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Our country has an unreasonable obsession with image

May 5, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

It is disgusting, it is immoral, it is repulsive. But it surrounds us.

Living on the edge of the Rockies, in the high desert we call home here in Wyoming, we are often stereotyped as backwoods rednecks with an intellect honed by right-wing extremism and little else. Deserved or not, we are far from unique when it comes to prejudice.

Thinking people try to comprehend the world around them. Sometimes it is successful, but many times it is not. Deep-rooted, unfounded racial prejudice that transcends generations should be incomprehensible.

It has always angered me, but it was brought to the forefront over the last few months by isolated incidents which in themselves would have no connection, but that are intricately intertwined in the world of racism.

Hearing Sam Mihara relate the suffering he and his family endured during World War II simply because they were Japanese was a sickening trip into paranoia, paranoia that sadly still exists in America today. You never know when some clown will make a clueless statement for no reason at all.

You see and hear it everywhere. It is sometimes so systemic that people don't even realize how offensive they are, and it's not limited to race. Religion and lifestyle get the same treatment from the great unwashed.

Last Sunday my wife and I watched "42," the Jackie Robinson story. The story was a familiar one to me, but the cinematic portrayal as usual brought out emotional extremes. The abuse he took for simply being black was inhuman at best and criminal at worst. How could anyone ever explain this behavior?

While covering basketball games across the county last winter there were two separate incidents that were equally disturbing.

As the Shoshoni boys built a quick lead over Meeteetse. one clueless Longhorn fan yelled to no one in particular, "Hey, it ain't fair. They got a black and an Indian on their team."

Smooth, real smooth.

The other incident came in the Wind River stands as another buffoon saw a dark-skinned player on the visiting team and yelled, "Why do they have a (N-word) on their team?"

The only thing missing on this guy was a white hood and maybe a cross-burning kit out in his truck.

I'm old enough to remember the "White Only" and "Colored Only" signs in Blytheville, Forrest City and Mariana, Ark., as a child. I didn't understand them at the time, and I guess I haven't grown up much because I still can't grasp the logic behind things like this now.

As a kid in junior high it was a cosmopolitan mix at Mather Air Force Base, with Samoan, Italian and black friends hanging out with an Opie Taylor look-alike (me.) We watched older boys get into a small race riot at the base movie theater one evening when a large black kid grabbed a Coke from the older brother of one of my friends and took a drink. The kid handed it back to my friend's brother, who said "No, you take it all," and poured it over the kid's head.

As a group of brave seventh-graders, we hid near the concession stand as the two groups of boys pounded away at each other until the Air Police arrived and arrested all of them.

Adapting to rural life in the wilds of Wyoming was much more of a shock than making friends with the native kids at Wind River when we arrived from Sacramento in 1971.

I had learned long ago that people were people. It didn't matter what their ethnicity was. Some you liked, and some you didn't. It had nothing to do with the way they looked.

College was more of the same but on a much more accelerated scale. Iranian girls, guys from Yemen, Indonesians, Nigerians, Californians and an annoying roommate from Newark, N.J., brought an eclectic mix of people into my life.

It was like one of those old Army movies, where the Idaho ranch kid, the tough Italian from New York City, the Hispanic kid from Los Angeles, and the Navajo all make lifelong friendships during basic training and later on in combat.

Our society's strange obsession with image can easily go awry, and the resulting prejudice appears in the strangest places.

Long ago, while coaching sophomore basketball in Riverton, one of my starting guards was very agitated as he walked into the locker room before we played Rock Springs.

"We're beat guys, we're beat," he kept saying.

I asked him what he was talking about.

"They got a black kid coach,. We're beat."

It was annoying and hilarious at the same time. I thought about it for a minute and then told him to go sit with his parents. He wasn't going to play in this game.

He sat, we played, we won, and the incident was a learning experience for all the kids who paid attention.

People claim that you can't change someone's prejudice but you can if you take it one incident at a time. That practice isn't mutually exclusive to anyone.

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