It was a big word with big meaning and said often in my childhood on the Fort Peck Reservation in northeast Montana: “Prejudice.”
What was I, at age 8, to make of this word that seemed to be flung at even the slightest injustice? Only later would I better understand the deep hurts that had brought this word so often to the surface. It was a history that would unravel slowly over time, and become even clearer after leaving the reservation to attend college in Moorhead.
There, I would write an honors paper on the subject. Through my probing, I began to understand the word better, and why it had been used so liberally throughout my growing-up years. Later, with a yearning to understand more – especially after my parents’ home was burned by arson in 2006 – I set about the task of sorting through my thoughts and feelings on paper, completing an unpublished memoir about my experiences as a “wasicu,” or white girl, in that context.
In light of the recent riots over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other cities – including Fargo – it all floods back, challenging me once again to bring something meaningful to bear.
Because of my background, and the violence and despair I witnessed as a child – our town of Poplar was referred to by some as “Stab City” for a time – I have examined the topic of racism and injustice from many different angles. As a white woman, I cannot represent the Native minority view, despite having experienced the effects of living as a white minority in that span of time and space. But I hope my perspective might be worth something to someone.
It cannot be separated from the fact that I also grew up in a faith community, where, white and Indian alike, at the mission church of Our Lady of Lourdes, we learned about a God-man who came to the earth to narrow the great divide and hate that had manifest so widely within humanity.
Together, we worshipped him, our skin tones different, and yet we were brothers and sisters in the blood of Jesus the Christ. Weekly, we were reminded that looking into the heart was the only way we would come through this world whole.
There are so many takeaways I could share, but if I might offer one insight that has come through my years pondering the issues of racism and hatred, it would be this: that each of us, no matter skin color or situation, has allowed prejudice into our heart. We have each hated another because of their exterior differences.
I fervently believe violence will never accomplish the aim of justice. The challenge remains interior. And the hope lies in remembering the example of Jesus, and in his follower Martin Luther King, Jr., who once said that violence “seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding…to annihilate rather than convert.”
We can do better, each of us, and it must begin within.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on June 1, 2020.]