Who are we?



The newspaper in Chartlottesville, Va., declared in an editorial Sunday that “this is not who we are.” The governor said the same thing. This is not who we are. But it is. The organizer of the white supremacist rally Saturday was from Charlottesville. Many, if not most, of those who answered his call were from Virginia. Go home, the governor told them. And so they did, to Charlottesville and the towns around.

In the earliest days of the University of Virginia, while Jefferson watched, students brought their slaves to school with them. In 1921 the university accepted a $1,000 contribution from the Ku Klux Klan for its endowment fund, according to Lauren Jackson writing in the Washington Post. Black student enrollment at UV hangs below 10%.

We Iowans can be fairly smug about it. Didn’t happen here. This is not who we are.

The Klan burned in Northwest Iowa as late as the 1960s. Rep. Steve King flies a Confederate flag from his desk. He wins by double digits. He loses Storm Lake, but he wins Buena Vista County.

Not us?

Buena Vista County voted strongly for Trump. So did Iowa. He and King equate Mexicans with drugs and crime. King joined Trump in questioning President Obama’s legitimacy. Trump would not call out white supremacism by name. King endorses it by talking about how we need to preserve our culture by keeping other cultures out.

It is us. It is who we are.

It is Virginia. The people can deny their history that shapes a culture steeped in institutional racism. But they just can’t run away from it that easily.

Neither can we.

We fought the good fight. We ran the Underground Railroad. We defended freed slaves at the Iowa Supreme Court. We never denied a man his franchise based on his skin color, unless of course his skin was red, in which case we stole his franchise and his land.

Yet we accuse our brown neighbors of being drug runners, beaners who are here just to milk the system and steal the jobs we won’t take. You’ve heard it so many times around here.

The only reason that white rally couldn’t happen here is that our forebears had the good sense to erect no statues of Robert E. Lee, the chief apologist and defender of slavery, back when they had a moral compass. And, that the Storm Lake Police Department does not allow semi-automatic rifles at political rallies. If you are in Sunset Park, you may not bring your Double Eagle to the party. If you assert your Second Amendment rights, you get put back on the bus that brought you. No baseball bats allowed unless you are playing baseball.

If you openly assault someone in Storm Lake with a baseball bat or pepper spray, the police will not stand there and watch it happen. They will arrest you.

Charlottesville was afraid of the white supremacists and the counter-protesting fools who engaged them with shields and helmets. Thankfully, most people in Storm Lake are still too modest to dress that way but our standards are decaying fast as we all strive to look like carnival people — like aging white racists wrapping themselves in their past.

We used to have a decency about us here in the Upper Midwest where it takes everyone pulling together to haul in the corn and dig in for the winter. We would like to think it thrives yet in Storm Lake and Buena Vista County, but our voting patterns belie our myths. So long as Steve King flies that flag on his desk on our vote, we are no better than Virginia and its racist present unveiled last weekend.