We’re not a societal ‘melting pot’

For more than a year, the media has been fascinated by the story of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.

Having been a reporter in Sanford, Fla., years ago, I was riveted by the story, too.

Most of you know by know that Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, shot and killed Martin in a gated community. And most of you know that Zimmerman was exonerated last week.

The mainstream media successfully injected racial undertones into the case, making it a white man shoots black teenager story. Which brings me to the point — we are not a “great melting” pot as a society, but that doesn’t mean we should blame tragedies on our differences.

Sanford, Fla., like many places around the country, is generally a divided community, with most white residents living in close proximity to each other and most blacks living in close proximity to each other. Generally speaking, many of the subdivisions are not interracial.

The same can be said of the life here in The Okanogan.

You don’t have to look any further than Omak, Grand Coulee or southern Okanogan County to see that we are not a “melting pot.”

In Omak, non-Colville Indian residents generally live west of the Okanogan River. And while many tribal residents also live west of the river, most live on the east side. Few non-tribal members live on the east side.

Jumping across the Colville reservation to the Grand Coulee area, you see something similar. There, most non-tribal residents live across the Columbia River from their tribal friends and coworkers.

Skip a little south in Okanogan County, and you’ll find a division in the Brewster area. There, many Hispanic families have developed a “separate” community from non-Hispanic friends and colleagues.

Is there anything wrong with that? Not necessarily — it’s human nature to live next to people we identify with. It’s not just the color of our skin that separates us. Religion, politics, lifestyles, salaries, etc. also separate us.

In places like Ireland, white Catholics live separately from white Protestants. In places like Miami, Hispanic cultures are divided between Cuban, Mexican and other identities.

And if you look at our state, the same can be said of those living in rural vs. urban areas. Statewide, politics and lifestyles — and the Cascade Mountains — separate us.

Ethnic differences will always divide societies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

From separate subcultures, we learn to respect each other’s differences. We learn to understand the world around us. And we learn to build stronger communities together.

The media shouldn’t have injected race into the Zimmerman-Martin story. It shouldn’t have discounted the fact cultural differences exist, either.

Maybe the rest of the country could take a page from our story here in The Okanogan. Our page says it’s OK to be different. Our page also says respect the differences — that’s what makes communities here stronger.

Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at rharnack@omakchronicle.com.

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