July 27, 2009

Money talks in Rapid City

Correspondent Melvin Martin tells how he investigated the racism in Rapid City:

Melvin Martin:  The Kansas City Roll in Rapid CityI made a list of all of the businesses in downtown Rapid City that my clients had brought to my attention as discriminatory, and I formulated a plan to simply see for myself the extent of the racist practices and procedures that were carried out against Indians simply for being Indian.

I had last worked for a marketing agency in Texas prior to returning to Rapid City in March of 1995, so I still had in my possession a few western-style blazers, some Wrangler dress pants, a $400 pair of cowboy boots and a black Stetson--my intent was to visit all of the businesses on my list as an “Indian from Oklahoma.”

My first stop was at a restaurant that had a counter where dozens of my clients had told me that they were so ignored by the staff there that after a ten to twenty minute or even a half-hour wait without being served that they just got up and left. The same thing happened to me at this place, I sat down at the counter and was completely ignored (and it wasn’t even the busiest time of the day there). Without a protest of any sort, I walked out.

In the course of at least two hours I visited fifteen more businesses where I was made to wait or was totally ignored by the non-Indians working there.
And:Later that day in Rapid City, I went to a bank and exchanged a fifty-dollar bill for the equivalent amount in one dollar bills. I then attached a $100 bill to the batch of ones with a large rubber band and voila!--a Kansas City Roll!

I then went back to at least twelve of the downtown Rapid City businesses where I had been refused service, but this time with my KC Roll front and center.

And I have to tell you, brothers and sisters, I had never seen so many previously hostile people practically drool to either serve or assist an Indian in all my travels!
Comment:  That the attitudes changed when people saw the money proves the underlying racism. Martin was dressed well, so they couldn't have perceived him as poor and unable to pay. Without the money, people were willing to ignore him based on their preconceived prejudices. These prejudices had no basis in fact; they were simply irrational racism.

For more on the subject, see One Incident/Week in Rapid City?


Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight. What's with the cowboy attire? Is dressing up like a cowboy dude is somehow supposed to assumed the unsupported fact that you might get served by the whites, even if you have the $$$?

I think Melvin may be just unlucky or thus it could be bad karma.

I lived in Utah County, UT(home to BYU) for nearly 12 years. Its the whitest part of UT in terms of sprawling urban areas where the population is well over 500,000 and growing. With 90%(more or less) of the businesses is owned and operated by whites and I was rarely, if ever--discriminated against. I never did have to wait more than 10 mins vast majority of the time while I was there. And I'm as "Indian" as Melvin can be(minus the cowboy dress-up).
My point is, that I think the severity of racism on Indians depends on the demographics of location. The midwest is notorious for anti-indian sentiment than in most in most areas of the U.S. Indians I believe, will experience higher rates of discrimination and racism in rural areas/border towns than those residing in the city.


Rob said...

I think Melvin's point was that he dressed like a typical Rapid City resident. He was wearing a decent Western outfit so he wouldn't stand out as poor or different.

Melvin claims Rapid City is the most racist spot in America, so I wouldn't expect other places to be as bad. But at Newspaper Rock, we cover a range of racism and stereotyping issues across the country.

Of course, Utah is hardly free of prejudice against Indians. Consider these examples:

Looters "outraged" over indictments
Mormon leaders made a mistake
Due diligence on the Nemenhah Band
Rob vs. curator on Massasoit statue

The incidents in South Dakota may be more blatant, and those in Utah more subtle, but they come from the same place. At best, white Americans are ambivalent about the minorities in their midst whom they killed, enslaved, or oppressed.

Melvin Martin said...

Money Talks, Bullshit Walks!

As I recall, the reasoning behind my "urbane" Indian cowboy attire was that I was told by a lot of the local Indians then that "even the rich, oil Indians from Oklahoma are treated like shit here."

(Just an aside to this comment: There was at least one [personally] positive result from my cowboy attire; I met a very wealthy Indian woman from Oklahoma at the RC Radisson who had the $$$. A short time later we flew to Denver for the weekend and EVERYTHING was strictly first-class!)

I still have at least one photograph of myself from that weekend in Rapid City during the winter of 1996 when I "investigated" racism there--I still laugh out loud whenever I go through my picture collection and see it.

As a child, I was deeply influenced by the book "Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffin--so the investigatory foray was also sort of an homage to Griffin's experiences.

BTW, I have nothing against cowboys as my family comes from "Indian Cowboy Stock," among the first of South Dakota's Indians to leave the reservations and move to Rapid City almost 100 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I think its imperative that racsim depends on Indians individually. I personally don't deny the fact that Utah is biased towards Natives. I have Native comrades of mine who were either racially profiled, discriminated against, and one was a purported victim of a possible hatecrime(although, cops deny it, as usual).
Back in Ut.

However, my main point was that the severity of racism depends on the location you live in. I have a cousin who lives in Farmington, NM(a bordertown)and its rife with anti-indian sentiment. And as I said from above, I believe that Indians are more likely to experience bouts of racism/discrimination in bordertowns/rural area than in major cities, RC doesn't qualify as a major city. I don't think there is any data/stats on this, but based on AP/news articles regarding anti-indian sentiments/hatecrimes on indians, it appears to be more frequent in the 2 demographic locations(rural/bordertowns). I personally don't know how bad the racism in RC is as opposed to other places. Tim Giago didn't think it was as bad as Melvin describes it. But a lot of bordertowns(near reservations) has seen significant amounts of racism. Showlow, which is near the White Mtns Apache Rez in AZ, is where my ex-G. lives, has told me she experienced discrimination in that town and its also known for some anti-indian attitudes. So I stand by my point that bordertowns are indeed more racist than any areas.


Rob said...

Re "I think its imperative that racism depends on Indians individually": I'm not sure what that means. Are you saying Indians can eliminate the racism against them if they choose to? I hope not, because that would be an example of blaming the victim.

Re "my main point was that the severity of racism depends on the location you live in": My main point is that racism is woven into the fabric of American society. Even if individuals are free of racist thoughts, our society sustains racism through its institutions and structures of white privilege.

If that was your point, we agree. If that wasn't your point, I've documented my position with a few thousand examples. In short, if this is a debate, I win. ;-)

Anonymous said...

The other day Fox News pundit Glenn Beck called President Obama a racist. For a racist, Obama is surrounded by more white people than a Klan rally.

The term racist is being tossed around lately, the Gates fiasco, the Fat-boy GOP stooge Limbaugh calling Indians "Redskins" and "clowns".

We must now redefine the term as it applies to American Indians for example. Some think the use of an Indian image on a football helmet is racist. I am a Native man over 21 who thinks it looks cool and that it represents national recognition of Indians as fierce warriors.

Is it racist to name a U.S. Army attack helicopter an "Apache"? Or a multi-million dollar laser guided missile a "Tomahawk"?

Perhaps I have not experienced enough hands-on racism directed at me personally.

What happened to my people, the war crimes, genocide and just about every other crime against humanity goes above and beyond the simple concept of racism.

The point I am attempting to convey is that Anglo-Indian history is something so evil, so insidious and dark that a morbidly obese white radio host and your average sports fan will never comprehend.

White hatred and dehumanization towards Indians was necessary to justify massive land stealing. What took place in a post-Columbus North America trancsends racism. The Indian experience yesterday, today and tomorrow is the residual effects of an American Indian holocaust. Call it racism if you must, however, we Indians know the difference.

K. FastHorse
Lakota, Sioux