Anti-Casino: What's Really Behind These Feelings???

I remember when I bought my first house, a tiny, cozy cottage, just right for a single artist with no family and two cats. It was dirt cheap o boot! I remember being advised by several elders, both tribal and African American, that I should not discuss my purchase with any of my white co-workers because they would resent it. I was a little mystified as almost all of my co-workers were home-owners, in many cases, large, beautiful homes and renovated estates. Why would they resent me owning a tiny cottage? The common answer: anytime a person of color gets anything, even if it's a shack, they will resent it. Also working at this job was a fraternity brother, African American, who new about my purchase. I guess not having access to the same elders, he innocently mentioned my purchase at a social function of our co-workers and sure enough, attitudes towards me changed dramatically. Thinly veiled, snide comments began to abound. The words, they don't want us to have anything, echoed in my ears.

The issue of casinos seems to be one the sparks a number of opinions from folks. Here in Massachusetts, the anti-casino movement is boisterous, if for no other reason, but to make it seem bigger and more supported then it really is. A prime example is the vote that recently took place in Middleboro, where the anti-casino voices could be heard loud and clear, they filibustered at the special town meeting for two hours and lost the vote by a landslide. What's particularly interesting is the fact that although the state itself is looking to create some state owned casinos, the focus of most of the anti-casino movement seems to be the Mashpee Wampanoag. Hmmm, why is this?

Well, let us consider an unspoken aspect of American society, good old Economic Racism. In the structured image of those who pursue the American Dream, prosperity is only reserved for those of European extraction. People of color are supposed to be poor or preferably non-existent. Indians are supposed to be defeated, drunken, poverty stricken people who are supposed to invoke sympathy or scorn from the majority. Quakers, for example, seem to love Indians when they are a 'cause,' but put an Indian in a position of social and/or economic power and now they're a problem and untrustworthy. Indians are supposed to live on barren reservations, and sit around saying poetic and esoteric things. The thought of Indians living in nice houses, sending their kids to the best schools, and driving nice cars sickens some people. For one thing, in their racist way of thinking, the notion of people of color achieving what they have failed at is more then they can take. This is exemplified by the actions of former Mashpee selectman, George Benway, in his persistent and open attacks on the Mashpee Wampanoag's tribe's bid for recognition, where several of us heard him on a number of occasions, particularly after a Mashpee Town Hall meeting in March of 2000, calling the Mashpee Wampanoags "niggers,". revealing how he feels about two ethnic groups.

The unfortunate fall of Glenn Marshall as the chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council was a major blow to the confidence of a lot of people. While this is by no means an excuse for his actions, the fact of the matter is, he did what many American politicians have done before him... it's just that many of them never got caught, or held accountable. However, what made him a real target for scorn was the fact that it was under his stewardship that federal recognition became a reality for the tribe after a 30 year struggle. How dare he give people of color an economic advantage in life! If they are real Indians, they don't need money! Why can't they just sell arts and crafts at powwow and tourist stands? By the way, these are actual comments that I've encountered in my interactions with folks.

The next time you find yourself scoffing at the notion of a casino, ask yourself: would I have this reaction if it were Donald Trump or MGM trying to open a complex in Massachusetts? We've discovered that Trump, by his own admission set up and anti-casino group to take native people out of the game that he's made so much money in. I also reference the article Anti-Casino or Anti-Indian,by Michael I. Niman as a detailed reference on this point. When I read the quotes of many of the anti-casino activists in the paper, old terms pop up in their comments, such as "Those people" referring to native groups and tribes.

The question remains, what's at the bottom line of these feelings? Is this truly a disdain for gaming and gambling in their regions or is it a matter of possible subconscious disdain for people of color economically advancing? To date, I have not heard a single anti-casino activist offer an alternative suggestion or plan for large scale economic development among native groups. I guess it all goes back to the saying, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."