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Friday, July 14, 2023

Shades Of White–Small Town America And The Debunking Of The Myth Of Systemic Racism

Brent, Montana is a small town on the Yellowstone River, not far from the Park, a former rail hub for cattle, ore, and timber, now diminished in regional importance but still economically viable, especially with the summer influx of fishermen, rafters, and hikers.

Paradise Valley Montana - AllTrips

It is a place which reflects an older, more traditional conservatism – Old West individualism, a natural simplicity, and civility.  Its conservatism has none of the radical government hatred found in the Deep South or the MAGA outliers of the Idaho panhandle.  It reflects old postwar patriotism, pride of place, family, and religion of the Fifties.

There are no black people in Brent.  There has been no reason for them to settle there – a mountain outpost, brutally cold in the winter, scant employment, and an ethos far from either the inner city or the rural South.  As a result Brent has been insulated from the hounding, hectoring, and constant banging about race.  There are no racial demands, no Black Lives Matter signs there. 

Schools have been unaffected by the radicalism of teachers’ union demands for ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’.  Collegiality, not contention is the ethos of education in Brent.

It is a place which represents the best of America, a town where American originalism is close to the foundational values of the early days of the Republic, a place which Jefferson and Hamilton would recognize – a town where individualism is expressed within the context of community, hard work expected, complaints in the pursuit of opportunity rare.

Thomas Jefferson - Facts, Presidency & Children

Shades of white – distinct reflections of innate diversity are respected in Brent.  Intelligence, enterprise, humor, spiritual aspiration, endowed and expressed differently but strongly, are part of the natural order of things. Isolated from the angry demands of inclusivity, left alone to sort out peeves, inequalities, and disagreements, the people of Brent make do with what they have, come together or live apart, and survive adultery, divorce, and loss of faith.

A reporter for an Eastern metropolitan newspaper was sent to Brent to research its views on racial diversity, inclusivity, and justice.  He had learned of the universal demographic whiteness of the town, and suspected that there was more to the superficial congeniality and good faith of the place than met the eye.  

Racism was systemic in America, he knew, and no place was exempt from it. If black people were to arrive in Brent, they would be subjected to the same virulent hatred as anywhere else in the country, perhaps even more so as the white idyll would be perceived to have been invaded.

However, since one can never prove a negative, honing in on what were the reporter’s presumptions about racial prejudice was difficult.  Without black people to hate, how could he prove that the residents of Brent were racist?

Nevertheless he went about his business and canvassed residents across the spectrum – ranchers, farmers, service workers, students, teachers, and day laborers.  Yes, they responded, they had heard about Black Lives Matter, Jim Crow, and white supremacy but these issues remained theoretical.  No, they argued, they would never hate a black person if one were ever to come to Brent and would offer the same opportunities as any white resident. 

Yet the respondents were insistent on one thing – the configuration of a small town, its particular level of mutual respect, the subtle differences between this rancher and that, this merchant and that, this neighbor and that, fostered a sincere respect for difference, what the reporter called ‘diversity’

Because our differences are slight, one woman said, we accommodate them more easily than if they were gross; and this is the way life should be – degrees of subtlety.

Try as he might, he could not unearth the racist sentiments he expected.  Not only did he not find examples of systemic racism, he was surprised at the intelligence of the responses on the issue.  The people in the town discussed race obliquely – that is, they did not talk about race at all but about the idea of diversity  The certainty with which his interviewees responded was unsettling.  He was expecting defiance.

Anyone visiting Brent would be impressed by its congeniality.  Coming from Eastern cities where charges of racism have embittered whites and entitled blacks to bad attitude, sullen resentment or violence, visiting the place is a respite, a pleasure.

The reporter returned to his office empty-handed.  He had gone to Brent to finally put to rest the argument about systemic racism.  A lily white place like Brent would be the example of the inherent, deep-seated, brutal racism of America.  His discovery would be a universal indictment of America, a once and for all expose of the harsh truth about a profoundly immoral place; but he had nothing but speculation.  It must be there, but he simply couldn’t find it.

The people of Brent, however, did put the question to rest.  Systemic racism they knew was a fiction, a political ruse, a distorted hysteria.  It was inherently destructive, unhelpful, and antithetical to the very idea of diversity promoted.  Racial harmony and true integration were set back by unfounded belief.

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