September 10, 2008

Most racist place in America?

A pair of messages from correspondent Melvin Martin:I lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, from 1995-2007, and I can assure anyone who reads this comment that Rapid City is indeed THE WORST place in the U.S. in terms of anti-Indian racism. There is a tradition of widespread and extremely harsh discrimination towards Indian people throughout the city, especially in the areas of employment and housing. When I lived there, the only employers who would hire me were Indian-owned businesses (I am from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation which is a little over a hundred miles to the east of Rapid City). In 2006-2007, I noticed a very visible increase in race-based hatred that was directed at reducing the Indian population of Rapid City through a two-pronged campaign of heightened employment discrimination and a city-wide, systematic denial of fair access to housing by local property management companies and private landlords. Whoever reads this comment, please avoid Rapid City at all costs, especially if you are American Indian--as you and your loved ones are not welcome there nor have you ever been. If you are non-Indian, please do not support the racist, socio-economic powers that be in that town by simply not going there for either business or pleasure.I asked if I could post this message. Martin replied:Rob,
Yes, of course, please feel free to post my comment. I was told quite recently by a former British citizen (now a U.S. citizen), who worked with the Native community in Rapid City for a number of years as a court-appointed special advocate in child custody cases, that the hundreds of Native people she knows there are absolutely terrified of utilizing the media to draw attention as to how racist that town is. This English woman and I had a lengthy phone conversation regarding RC's history of anti-Indian sentiment. Following our talk I "googled" racism in Rapid City where I came across your site.
In December of 1999, a panel of representatives from the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Commission held a special hearing for the purpose of fielding input from RC's Native community concerning the racism there and when I went to check it out (at the RC Holiday Inn), there was standing room only with several hundred people in attendance. I was told later that the panel had no opportunity whatsoever to hear from everyone there as there were that many people with complaints. To me it seemed as though things became worse for Native people in RC after that hearing.
If you go to and check out any of the articles that deal with the Native community you will be surprised (as was I) at the sheer hatred that is expressed by non-Natives on the commentary blogs. The hatred expressed towards the Native community is especially vitriolic if the articles deal with Native people achieving or striving towards some level of socio-economic parity with the so-called "dominant culture." The last article I read on the Journal's web site that drew out the racist commentators was a story about how the Native superintendent at Mount Rushmore had set up a Lakota cultural display (at some distance from the main visitor area) to educate non-Natives about the Native history of the Black Hills.    
Additionally, when I lived in RC I came to know numerous young adults who were not "visibly Native" (perhaps 1/4-1/2 Lakota/Dakota), who "looked white" and they told me to a person about how badly Native people were talked about by whites who did not know they were Native.  
Thank you,
Melvin Martin
Comment:  Rapid City, the gateway to Mt. Rushmore. Is it just a coincidence that the most anti-Indian place in America is located near our greatest monument to Manifest Destiny? I don't think so.

Anyway, if Natives are terrified of drawing attention to the racism in Rapid City, we've just done it for them. I hope it helps rather than hurts. Exposing problems to the light of day is almost always a good thing, especially in the long run.

For more on the subject, see Highlights of the US Report to the UN on Racism.

Below:  I wonder how these veterans (old white men) feel about multiculturalism, Barack Obama, and tipis at Mt. Rushmore. I'm guessing they're opposed to all three.


Anonymous said...


I had (yet another) fairly lengthy phone conversation with a respected Native elder who has lived in Rapid City for about 40 years or so, who told me that no one really cares about how Native people are treated there as (and I quote): "Rapid is less than a flyspeck on the window of life to the rest of the country. Most of these Indians who live here are way too beaten down to fight back in constructive ways, unlike yourself. They channel their rage through alcohol, drugs, sexual escapades and violence, mostly against each other. If you have a good life away from here, then just go in peace, my son, just leave things alone. This town is never gonna change for the better until all the old racists die off and the younger white people take over." Rob, the racial state-of-affairs in Rapid City is precisely like the proverbial "dead elephant in the living room," insofar as things go now. Meaning that there exists this horrendous, stinking corpse in the very midst of life there - and the people are seemingly oblivious to it - especially those most impacted by the hatred, the Native people. When I think about Rapid City, I am forced to recall my various travels to cities on the Mexican border; places like Juarez and Tijuana - where the over-all social atmosphere consists of a complete and total neglect by the government, the churches and the citizenry. A general sense of apathy, widespread corruption, indifference, decay and stagnation are simply the orders of the day at these locations, and yet, life goes on. And the people (of all races and nationalities) die a little with each passing day. The cancers of hatred, bigotry and discrimination are never really contained and healed, they are passed on from generation to generation so that there is a chronic, infectious disease-mode that dominates every aspect of life there.

Sarah said...

I'm a Native from Pine Ridge living in Rapid City. It IS racist. The racism runs in the undercurrents of the town, and the racists use Craigslist to anonymously post their messages of hate. Every hateful message about Indians is validated by at least three others in support. In one way this is good, because it shows the cowardice of the racists. However, then you have incidents where children of the racists drive through downtown throwing urine on Natives and shooting them with BB guns. Our people are a collective mess, Pine Ridge represents the failure of a people to survive to the outside world. Until we get some new blood, it will remain so. My tribe needs educated young tribal members to use their educations to better their people and not just their own lives. I know the education I'm pursuing now will be used to better the economy for my people, just as my Dad's has for all the years I've lived. We have to change ourselves, as a people, before we can expect respect from others. That isn't to say we are at fault for the ugliness within others. I just believe that Natives need a revolution of our own, and hope to see or be part of that happening soon.