In the wake of the election of Barrack Obama as the United States’ first black president there were some who suggested we had entered a post-racial era of American history. Events since then have thoroughly erased that notion.
In some ways, racial tension seems more palpable now than before the 2008 election. Incidents over the past year or so have prompted a renewed sense of desperation on the subject and calls for more meaningful dialog on the issue of racism in our country.
Montanans have a tendency to go blank at the mention of this subject. We are of a mind that racial and ethnic tension is someone else’s problem.
But that’s a dangerous place to go.
It’s certainly true that minorities comprise less than 10 percent of the state’s population, and in many communities in Montana it is at or near zero. Many of us reflexively avoid the subject because it makes us uncomfortable or even angry. It’s not inaccurate to suggest that lack of racial and ethnic diversity factored into some Montanans’ decisions to move to this state. The only exposure many of us get to this national discussion is the simplistic vitriol we hear on cable television and radio talk radio.
But there is more diversity here than readily meets the eye. Native Americans – the state’s largest minority – have a large presence in parts of the state. Here in Bozeman, more than 1,000 students come from other countries to study at Montana State University. And Hispanics are becoming a larger portion of the population.
But most importantly, racial and ethnic awareness is something we must teach our children as they grow up and work in an increasingly diverse world.
We southwest Montanans need to amp up our conversation on the subject of race and ethnicity as much or more than anyone in the country. And it can be a community effort. The library and MSU could invite guests and host lectures on the subject. Service and faith groups could host discussion forums. Book groups could read and discuss works on the issue. One Book One Bozeman could do the same.
Race is a topic of immense importance in this country and we need to talk. And we here in southwest Montana are no exception.