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Members of all races must compromise to ease tension

Oct. 10, 2000

Saturday, 147 Native American activists were arrested after they attempted to block a Columbus Day parade put on by Italian Americans in Denver.

The Native Americans said Christopher Columbus is not a man to be celebrated. They call Columbus a slave trader and a killer. They remember him for his tactics of exploiting and killing the native populations he mistakenly called 'Indians' as he bumped into islands east of what came to be known as America.

For the parade planners, Columbus represents the best of what it means to be Italian. Columbus is an icon for these Italian Americans -- the Italian who discovered America.

Italians and Native Americans in Denver have been going back and forth over Columbus for a decade. In 1989, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) threw fake blood on a Columbus statue. The next year, protesters from AIM jeered at people in the parade, shouting anti-Columbus slogans. In 1992, planners cancelled the event before the parade began, fearing violent protests from the AIM.

Planners abandoned the parade altogether in ensuing years but decided to begin the tradition again this weekend. This time, Denver police arrested the protesters as they attempted to block the parade route.

Question: Why, more than five centuries after Columbus' voyages, are the two groups fighting over this guy?

The people of Denver are allowing themselves to be divided in 2000 over a man who sailed the ocean blue in 1492.

They've got their priorities backward. They are giving up racial harmony for the sake of

honoring a 15th-century explorer.

It is difficult to figure out who is more wrong; certainly neither group is right.

The conflict reflects a major barrier to improving race relations. Rather than focusing on what is great about diversity today, groups are trying to hold on to legacies of the past -- a past riddled with oppression and hatred, selfishness and ignorance.

The South Carolina Confederate Flag controversy is another example of racial conflict. Both blacks and whites in the South found themselves at odds over a symbol that represented Confederate pride for one group and the oppression of slavery for another.

In the cases of a Columbus Day celebration and the flying of the Confederate Flag, the best solution may be to abandon the practices. No symbol or tradition is worth the accompanying racial tension.

Surely, there is a way to recognize one's heritage without blatantly insulting another's. That is a challenge we face as we attempt to build bridges between different ethnic groups in society.

People criticize political correctness, but being 'PC' smoothes racial tensions and forces groups of people to consider each other's perspectives on society.

Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan gave an excellent example of how not to help a situation like this. He also showed why we Americans should be glad he doesn't stand a chance of being elected president.

When asked about the Native Americans' protest, Buchanan responded, 'We have a right to our heroes and they to theirs. There's no doubt that back in Western history things wrong have been done, but the Native Americans are guilty of their own atrocities and their crimes. But we still honor Native Americans.'

He continued, 'I knew Martin Luther King, and I disagreed with some of the things he did, but the African Americans certainly have a right to honor him. And we ought to respect that right.'

Not only did he reinforce the division that already existed in Denver, he also created new divisions under the guise of respect.

Certainly the Native American protesters in Denver could have respected the parade planners' rights to honor their 'hero.' But the planners did not do their part. The original plan was to hold an Italian pride march with no reference to Columbus -- an appropriate compromise. But, at the last minute, the planners went back to a parade centered on Columbus. They knew the Native Americans' sentiment, but went on with the parade.

Concessions have to be made from both sides when dealing with racially sensitive issues. Stubbornness must be replaced with understanding.

(John Drake is a junior journalism and political science major from La Marque.)