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By Judith Heilman

February 18, 2017

No doubt about it. Xenophobia in the United States is alive and thriving. It pretty much went afire during the 2017 presidential primaries and then became a conflagration immediately after the Inauguration. Now, with the Muslim ban that our new president and supporters want to enact, there is major pushback on xenophobia from immigrants and those supporting immigrants. That push back is completely justifiable and I’m one of those actively resisting. But…

There is a single lens – a single frame – that many look through on this issue and it needs to be pointed out. We read it in the statements and on the signs which say, “We Are All Immigrants.” We see it in, “This Nation Was Built By Immigrants.” Both viewpoints exclude the obvious fact that Indigenous in this country were here for tens of thousands of years before anyone else set foot on this land. Both frames completely disregard that nearly all the Black folk in this country are descendants of independant people brought here against their will – kidnapped – in chains, ripped from their families, miraculously surviving marches sometimes thousands of miles long and a sardine-packed prison journey across the Middle Passage. They were slaves who helped build this country's economy (and the White House) with the scars of whippings on their backs.  

Both Native Americans and African Americans managed to survive near genocide in the name of colonialism, but not without lasting trauma existing to this day in their very DNA (google "epigenetics.")

But, even more insidious than these myopic and dismissive frames, is the statement about immigrants that goes something like this. “They (immigrants) endured so we could prosper. They suffered getting to this country and the discrimination that we faced here so we would be fed. We stand here today – on their backs.” Why is this view so troublesome? Let me break it down for you.

First, know that I agree that Irish and Italians and Poles, etc., etc., etc. definitely did not have it easy upon arrival in America. But, you know what? Our country’s Indigenous and African Americans were always – always – at the bottom of the heap and remain so. It’s the nature of our country’s caste system to always place brown skinned people (and those with almond shaped eyes) at the bottom. Most of the immigrants from non-English speaking countries were eventually accepted. Not only that, but many actively oppressed Indigenous and Black folk. Take Montana for example.

That big statue of a soldier on a horse with sword raised in front of our State Capitol? Well, that is Thomas Meagher. He was our acting governor for two years. He was a very proud Irish man. And he was an Indian killer. He died on his way to get a shipment of arms to kill Sioux in Montana Territory.

The ratio of Black folks to White in Montana was never so high as it was in the early 1870’s (The Census listed African Americans in Montana Territory as almost 1% of the total population.) But in the late 1870’s, the Black population across the state dropped off and has never recovered. This happened when an anti-miscegenation law was passed by the State Legislature and when the Ku Klux Klan began to thrive throughout the state. Being Black in Montana became downright unsafe. The Black population in Montana is now about .4%.

“We stand here today – on their (immigrants) backs.” That may be so, but plenty of immigrants got to where they are today, prospering, on the backs of Native and Black folk. It’s best to acknowledge and reconcile the trauma of that truth right up front so we can move forward and resist today’s xenophobia – together – on the same page.

A (Dirty) Window Into "Minority Anxiety Life"

No, this missive is not about white people living with anxiety about minorities. There is a lot of that but I'm not writing here about white people; nearly everything that's written is about white people already. (And that's a whole 'nother post in and of itself!)

Today, before I even opened this article to read it, my first thought was, "Please, don't let the suspect be a black person!" It suddenly reminded me that I have thought that about a serious crime, each time with raised anxiety, for all my life since at least middle school. I am 99.9% sure that thought NEVER occurs to white folks - "Oh, God, please don't let the suspect be a white person.
I can pretty much assure you that Muslims, Hispanics, Latinx, and Natives frequently have this kind of thought under the the same circumstances. We know that a predominant bunch of white people will ALWAYS make the crime about our race and/or religion. 
Witness the 18 year old kid in Bozeman who recently got in a 100+ mph car wreck that killed his friend. The Bozeman Daily Chronicle deleted about half the online comments on the initial article. Why? The kid, having done what young teenage boys are know to do all across the country, was black and the deleted comments were all egregiously bigoted. I saw most of them and talked with the Editor about it afterwards. (But, hey, there's no racism, bigotry, or prejudice in Montana, much less Bozeman, is there? Sarcasm intentional.)

That said... I am sorry for this officer's death. But I am truly relieved the shooter wasn't a minority because we would always be reminded that it was a minority who did it. As it is, the shooter's race will never be an issue.

Taking The Reins of a Rough Ride on a Horse Named Politics

by Judith Heilman

Regarding the British vote to leave the European Union.

As a marginalized black person in Montana and America, that vote and the stoking of the fires that fed it, looks very familiar to me.

What does the success of the vote to Leave the European Union mean for America's political, economic, and social future? It means that NO American voter who doesn't want to see the US go along the same path, can sit on their hands and just tweet and FB post about how bad DT, Paul Ryan, FOX News and similar ilk are.

The American "Right" has been working on elements for years that are eroding the will of a huge portion of the people and that supports the nativism of the Brexit vote which consists of nativist, anti-globalization and anti-immigrant sentiments (sound familiar?):

Erosion of voter access, guns everywhere, tacit (and sometimes bold) encouragement of the formation and proliferation of hate groups, mass incarceration which affects racial minorities the most, working hard to clamp down on non-white immigrants, working to chip away at Tribal Sovereignty, etc., etc.

The best thing anyone can do now is to get involved in these obstructive and damaging political and social justice issues, to come out IN FORCE to push back on the many inroads to hate, nativism, and xenophobia that have been made. Yes - it requires activism. Getting up out of our comfy chairs once in a while, sacrificing a nice hike, a day at the lake, or a movie night.

Can each of us do it? Dear God, I hope so.

Climbing towards the Divide

by Judith Heilman

Welcome to my blog, Crossing the Divide! I’ll be blogging here on occasion about important topics and timely issues. But first, a little background on The Montana Racial Equity Project or, as those of us heavily involved in our org call it, “MTREP” (pronounced Montana rep) because we like to save syllables. ;)

MTREP was begun in Fall 2015 with a Facebook page, a Twitter account and lots of support from folks all around Southwest Montana. We are gathering our documents in preparation for applying for 501(c)3 status with the Feds; all preceding steps have all been completed. It’s an exciting time for us!

In the meantime, we’ve been very busy in Southwest Montana with speaking engagements, classroom dialogue, actively supporting the creation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bozeman, our popular Book Club (find it under “Events”), and more.

In the planning stages are workshops, more classroom dialogues, more partnerships, and more community seminars. Keep an eye out for additional blogs by volunteer advocates who have lots of thoughtful things to, well, blog about!

One may follow us on Facebook for informative posts and lively discussions. Click on the link, below.

I’ll see you here later. Keep climbing!