June 30, 2009

Confrontations Do Not Conversations Make

Walking on the sidewalk with “Respect Native Hosts” yard signs under my arm, I am on my way to deliver them in east Urbana.

Man on porch whistles, then yells at me: “Let me see those signs!”

Retracing my steps, I stand in his driveway and say that the signs are in support of Heap of Birds’ work on campus.

Man, now standing, cigarette in hand: “I was just curious to see the signs. You ever been to Allerton?”

Me: “Yes.”

Man: “I went to 4-H camp there and the cabins were named after Indian tribes.”

Me: “Well, we live on their land now.”

Man, loudly: “No we don’t!”

Me: “How so?”

Man, swearing even more loudly and then: “It’s ours now. Get over it! Get out of here!”

Me: “OK!” Retreating, the man continues to yell, telling me to get over it, calling me a moron, and other rude nouns with adjectives that I am sure you can imagine.

I kept thinking of Charlene Teters, standing all alone in front of Assembly Hall almost 20 years ago, protesting the racist mascot, chief Illiniwek, and the abuse she endured. Some of the story is told by Jay Rosenstein’s documentary “In Whose Honor?” It is very difficult, maybe impossible in this evening’s case, to respectfully engage with someone who vehemently disagrees with me. I felt kind of bad walking away, but I also felt a little scared. Then I ran into a couple walking with their children and they greeted me with the comment that they already had a sign in their yard, and were glad to have one. So, on balance, one and one!

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