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Breathing While White By: Richard Poe
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, October 31, 2000


YOU’VE HEARD OF DWI - driving while intoxicated. Now there’s a new crime called BWW - breathing while white. Every Caucasian with a pulse and a heartbeat is guilty of it.

It used to be that white folks had to do something special to offend “civil rights” activists. They had to burn a cross in someone’s yard, wear a sheet, shave their heads or trudge around in Doc Marten boots listening to “hate metal” rock.

Not anymore. White people nowadays can be labeled hate criminals just for minding their own business.

Ask the Italian-Americans of Denver. American Indian activist Russell Means has accused the entire community of “hate speech.” Their crime? Celebrating Columbus Day.

“I respect their right to march and celebrate their heritage,” said Means, who was arrested earlier this month for obstructing Denver’s Columbus Day march. “But I don't believe the First Amendment, as the founding fathers designed it, is to protect hate speech."

Means and his followers have been beating this drum for years. They want Italian-Americans to change the name of their parade to something like March for Italian Pride. They want all mention of Columbus removed from speeches, floats and banners.

Now I’ve always believed in putting myself in the other fellow’s shoes. So before I cast judgment on Means, let me try to look at this from his vantage point.

Means says that Indians don’t like Columbus. Okay, that’s understandable. But why, 500 years after the fact, does Means want to go out of his way to pick a fight with an entire ethnic group which clearly has no interest in fighting with him?

I try to picture myself in a similar position. Let’s see. If I were going to pick a fight with an ethnic group, who would it be?

Well, my mother is Mexican-American, so I guess I could pretend to be indignant about the Treaties of Velasco and Guadalupe Hidalgo. But that would be a hard thing to fake.

Sooner or later, I’d end up popping the 1960 version of The Alamo into my VCR for the umpteenth time, and let’s face it, I’d be rooting for John Wayne and Richard Widmark.

Also, I can’t seem to wrap my mind around this idea of giving the American Southwest back to Mexico.

Millions of Mexicans have risked their lives to slip across the border. If we move the border northward, those same people will find themselves back in Mexico, and they’ll have to escape all over again! As the grandson of Mexican immigrants myself, I couldn’t bear to inflict such Sisyphusian torture on my own people.

How about my father’s side of the family? They’re Russian-Jewish. If the Jewish side of me were going to disrupt someone’s holiday, who would it be?

The Germans come naturally to mind.

I try to imagine myself striding into the big tent at the Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest. I scan the dance floor, where hundreds of German-Americans are flapping their arms to the oompah strains of the Ententanz or “ Chicken Dance.”

Choosing my target, I walk up to a half-conscious, pink-cheeked fellow with a mug of Beck's in one fist and a brautwurst with sauerkraut in the other. I knock the little green feathered cap from his head, shouting, “That’s for Auschwitz, you murderer!”

No, sorry. It’s just not me.

How about the Ukrainians? They’ve been slaughtering and persecuting my ancestors for generations.

In 1941, Ukrainian militiamen helped the Germans gun down 34,000 Jews at Babi Yar. My grandfather’s family hailed from that area. I often wonder how many of the dead might have borne the name Pogrebissky (my grandfather’s surname before he changed it to Poe).

So what am I going to do about it?

Well, I could boycott Ukrainian restaurants. But then where would I go for pierogies, borsch, stuffed cabbage, kielbasa? Okay, forget I mentioned it.

There’s always the Ukrainian Easter festival. I can just see myself rampaging through the booths, smashing Easter eggs and ripping portraits of Stepan Bandera from the hands of little old Ukrainian ladies.

Afterwards, surrounded by reporters, I could strike a heroic pose and shout, “I will never rest until these little old ladies stop flaunting portraits of the Nazi collaborator Bandera at their festivals.”

Well, on second thought, maybe I’ll pass on that too.

Sorry, Russell. I’m trying to see this your way, but it’s not coming easy. I thought you were great in Last of the Mohicans. But Columbus Day in Denver was clearly not your most memorable role.




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