The great ‘race’ debate |

The great ‘race’ debate

Tamara Miller
Vail CO, Colorado

I could almost feel the heat rising from my computer screen as I read the web comments to a recent editorial of ours titled “Racism revealed.”

One commenter accused us of trying to “fan the flames of racism” by suggestion that bigotry is fueling some illegal immigration opponents.

Another commenter reiterated the racism claim we made and was quick to point out to those on the other side that whites are quickly becoming the minority.

In case you didn’t read it, the Aug. 5 editorial expressed disgust toward a few comments that were made on our Web site in response to the Charles Gross murder trial. Gross was convicted a couple of weeks ago of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Maria Madrid. Madrid was an illegal immigrant, as were her husband and her son, who were with her when she was shot. The husband and son were given legal immigration status so they could testify against Gross in the murder trial.

Those facts were the focus of most of the online postings to stories covering the trial and the majority of Web commenters said they were angry that the husband and son were not deported. One comment suggested that the family must have done something to set Gross off.

Those were fair comments. Cold and cruel, perhaps. Inflammatory, definitely. Maybe even cowardly, given that they are all made anonymously. But they weren’t bigoted and they weren’t irrelevant. Illegal immigration is a sensitive, and important issue here, and certainly worthy of debate.

Two comments, however, crossed the line and I deleted them. They were offensive and bigoted, and they did little to add to the discussion about the trial, the murderer, the woman who was killed or her family. Their only relevance was to prompt our editorial accusing some in the anti-illegal immigration movement of being driven as much by discrimination as by their zeal to have our laws enforced. And then a firestorm began.

I’m not surprised that some of our readers were worked up over the editorial. We have a handful of very frequent Web commenters whose views on the immigration issue are well-known to anyone who recognizes their usernames. And they jumped on the editorial with fury, spouting off statistics, pontificating about the role of journalism and expressing anger about the accusation.

A few argued that race is a part of the anti-illegal sentiment and pointed to some of the immigration opponents own comments as evidence. Still another pointed out the flaws with both extremes on the issue and instead offered a stance that seems to represent the way most people I talk to feel about illegal immigration: it’s a problem, a serious problem in need of solutions that are humane and realistic.

What I was surprised by was how the accusations and name-calling seem to eventually settle into a thoughtful discussion about illegal immigration and ethnic discrimination. I don’t think anyone left the discussion with their minds changed, but I do think they left with a little better understanding of the other side.

How much does bigotry play a part in the immigration debate? It’s too easy for the anti-illegal set to say their opposition is to people who break our laws, not people who look different than us.

But when you read comments arguing that it’s also the culture of these mostly Mexican immigrants that threatens our country it starts to sound a lot like xenophobia to me.

I’ll also admit it’s way too easy for those of us who disagree with border walls and mass deportations to accuse the opposition of being bigots. The opposition doesn’t do itself any favors with the vitriol, quite frankly, but they have good points when they note what illegal immigration is doing to our health system, social services, justice system and schools.

It sure was fun reading the comments, all of them, some confirmed my views, others challenged them, still others made me feel that our editorial was completely justified. Our job on the commentary page is to encourage discussions like these, so I can’t lie. I can’t wait to get you worked up again.

Opinion/Projects Editor Tamara Miller can be reached at 748-2936, or

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