When I read 'Offensive' souvenir figure pulled from store shelf (The Rapid City Journal 7/15), all I could say to myself was “Rapid City, you’ve done it again!” I may come across as somewhat sarcastic to make this statement, but if one follows most of the Indian-related stories that run in the RC Journal: Rapid City, South Dakota, is truly the “Selma, Alabama, of the North.”
It seems to me that practically every week there is some sort of highly contentious race-related incident in that town, almost always initiated by the covert and cowardly racist element there. Question: What is wrong with these people?! (And are there any answers to this question?)
That such a vulgar display, the so-called “Indian Chief wine holder,” was ever set out on that store’s shelves in the first place is an act that speaks volumes as to the pernicious and savage cultural insensitivity that has always run rampant throughout Rapid City. In my previous op-eds regarding racism in Rapid City (a mere flyspeck on the window of life that absolutely has to be the worst anti-Indian locale in the entire Western Hemisphere), I have directed the reader to the commentary sections for each article. There, if one takes the time to peruse all of the comments, you will find that the city’s racists always enjoy what amounts to a luscious field day for them to not only spew forth their deeply embedded hatred of Indian people, but to lend more and more psycho-emotional support to each other. Such is very much the case again with this wine holder debacle. I make these particular observations as I have noticed lately that the hateful comments found at the Indian articles in the RC Journal are becoming increasingly indicative of how racism takes root (over seemingly innocuous events), and if constantly fed, soon becomes monstrous in magnitude.
This is not the first time that a highly negative Indian stereotype has been force-fed to the community by a brainless local business. A few days before Halloween in 1995, a downtown merchant placed the following “display” in his front window: A giant pumpkin that had been spray-painted a solid, non-reflective red onto which a rather large pair of dumb-looking eyes had been carved. A jumbo-sized, red bell pepper formed the pumpkin’s nose, and a very sorrowfully rendered, wide, unsmiling mouth had puked out what had to be at least ten cups of greasy pumpkin seeds. A crudely made turkey feather Plains Indian headdress adorned the pumpkin’s “head” and there were six empty bottles of Thunderbird wine strewn about the area.
A hand written and very weathered sign read: “Don’t WHINE about high prices here!”
It has always been my policy to immediately confront the practitioners of racism as the incidents occur. I walked into the business (also a cheapo knickknack store) during my lunch break and paid a visit to the store’s owner. This man had to weigh at least 600 pounds, had a thick, black beard that hung to his navel, and all he had on were faded denim overalls and leather sandals with no socks. I distinctly recall that I had to cover my nostrils with my left hand as the entire room reeked strongly of butt.
“Sir, your Halloween display is a little racist, don’t you think?” I asked the man.
The fat slob crinkled his nose at me and pulling out what looked like a .44 magnum Bulldog revolver (the Son of Sam serial killer’s weapon of choice), he loudly bellowed: “Chief, you git outta here and you’ll git outta here now! Go on! Git!”
Never one to challenge magnum force, I simply turned and walked out. I thought of contacting the police to report what had taken place, but instead I drove up into the Black Hills and went for a fifteen-mile run. As I ran, I meditated on the nature of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man--and I vowed from that day forward to utilize the pen and not the sword to address matters of hatred and injustice. I promised myself that as opportunities arose for me to employ the power of the written word to effect social change, especially in the area of race relations (whenever and wherever), then I would do so. Please take the time to read my other op-eds featured here and comment if you’d like. Pilamaya--“Thank you” in the Lakota language.
Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.