Mining Racism in a Pennsylvania Coal Town

On a street in Shenandoah, Pa., deep in the heart of the anthracite coal region, six White teens took their racial hatred to a higher level. They confronted 25-year-old Luis Ramirez, an undocumented worker, and beat him to death.

At first the police chief, the mayor, and borough manager refused to believe racism was involved. Although there was already racial and ethnic tension in the 5,000 population town, the town’s political leaders were united in one belief—it was just another street fight gone bad. “I have reason to know the kids who were involved, the families who were involved, and I’ve never known them to harbor this type of feeling,” said the borough manager.

It took police almost two weeks, even with several witnesses, to finally arrest four of the teens. The district attorney charged two of the teens with homicide, aggravated assault, and ethnic intimidation, and two others with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation. Unindicted co-conspirators are millions of Americans and the far-right mass media.

It’s common for people in a nation that is in a Recession to complain. They’re frustrated with their lives, with bad working conditions, dead end jobs, and low incomes. They’re frustrated by skyrocketing prices, obscene corporate profits, and do-nothing legislators. The problem isn’t “us,” they believe, but “them.” Others. Outsiders who “invaded” America.

A century ago in the coal region, good ole boy Americans complained about the Irish and Poles who took “our” jobs in the mines. For decades, Whites kept Blacks out of almost all but the most menial jobs, and then lynched those who they found to be too “uppity.” During the 1920s and 1930s, the masses of Germans, trying to rationalize their own economic distress, decided the problem was the Jews—and Americans went along with that ethnic racism. We blame Asians. Africans. Muslims. Anyone who’s different.

In today’s America, it’s the “Illegals,” the code-name for undocumented Mexicans. Of course, undocumented Swedes or Canadians or anyone with White skin pass under the radar. Anyone with dark skin doesn’t.
However, politicians and pundits together yell that “illegal” means just that. “What’s not to understand about ‘illegal’,” they screech. They claim they aren’t after any one race or people. Just get rid of illegals. You know, the ones who take “our” jobs. Take “our” welfare. Take “our” education. Take “our” health care. For free! And, while they’re taking, say the forces of righteousness and purity, these illegals become criminals. Some do. But most don’t.

You can’t reason with people in their own crises. You can’t tell them that our prisons are filled not with undocumented workers but with American citizens. You can’t explain that most undocumented workers don’t want hand-outs because they don’t want to be known to the authorities. Volumes of data won’t convince some of the masses that undocumented workers, the illegals, often live in near-poverty and don’t get welfare. They don’t even go to the ER when necessary, and so their illness or injury “runs its course” while destroying other body systems because these undocumented workers, already exploited by American business, are afraid of being identified and deported.

In our schools, hatred festers and breeds. Jokes about race, ethnicity, religion, women, gays, and anyone not “us” are told and retold by students—and by teachers and principals who should know better.

Two decades ago, the hatreds would have been somewhat isolated, confined to the corner saloon or social club. But now, self-aggrandizing politicians and media talk show hosts and pundits, who erroneously believe they are populists, spew hate-filled torrents of bigotry and fear-mongering.

I don’t know if the six teens who murdered Luis Ramirez listen to talk radio, watch Fox News, or read web blogs and anonymous call-ins and letters to the local newspaper. They don’t have to. Their community does.

[Walter Brasch is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, a syndicated columnist, and author of 17 books. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available through and other stores.]

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About Walter Brasch

Columnist, author, journalism professor. Latest book is BEFORE THE FIRST SNOW: STORIES FROM THE REVOLUTION, a look at the couterculture from 1964, as seen through the eyes of a "flower child" who is now middle-aged--and of the reporter who covered her story. The book is available through . . . Check out website, for further info. Or, just write me:
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9 Responses to Mining Racism in a Pennsylvania Coal Town

  1. Walter,as I read your article  today it concerns me deeply. As McCain and Obama along with the media continue to argue the race card. This escalation of rhetoric needs to stop but neither McCain or Obama’s campaign seems to close the conversation taking the high road as our young voices become confused and upset in their interpretations. As teachers,parents,ministers and just good American people explain that racial divide is wrong. It is ignorance of mind,body,heart and soul. Engaged in this campaign have spent counless hours of what feels like combat battle responding to young voices and their pain felt over racial divide and have read hours of their communications concerning the same from the Clinton campaign to now the Obama and McCain campaign. Feel strongly the tone for both campaigns concerning, needs to improve and it’s uncalled for. Why does it matter who started it and it’s wrong. Where does this education start but in the home and in our schools and all heart cards are on the table. They’ve got the race card and we’ll play for millions, ace of hearts and good souls and win. Take the high road and the campaign negativity needs to end ! Title IX of the education Amendments of 1972 U.S.C.&794. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,42 U.S.C.&2000 et seq. Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1871,42 U.S.C.&6731.There are many laws in place today our founding father’s and lessons in history have faught for and won. Discrimination is wrong ! If our polar ice caps melt and there is a 75% chance will, if we don’t react fast to Energy Independence, will you be worried about the nationality or color of someones skin tone ? Tzipi Livni is the foreign minister of Isreal and sanctions are needed today in Iran. So far,Iran has not signed to suspend enrichment and reprocessing. Our young Americans live in a globally complicated world and they need to focus on unity and peace. We need all the support we can get ! Uranium that fuses atomic weapons is a real reality. Now who’s worried about a race card ? Peace Out ! What’s right and what’ wrong ? Appreciated reading your ace of hearts on the table. Clean coal to liquid fuel and ! We have to and our national security depends on it ! New exciting changes begin and God Bless the United States of America ! Focus your energy independence, not on racial divide but solutions for peace and unity. Watch Extreme Challenges on CNN for a reality check as our next American President begins.

  2. Not sure what your Bible says but mine says keep your eyes on Isreal and I am ! Is the race card a political smart tactic? No ! Hillary Clinton needs to get on the freight train to Denver !”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

  3. Not one person on the media in this discussion has said racial discrimination is wrong. Not what’s wrong with that ? If you don’t know you’re a lost soul no matter what your faith or religon,spirituality or position.

  4. Following CNN and typing so fast call edit ! Do you think the McCain’s campaign Jill, a sharp political communication major missed her opportunity on CNN to reinforce not only, the justifications and exlpanations of the” race card” but never once in her political response did she clearly defend, discrimination is wrong or did she say it !  The heart and soul cards play in both decks and for both campaigns to recognize in their defense to respond and simply say,discrimination is wrong ! Today you are the color of a rainbow ! Send Obama and McCain with the media to the Dean’s office. Young voices play the song,”Say What You Need To Say.” Discrimination is wrong and say it ,so we know you’ve got it ! Communicate it when asked on the topic to the media and they’ll get it ! E-mail Lou Dobbs and professors get in there to re-direct on enlightened perspective for young voices across America engaged in this historical election. What’s right and what’s wrong ? Research everything you’re reading and hearing in the media !

  5. Yeah, they’re “illegal”. An infraction or something I believe. So that would make people who violate the rules of the road “illegal drivers” and who cheat on taxes “illegal taxpayers”?And the people who hire illegal aliens by the thousands are, what, “capitalists”?

  6. What are our explanations and justifications of racial slurs when young people are dying over it ? Reinforce diversity and humanity in a global world toward understanding and unity.  

  7. The political CNN experts said, this week has not been a good week for either campaign.No doubt ! It’s not an infraction or capitalism. It’s values with divine intervention and leadership that leads and stands up to fight when they see something wrong.We’re human and screw up but say it when you do. McCain and Obama are politically intelligently working this race card rhetoric and it’s wrong. Who’s knocking on doors to register people to vote with all the racial rhetoric going on this week ? “Gotta a race card to vote ?” That’s what I heard today and parents are not happy ! Discrimination is wrong ! To many negative attacks and it’s both campaigns.

  8. “We’ll come out stronger if voices are heard !” No decisions made yet ! Hillary never leaves without a plan and her details ! ALL ABOARD ! IT’S TRUE AND CLINTON MAY HEAD TO DENVER ! EXTRA ,EXTRA ,READ ALL ABOUT IT ! THIS TRAIN IS FOR CLINTON ! GET YOUR TICKETS !