Looking back, the antiracist and antifascist activists who have worked to air this issue have been stunningly successful. Besides the City of Bloomington, other entities have held multiple community forums to wrestle with it. Countless exchanges among area residents have taken place online and offline, in the open and behind closed doors. Local media — Indiana Public Media, Indiana Daily Student, WFHB, The Bloomingtonian, B Square Beacon, The Herald-Times — have followed this upheaval. It has even appeared on the national radar, ranging from the progressive left (The Nation) to the extreme right (National Vanguard) to the middle-of-the-road (Newsweek) — including the front page of the New York Times, arguably the most influential mainstream U.S. newspaper.
Scattered across the conversations and coverage are the experiences of people of color. What would it mean to place their perspectives at the center of our reflection and think outward from there? To acknowledge them seriously and meaningfully? Might we come away with a fresh understanding of the stakes involved that could prove useful for moving the city past this deadlock?
A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS”—THESE FOUR WORDS, (The phrase was popularized by John F. Kennedy, who used it as the title of his 1958 book), genius in their concision, mask the messiest of histories. People like to recall that George Washington wanted America to “be an Asylum to the persecuted of the earth.” Less often praised: Ben Franklin’s contention that immigrants are “the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation.” Americans have been having some version of this argument ever since. And for much of the country’s existence, public opinion towards immigration has ranged from tepid to hostile. As Daniel Tichenor, author of the comprehensive history, “Dividing Lines,” puts it, “We love the immigrant past and dread the immigrant present.”
Madison says it’s up to Hoosiers to take a stand and make a change.
“Individual Hoosiers in communities in Indiana have done just enough dumb, stupid, hateful things to spark the question again and again ‘Well is Indiana klan state?’ My answer to that is no, it’s not. But Indiana has flirted down to the 21st century with some of the culture, some of the ideas, some of the beliefs and values that so informed the Klan in the 1920s.”
From this story, a classic piece of music emerged. The family, fleeing religious persecution in Russia in 1893, was soon reunited and allowed to enter the country. And that little boy, born Israel Beilin, would grow up to become Irving Berlin. Twenty-five years after emigrating, the same year he became an American citizen, he composed “God Bless America.”