Multicultural `bunk': when pride becomes intimidation

February 09, 2005|By GREGORY KANE

THINK OF IT as the down side of multiculturalism.

Or is it the "bunk" side?

Remember Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's pithy description of multiculturalism last year? Remember the flak he caught for it? The not-so-subtle accusations that the guv - and other Republicans and conservatives - were kind of racist, if not akin to Nazis.

Oh yes, the other "N" word was bandied about for quite a bit. You'd have thought Ehrlich had gone around with a "Sieg heil" here and a "Sieg heil" there, here a "Sieg," there a "heil," everywhere a ...

No, he just said it was bunk. Maybe what he meant was this:

Last Oct. 12 some Italian-Americans in Denver got the funny idea that they could have a parade in honor of that famous Italian explorer named Christopher Columbus. Believing they lived in a country where the First Amendment applied to them, the Italian-Americans got a permit.

A group of "activists" - many of them American Indians - blocked the parade route. After ignoring police orders to disperse, more than 200 were arrested and charged with loitering and disobeying a police order. Eight went to trial.

At the trial, these "activists" said that celebrating Columbus Day was "hate speech" and that the parade was "ethnic intimidation" targeting American Americans. One of the "activist" leaders was Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Now what, exactly, is the difference between a "professor of ethnic studies" and a "professor of whining victimology?" In Churchill's case, none at all.

A little more about this Churchill guy: He claims to be one-sixteenth Keetoowah, a branch of the Cherokee tribe that lives in Oklahoma. But members of that tribe dispute Churchill's claim.

Oh, it gets worse.

Within days of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that left more than 3,000 people dead, Churchill wrote an essay called "Some People Push Back: On The Justice of Roosting Chickens," in which he called the victims "little Eichmanns." Don't reach for the tar and feathers and take that next jet to Colorado just yet. There's more.

Last year, in a magazine interview, Churchill told readers how he really feels about America when the interviewer asked him what should happen to the good old US of A.

"I want the state gone," Churchill said. "Transform the situation to U.S. out of North America. U.S. off the planet. Out of existence altogether."

Churchill's defenders - among them those folks who no doubt feel our national anthem is a song called "America the Guilty" - were quick to defend his First Amendment rights. And the six-member jury that acquitted Churchill and seven co-defendants last month in the Columbus Day incident figure that when it comes to the First Amendment, Italian-Americans need not apply.

It looks like open season on Italian-Americans starts early this year, courtesy of that Denver jury whose members have probably voted Democratic way too often. Needless to say, some Italian-Americans aren't happy.

"It's people like Ward Churchill that give multiculturalism a bad name," said Dona De Sanctis, the deputy executive director of the Order Sons of Italy in America. The bad name would be promoting the rights of select victim groups and violating the rights of others, in this case Italian-Americans, who are still the targets of ruthless and relentless stereotyping in television and films.

"What is the United States if not multicultural?" De Sanctis asked, no doubt thinking of multiculturalism at its most ideal, not as the bunk Ehrlich and others feel it has become, probably because of guys like Churchill. "Italian-Americans are for multiculturalism. We are who we are today because of multiculturalism. We just don't think one culture is better than another."

And what about the claim of Churchill and his co-defendants that a Columbus Day parade is "hate speech" and "ethnic intimidation"?

"Italian-Americans marching in a parade waving flags?" De Sanctis, a Bowie resident, asked. "That's intimidation? We found [the] charge of ethnic intimidation ridiculous. If anybody was intimidated that day, it was Italian-Americans."

Indeed they were, but the Denver sapsucker jury of six didn't see it that way. Using their logic - and believe me, I'm using that word guardedly - I could claim Irish-Americans celebrating St. Patrick's Day constitutes "hate speech" and "ethnic intimidation" on the grounds that Irish immigrants were the primary purveyors of violence against black New Yorkers in the draft riots of 1863.

As it is, whenever March 17 rolls around, I let Irish-Americans be their Gaelic selves and mind my own business. It'd be nice if some American Indians in Denver tried the same thing on Oct. 12.

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