have something to enjoy.
Within the Shoshone community, becoming a part of a group of like-minded individuals is important. I see the areas that this community and its leaders need to work on, but it is unlikely that change will occur without proper motivation. The minority groups in this Valley are not represented , but difficult if your status is one of outsider or transplant. There are community partnerships that work toward the common good. This community raises thousands of dollars for cancer sufferers and children needing sports, events, and college preparation activities. These community fundraising efforts demonstrate the positive side of what the community leaders strive for, a sense of community. The minority group in the Silver Valley is primarily the poor, but there are groups in the community that focus their efforts on this population, namely, Real Life Ministries, Community Action Partnership, Grace E. Free Church, Silver Valley Worship Center, and the Fuller Center.
According to Mrs. Mace, “The free and reduced lunch program at the school helps all minority groups including the poor by providing food through the USDA.” She also noted, “The local Kiwanis group provides hats and gloves during the winter to the preschool children enrolled in the Head Start program which is an income based program.” Mrs. Mace reported that other groups like the local Elks and VFW groups provide monies to help sponsor the local one-on-one basketball tournament that allows children from all cultural and racial groups be involved in their community. Even though the minorities in the Silver Valley are not directly segregated by racial groups, and the differences are economic status, the issues facing this group does not seem to be addressed well by this community. I do agree with the community leader’s statement concerning the divide of wealthy members as opposed to the poor as a community problem, and her lack of acknowledgement of racial discrimination in Northern Idaho is not surprising.
Majority White Population
It has been found that people tend to turn a blind eye to racial issues. Because I am Caucasian, and more than 98% of my peers and community leaders are also White, I do not see open racism in my community, but just because one does not see this happening every day, it does not mean it does not exist. Newspapers and local news programs are representative of the majority. Although, I share the same racial identifier, we are not all the same and think the same. Shopping at a store one day, recently I witnessed two children, elementary and middle school aged, laughing and pointing at a couple. This couple consisted of a Black man and American Indian women. They signaled for their Caucasian mother to look. I observed her reaction when she turned in the couple’s direction. Her face wore a look of contempt and disgust.
Crosses Burning in North Idaho
It may be uncommon for the county of Shoshone to participate in the burning of crosses, but on January 19th, 2011 during the observance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday a cross was found burning in my town of Kellogg, Idaho. “The cross was wrapped in burlap and was about three and a half feet tall.” (http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/hbo/2011/jan/19/kellogg-reports-cross-burning/) A local blogger continued to state, “I believe that there are several supremacists who have been living under their rocks quietly for a while, but now they’re confronted with the election of the first black president and emboldened by the opposition to him.”
Xenophobia, the fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners, as described in the text, ‘Racial and Ethnic Groups.’ This student’s theory concerning the root of discrimination is based on fear. Fear of the unknown, fear based on the differences between unlike cultures. People believe the way they are and how they act is better than another’s way. Superiority is a driving force in discrimination and can be a springboard for hatred. The definition of racism is “A doctrine that one race is superior” (Schaefer, R).
In contrast to the functionalists’ emphasis on stability, conflict sociologists see the social world as being in a continual struggle. Society is a struggle between the privileged (the dominant group) and the exploited (the subordinate groups). Resistance can be seen in efforts by racial and ethnic groups to maintain their identity through newspapers, organizations, and in today’s technological age, cable television stations, and Internet sites. Resistance manifests itself in social movements such as the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and gay rights efforts (Schaefer, R.T).
Kill the Inner Ostrich
Exposing negative points of view to highlight many community members inner-conflict is necessary. It would be constructive for Northern Idaho to kill their inner ostrich; therefore, dealing with the hidden supremacists, hate mongers, and the people who do not even realize they are prejudice. Shine light on the truth by first making the problem known, and encourage the community leaders to take an active role of equality modeling. One Idaho School segregates its students by separating the class by the color’s green and yellow. They are then forbidden to associate with people of the opposite color and can experience isolation and unfairness from their fellow classmates because they are not the right color or the majority. This color lesson would be an interesting way for the entire community to experience what it is like to be a minority. Northern Idaho, primarily Kellogg being my town, is not the South by any measure concerning the words racism and discrimination. It is; however, a place where racial hatred lays below the surface of a quite mostly Caucasian region, where a negative glance to outsiders based on color happens and the occasional cross is burned.
Spokesman Review (2010). Kellogg Reports Cross Burning. From http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/hbo/2011/jan/19/kellogg-reports-cross-burning
lesmorsay (2013). Is Racism Still an Issue in North Idaho? From https://lesmorsay.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/is-racism-still-an-issue-in-north-idaho/
Schaefer, R.T (2006). Racial and Ethnic Groups. Tenth Edition, chapter 4 p 1, chapter 1 p 8 & 12.Prentice-Hall.Pearson Education