Saturday, May 21, 2005

Indian Givers

Back in the 1670's, Massachusetts colonists were engaged in a war against Native Americans who were led by a chief known as King Philip. The colonists enacted a law that banned Native Americans from the City of Boston. One of its purposes was to round up and imprison Indians who had converted to Christianity and who were living in Boston, because the colonists perceived them as a threat.

Over one hundred years later, when the Massachusetts Constitution was adopted in 1780, that ancient colonial law (and who knows how many others) was rendered moot, and became one of those obscure relics of history that is noted only by PhD's and history buffs.

Or so one might have thought. It turns out that the obscure and irrelevant colonial law has been a bone of contention for quite some time, and nearly ten years after a group of Northeastern tribes first began lobbying for its repeal, the Massachusetts Great and General Court finally got around to obliging them.

What got them off the snide after all that time?

The possibility that Unity: Journalists of Color Inc., an organization of minority journalists, might exclude Boston as a possible site for their annual convention.

From the Boston Globe:

"What brought the law recent attention was the possibility that Unity might exclude Boston from its list of finalists for a future convention. Unity represents African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic, and Native American journalists.

"Patty Talahongva, a Unity board member and a member of the Native American Journalists Association, said she could not consider recommending Boston for a Unity convention unless the law is repealed.

"'I can't even consider Boston if there's a law on the books that bans my membership from being there,' she said. 'Yes, it's archaic. Yes, it's ridiculous. But why does this law still exist?'

"Joanne Dunn, executive director of the North American Indian Center of Boston, said of the Legislature's action: 'It's a good day. It's very symbolic. It can bring some closure to a dark part of history that is unfortunately part of Boston.'"

Yes, it is ridiculous. It is symbolic. It is about the "perception" of Boston, not its reality. There is no "law on the books" that bans her membership from being in Boston. The suggestion itself is preposterous.

There are enough real, current incidents for advocates of inclusion to focus on -- but pressing for the repeal of an ancient, irrelevant colonial law just diverts attention from real issues and conveys the impression that "symbolism" and "perception" are more important than real progress.

But now that the legislature has seen fit (after 9 years) to repeal this vestige of perceived prejudice, perhaps they can (finally) take up an honest discussion of repealing the "anti-aid" amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution, enacted by the Know Nothing Party in the mid-1800's as a vicious attack on Catholics that thwarted their efforts to get the same treatment in education funding as the protestant-run schools were enjoying at the time.

The lasting result of this prejudice is that, under the Massachusetts "anti-aid" amendment, faith-based private schools cannot even accept a donation of used, discarded text books from public entities, a prohibition that falls disproportionately on Catholic parochial schools. And in attempt after attempt after attempt, a Constitutional amendment to right this wrong has been opposed by public employee unions and the public education establishment.

Now that is a symbolism, and a reality, that is an outrage.

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