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Iowa needs to embrace diversity – and quickly


It was a weird week.

It started with a scary white supremacist group called the National Alliance leaving its calling cards on the lawns of a racially and ethnically diverse Des Moines neighborhood. The fliers, wrapped in plastic bags and weighted with rocks so they’d stay put on the windy day, were an obvious recruitment effort by these wackos, who warn that “non-whites are turning America into a Third World slum” and denounce immigration as a threat to the white race. The group’s Web site is even more frightening, talking about the need to create a “breeding ground” for the white race and wrapping it around the principle of social responsibility.

Sickening stuff.

You’d expect an extremist group like that to hide under a rock and operate from the underground. And you might find what the group has to say so offensive that you wish they would. But you’d better know this: It’s far better to know the enemy and their agenda than have to guess their identities and the mission behind their surreptitious activities. And remember this: Hate groups are the enemy, not the people they’re warring against, and they threaten to erode American values from the inside, not from some far-off land.

The problem is, they don’t necessarily look like the enemy. Brandi Hess, a wife and mother from Hope, Mich., looks a nice, warm sort of person who could easily be the next-door neighbor who occasionally babysits your children, but her testimonial on the National Alliance’s Web site is chilling: “I joined the National Alliance because I want my children to grow up in a clean, healthy, white world, where they won’t be a minority. I want them to go to white schools and live in a white community. I want them to learn white values, not TV values.”

It’s a flimsy argument, one that disappears like smoke when it’s challenged. And it should be. You might wish for Hess and her cohorts at the National Alliance to be silenced, but the First Amendment doesn’t belong exclusively to the enlightened and open-minded. The best way to counter “bad” free speech is with “good” free speech.

The bizarre week ended with the release of the results of a survey of members of the Young Professionals Connection, a branch of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.

About 160 of the YPC’s nearly 700 members were surveyed, making the results statistically valid. The results of questions on diversity were particularly disturbing. Only 25 percent think Greater Des Moines values diversity (all but eight of the respondents are white, which in itself says a lot about the complexion of Greater Des Moines)

The perception that Greater Des Moines doesn’t value multiculturalism is one that needs to be changed, especially when neo-Nazi groups like the National Alliance think they’ve stumbled on fertile grounds for recruitment. It’s a wakeup call regarding the need for a group such as the National Conference for Community and Justice, which folded late last year in part because board members couldn’t agree on where to focus their efforts against bias, racism and bigotry.

Obviously, wherever it exists.

Beth Dalbey is editorial director for Business Publications Corp. E-mail her at bethdalbey@bpcdm.com.

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