I have again received numerous emails from concerned individuals
across the United States inquiring about the severity of Indian-white
race relations in Rapid City, South Dakota. Because of the sheer
volume of these emails I was only able to reply to the most critical
of these inquiries.
Several of the emails had a peculiar commonality in that the question
was put forth as to the strangest of my racial experiences in Rapid
City. Here, before I proceed any further, it will come as no
understatement on my part to say that a few of the more bizarre
incidents would easily qualify for instant inclusion into Ripley´s
Believe It or Not or at the very least the News of the Weird (one of
the more gracious email correspondents declared that my reply to her
belonged on rotten.com).
Although these events are structured as pure anecdote, that old adage
about truth being so much stranger than fiction certainly applies to
just this one:
The Kansas City Roll
From 1995-1998, I worked as a caseworker/client advocate for a
private social services agency in Rapid City. 90% of this program´s
clients were Indians, so I came to know hundreds of local Indian
people within a matter of months. Almost all of these individuals
complained to me of the myriad forms of racial mistreatment that they
had encountered in Rapid City. When I left Rapid City in 1971 for the
military, then college, then work at places outside of South Dakota, I
knew that the racism was bad, but it was not until I returned after a
24-year absence that I gradually came to know how actually horrific
things were for Rapid City´s Indian populace.
Aside from the awful descriptions of employment and housing
discrimination that a multitude of my social services clients related
to me, of particular personal concern, since I lived in downtown Rapid
City, were the many stories of bad treatment by retail clerks, hotel
workers and wait staff at downtown businesses. I was even asked (and
in several instances, people pleaded with me) to personally
investigate these businesses since I was viewed as something of an
authority figure in a position to help the Indian community.
I made a list of all of the businesses in downtown Rapid City that my
clients had brought to my attention as discriminatory, and I
formulated a plan to simply see for myself the extent of the racist
practices and procedures that were carried out against Indians simply
for being Indian.
I had last worked for a marketing agency in Texas prior to returning
to Rapid City in March of 1995, so I still had in my possession a few
western-style blazers, some Wrangler dress pants, a $400 pair of
cowboy boots and a black Stetson--my intent was to visit all of the
businesses on my list as an "Indian from Oklahoma."
My first stop was at a restaurant that had a counter where dozens of
my clients had told me that they were so ignored by the staff there
that after a ten
to twenty minute or even a half-hour wait without being served that
they just got up and left. The same thing happened to me at this
place, I sat down at the counter and was completely ignored (and it
wasn´t even the busiest time of the day there). Without a protest of
any sort, I walked out.
In the course of at least two hours I visited fifteen more businesses
where I was made to wait or was totally ignored by the non-Indians
working there. I was not only deeply offended by the consistency of
the obviously race-based maltreatment, but there was something
happening that had happened to me before. When I was in the army in
Germany in the `70s, I was stationed at a city that had a truly
unpleasant history of malicious treatment towards U.S. military
personnel who patronized area bars, eateries, hotels, and assorted
businesses. I could see the German locals´ point of view here: in the
waning days of WWII, the city had been bombed back to the Stone Age on
one occasion by a combined force of American and British heavy
bombers, and the devastation that took place had transformed the city
into another Hiroshima. So, the Germans in Heilbronn actively and
aggressively hated any and all American soldiers.
Some of the more enterprising troops there had devised a method of
instantaneously receiving better treatment on the local economy by
utilizing the Kansas City Roll. This particular ploy consisted of
wrapping a German mark (that the euro has since replaced) of a high
denomination, either a 500 or a 1000 Deutsche Mark, around a thick
cluster of much smaller currency notes. You get the picture? An
instant rich guy! The kind of guy that the Germans quickly snapped to!
Later that day in Rapid City, I went to a bank and exchanged a
fifty-dollar bill for the equivalent amount in one dollar bills. I
then attached a $100 bill to the batch of ones with a large rubber
band and voila!--a Kansas City Roll!
I then went back to at least twelve of the downtown Rapid City
businesses where I had been refused service, but this time with my KC
Roll front and center.
And I have to tell you, brothers and sisters, I had never seen so many
previously hostile people practically drool to either serve or assist
an Indian in all my travels!
Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of
South Dakota. He can be contacted at email@example.com
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