OUR VIEW

OUR VIEW: 100 years after riot coverage: our apology

September 2, 2007 

It’s painful to read about the mobs that terrorized members of Bellingham’s East Indian community 100 years ago.

Whatcom County residents today are deservedly proud of our diverse community.

Aside from a small minority, residents reject racism. There simply is no place for racism, hatred or fear of those who speak different languages or who have a different skin tone. We have no tolerance for those who would divide our community.

Unfortunately, 100 years ago racism was not only tolerated but encouraged in the pages of this newspaper.

Tuesday marks the 100-year anniversary of Bellingham’s “Hindu riots,” when a mob rounded up the city’s East Indian mill workers and ordered them out of town. The workers were intimidated and, in some cases, assaulted. Police did nothing.

At the time, The Bellingham Herald contained editorials with some of the most demeaning and hateful stereotyping you will ever read. And the other two newspapers in Bellingham, both of which are related to our history, were as bad or worse.

The day after the riots, The Bellingham Herald contained this passage: “The Hindu is not a good citizen. It would require centuries to assimilate him, and this country need not take the trouble. Our racial burdens are already heavy enough to bear.”

The piece went on to insult the intelligence and work skills of East Indians. Later pieces, and those in the other papers, used racial epithets and insults that today are not acceptable for publication in a community newspaper.

Some of the editorials spoke out against the riots, saying mob rule was not the way to run the city. But even those editorials agreed that no one wanted East Indians in town and that the citizens of Bellingham were better off after East Indians were driven from the city.

It’s time to apologize for the venomous racism, for the demeaning talk, for the refusal to defend human beings against a mob because of their skin tone and ethnicity. We apologize to the East Indian people in our community today, and to any right-thinking person who is disgusted by the actions this newspaper took in one of the darkest times in our community’s history. We are disgusted too.

SHODDY JOURNALISM

Our nation often talks with shame and disgust about the treatment of African-Americans in the South, and of the Southern media’s treatment of black Americans as second-class citizens. But our community’s journalistic history is not much better.

Not only did local newspapers agree that East Indians were “lesser” people in 1907, but they applauded laws that stopped immigration from China and called for similar laws for people from Japan and other Asian nations.

To forward those agendas, the newspapers talked frequently of “scientific facts” that showed that people of different races were, in fact, inferior to white Europeans. The authors apparently were unmoved by the fact that East Indians are caucasian, as are white Europeans.

There appeared to be no journalism at work at all. There was no questioning of the ideas about race in the first place. Where does the concept of race come from and why? What is the veracity of the science cited that “proves” superiority? In retrospect, any examination lays bare the fear and ignorance from which the authors wrote.

LESSON LEARNED?

The “Hindu riots” and the treatment of minorities in our culture remain relevant issues.

We don’t believe that many people in our community are racist. But it would be naïve to say racism here does not exist.

We still hear, from a small segment of our community, racist stereotyping of Native Americans, immigrants from Mexico or other Spanish-speaking countries and others.

Nationally, the fear and self-importance that combine to make racism a shameful part of America has focused mostly on immigrants. Citizens line up along borders to keep “them” out. They argue that the inclusion of so many Spanish- speaking people in the United States is damaging our culture. They say that those Spanish-speaking people cannot be assimilated in America and choose to keep themselves apart, creating a danger in the long term for our nation.

Those arguments are no different from those made when people arrived from India, China or Japan — or from Germany, Italy or Ireland, for that matter. The arguments were not true then. They are not true today.

We encourage all Whatcom County residents to reject the specious and false conjecture of those who would separate people by race, ethnicity and language and to open their hearts to all people who choose to make the United States their home.

We don’t believe it’s possible today for a mob to run out a minority community.

But we challenge ourselves, and all citizens, to call out racism and reject it wherever we see it.

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