It’s easy, as a white person, to say “Racism isn’t a problem” because you yourself have not experienced it. However, you are in the minority.
Racism is far from dead, especially in South Dakota, and you yourself may unknowingly be perpetuating it without intention.
My first example is when I was pulled over last summer. The officer took my license and registration, and then proceeded to ask my friend, who is part Native American, for hers. Apparently my friend’s recently updated license wasn’t good enough for the officer; he insisted on seeing her Tribal ID and asking her a bunch of unnecessary questions as well.
Was that really necessary? After all, I was the one driving like an idiot. My friend just happened to be along for the ride.
The second incident that comes to mind again took place last summer when I was planning a trip out to the Black Hills. I decided I would drive through Pine Ridge and Rosebud on my way home. The reaction I got to this plan was incredible.
‘You can’t do that,’ said every old white person I told my plan to. ‘It’s dangerous. You’re going to get raped, robbed and left in the Badlands to die!’ These are not their exact words, mind you, but definitely the gist of what they were saying.
Annoyed, I asked several of my female friends from the Reservation if they felt safe driving around by themselves. They just stared at me as if I had just asked them an incredibly stupid question.
As it turns out, I encountered exactly zero problems while driving through the Reservation. In fact, I had several lovely conversations with people when I did stop.
Finally, as a white person who dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer and working in Indian Country, I get asked a lot of ignorant questions about Native Americans by other white people:
“Why are they so poor?” “Why are they all alcoholics?” “Why don’t they just go get a job?” “Why don’t they just get over it already?” “What is the one single reason why they have so many problems?”
Generally, I get the sense these people are comfortable asking me these things because I am also white. They want to understand; they just don’t want to ask an actual Native American because they would sound, well, racist.
I try to be patient, because it’s not these people’s fault they don’t know any better. I take advantage of the situation and try to educate the individual to the best of my limited ability. I hope they will walk away with an altered view of the world. In the end, that’s all I can really do.