OPINION: Wasilla representative's comments a backward slide of racism, sexism
May 19th | Carey Restino
When Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman stated that village women try to get pregnant to get a free trip to the city for an abortion, many people cringed. You see, Alaska has a bad reputation as being behind the progressive curve in stamping out social ills like sexual assault and domestic violence, and many Native Alaskans have faced stiff racism in the classrooms, workplaces and even at the voting booth. But many of us would like to think we are progressing, if slowly, toward a higher bar.
And then someone like Eastman gets elected to a position of power and speaks his mind, and we see that there is still much work to do.
If there is a silver lining in this audaciously stupid statement, it is that Alaskans have a chance to be reminded that throughout Alaska, many, even those in positions of power and authority, still draw lines of distinction between their own alleged moral correctness and those of minority populations, those living in rural communities, women, and those who subscribe to different religious beliefs.
Knowing that such racism not only exists, but is apparently embraced and encouraged by enough people that someone like Eastman would feel comfortable spewing such foulness, is important. It is important because we cannot fix what we do not see as a problem. Perhaps we don't believe those mindsets exist because we surround ourselves with people who do not think that way. Maybe we can't even imagine making sweeping statements about an entire group of people — people who represent more than a third of the population of our state — based on little more than hearsay or perhaps just the desire to push an agenda.
Some say that racism and other forms of prejudice have risen since last fall's election — a study by California State University in San Bernardino reported double-digit increases in six major urban centers. Closer to home, Seattle registered a 6 percent increase in reported hate crimes. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll indicated 36 percent of those polled rated the danger of racism and bigotry in America as an "imminent threat" to the country.
So what can we, as individuals and as a state, do to make things better in Alaska? The Alaska House's move to condemn Eastman is a step in the right direction, but even that vote was still split along party lines for the most part. Republicans from Anchorage, Eagle River, Wasilla and Big Lake voted against the formal reprimand of Eastman. That's unacceptable in a state where 34 percent of its residents are minorities. Standing together against racism and sexism is paramount to moving forward, and is especially important from our state's leaders.
For both elected officials and individuals in everyday life, it takes courage to stand up against racism and prejudice, just like it takes courage to stand up to bullies in the schoolyard and sexist talk in the locker room. But like so many hard things, we all have a responsibility to say something because silence is an endorsement of sorts.
We have a responsibly to educate others that generalizing about people based on gender or race or where they come from misses the fact that we are all individuals, deserving of being evaluated individually. Prejudice flies in the face of basic human rights, and history is full of examples as to why those rights are worth standing up for.
While it may be that those with prejudicial opinions feel more entitled to spew them these days, we must not let that erode our energy to speak up for what is right. It is always possible that some of that prejudice is born from ignorance and that sharing of another perspective will help educate others. It may also be that these people know better, but see an opportunity to stand on the backs of others as a way of furthering their own agendas.
If that's the case, it is incumbent on all of us to protest as loudly and consistently as we can — in Juneau, in our communities, even in our families if we must. That's the way forward, which is, of course, the opposite of backward.