SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Jewelry & Racism
By Ravi Jethani


September 24, 2007
Monday PM

While there have been many articles on Sitnews, both pro and con, concerning the petition to limit jewelry stores, only some have dealt with the allegation that the petition is racist. Of the pro-petition letters, Suzan Thompson's (Aug. 29) was the most strident, calling the accusations of racism reprehensible and unsavory, while Peter Bolling (Aug. 27) characterized the charge as "beneath contempt" and "absurd and shameful". Even people presumably on the fence about the issue, David Hull in particular (Aug. 29), have said the petition has nothing to do with racism. It's also important to note that of two recent postings (Mark Steiner on Sept. 15 and Michael Moyer on the same date) both seem to be anti-petition but don't mention racism at all. There appears to be a consensus, at least on Sitnews, that though there are many issues to discuss in reference to the jewelry store petition, racism is not one of them. I respectfully disagree.

There has been the argument, presented by both Ms. Thompson and Mr. Bolling, that the petition cannot be racist because some of the sponsors are Hispanic and one is an Alaskan Native. I would accept an argument by both these people that they've known the petition sponsors for many years and find them to be fine people who are unlikely to be racist, but the argument that they're incapable of racism is absurd. The idea that a non-Anglo cannot be racist can easily be refuted by an example of a non-Anglo who is (or was) racist: Idi Amin, onetime African dictator of Uganda, is widely regarded as racist for expelling East Indians from his country in 1972. Note that this doesn't prove the sponsors are racist or suggest that they're akin to Idi Amin but refutes the silly argument that they cannot be racist.

On the surface, there's nothing racist about the petition: It limits jewelry stores, not stores owned and operated by people of East Indian descent. The petition sponsors would have us think it's mere coincidence that the jewelry stores are largely owned and operated by people of East Indian heritage. At this point, it's illustrative to note which stores are limited by most communities and why: Liquor stores are limited, as are stores selling tobacco, and, the example Ms. Thompson brings up, adult bookstores. All of these stores have something in common: They sell items prohibited to minors. This begs the question of why my store and other jewelry stores fall into the category of stores selling liquor, tobacco, and pornography, stores that, as Ms. Thompson puts it, "[do] not enhance the cultural, historical, and environmental assets of Alaska". All laws are made, or ought to be made, for a reason. A law, by its nature, denies a measure of freedom to its citizens so it should be with the utmost care that a community creates a law. For instance, seatbelt laws deprive us of the freedom to drive without seatbelts and motorcycle helmet laws effectively do the same thing. But both these laws were enacted after proponents demonstrably proved that putting these laws in place would help the community, i.e., they would reduce the amount of deaths caused by accidents. In the case of the jewelry store petition, nobody has demonstrated what advantage would go to the community by limiting jewelry stores. Jewelry, unlike alcohol and tobacco, doesn't harm the community in any measurable way, but the benefits of jewelry stores are measurable: the amount of money they generate in sales tax, the amount of money spent on local business supplies, the amount of money owners and employees spend out of their salaries in town. So there are community benefits to jewelry stores, but what's the downside? People have suggested that tourists are frustrated with the large amount of stores and won't return to Alaska because of them but this is belied by the figures: More tourists are coming to Alaska then ever before.

Personally, I have arrived at the conclusion that the jewelry store petition is racist by process of elimination. If there's no harm to the community from jewelry stores, perhaps it's not the stores the petition sponsors are against. Perhaps it's the owners. As Sherlock Holmes famously said, "When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". But don't take his word for it, read what some petition sponsors have said. Note that Walter Bolling (June 21), in his letter to Sitnews asking for people to sign the petition, titled it, "If you are interested in taking back our town". This begs the question: Who took his town away? Also note he says, our town, as if the town doesn't also belong to jewelry store owners. This petition has divided our town, if I may even any longer be permitted to call it my town, between people who own jewelry stores and people who despise them. Personally, the petition would benefit me: It would reduce the amount of competition I would face from new jewelry stores and would increase the value of my store if I ever wanted to sell it. So I benefit if the petition passes, but I would be very sad if it did because it would confirm my worst fears about our community.

Ravi Jethani
Ketchikan, AK

About: "Jewelry store owner/operator in Ketchikan for 10 years"

Received September 24, 2007 - Published September 24, 2007

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