I have been so proud of the "live and let live" attitude coming from my home state in the past few years. It's not the attitude I always experienced growing up. I love Iowa, and I love Iowans. But damn, that state doesn't have enough diversity. It doesn't have enough minorities in positions of power. And sometimes, it shows. While racism can exist anywhere -- it certainly exists everywhere -- a homogenous community can provide a petri dish of tolerance for racist behavior and statements even if people don't agree with them.
For a long time, I was told we should excuse some people's racism and homophobia (especially older people's) as cultural norms, because that's how people grew up, because they didn't know any better. Just walk away, pretend he didn't just say that (insert horrible slur).
Hello, folks. Please meet the Internet. There are no excuses any more. I am so so tired of the excuses. And I am tired of the tolerance of racist statements and behavior.
This week, congressional candidate and Des Moines physician Pat Bertroche "jokingly" (he says -- after the backlash began) said we should just microchip illegal aliens. Like they were puppies. He said:
“I think we should catch ’em, we should document ’em, make sure we know where they are and where they are going,” said Pat Bertroche, an Urbandale physician. “I actually support micro-chipping them. I can micro-chip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I micro-chip an illegal?
“That’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s a lot cheaper than building a fence they can tunnel under,” Bertroche said.
Not acceptable. NOT ACCEPTABLE. I don't even have to explain why this is unacceptable. I'm not surprised Bertroche had this attitude, I'm not surprised he was stupid enough to say what he said to a crowd of people while running for office, but I am surprised nobody in Iowa is calling him on the carpet. At least not that I can see.
Wait, so maybe -- since nobody is saying anything -- I should explain why such a statement is completely out of line. Maybe I should break that habit drilled into me in my youth. Maybe I should say something instead of shoving my fingers in my ears and walking out of the room or the school or the bar or the church as quickly as possible to avoid exploding. Maybe we all should.
Illegal aliens may be breaking the law, but they are not "illegals," they are human beings with grandparents and children and minds and dreams. They may be going about things the wrong way, but that does not mean they are less than human. I don't think illegal aliens should have access to social services in this country, but -- even if Bertroche was joking, which I don't think he was, I think he just got caught with his inner monologue showing in the Gazette -- any statement insinuating a group of people is less than human is unacceptable. It's precisely that type of language and attitude that enables people to treat other humans like chattel, like animals. It's been done before, and we know that. We know exactly how dangerous it is to belittle the humanity of a group of people. And no, I am not blowing this out of proportion. Tolerance is a petri dish. One statement left unanswered becomes another, and another, and another. Say you are upset with illegal aliens. Say you'd like to reform immigration policies in this country. Say you don't want illegal aliens taking the jobs of citizens or getting access to healthcare and schools -- I'll agree with you. Talk smack about an individual because he's an asshat if you've got a personal relationship with him. But do not make sweeping statements about entire groups of people insinuating that they are less than human. That's where you just stepped over the line from a personal opinion to a very dangerous racist statement.
I have not seen enough backlash from within Iowa. I've seen it on BlogHer, on the Huffington Post, in the Minneapolis citypages. I waited all day yesterday before saying something, hoping for a letter to the editor, for a blog post out of Iowa, for something. But there was nothing today from the Cedar Rapids Gazette, the Iowa City Press-Citizen or the Des Moines Register.
Saying nothing says something.
And that makes me really, really sad.
Here is Bertroche's e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to drop him a line. I wish Iowans were doing that.