Big Sky Connection

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Eric Tegethoff

December 28. 2017

HELENA, Mont. - The number of white Americans who believe they face discrimination is on the rise, raising the question of how this might affect the country. 

According to a recent poll, 55 percent of white Americans believe their group experiences racial discrimination. 

Clara Wilkins, an assistant professor of psychology at Wesleyan University who studies prejudice, says this perception has grown rapidly since Barack Obama was elected president. 

For many, Obama's election was a sign of racial progress, but Wilkins says a subset of white Americans saw this as upsetting the social order. 

Somewhat counter intuitively, her research finds people who believe the country is fair and just also are more likely to perceive discrimination against white people in the wake of Obama's election.

"For people who think society is fair, they're the ones who sort of tend to think that the order of society where whites have greater access to wealth, power, status, etc. - that is legitimate and it's fair and it's not based in bias," she states. "And so, if you reject those beliefs - you think that it's not fair - then those are the people who actually welcome social change."

As Wilkins notes, the reality is that vast inequalities in wealth and electoral representation still exist for racial minorities. 

She says the growing number of hate groups nationwide after Obama's election is one of the dangers from the perception of prejudice against white people. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies two white supremacist groups in Montana, as well as a number of anti-Muslim groups.

Wilkins and a colleague at Wesleyan have been able to measure the growing perception of bias. 

In one of their studies, participants either read an article on racial progress or one that had nothing to do with race. 

Those who read the article on racial progress were more likely to believe white people experience discrimination. 

And according to Wilkins, further research shows this group isn't likely to stay on the sidelines.

"The problem is that for these people who really think that the order of society should be a particular way - what they experience by perceiving bias is that they should do something to re-establish that order," she states.

Wilkins says demographic projections showing that white Americans will become the minority in the next few decades is contributing to the idea that white people are under attack. 

She says while fighting back against this perception is hard, the best way might be to downplay the idea of competition between different groups of people.



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Dec. 24, 2017


(Gallatin County, Mont.)  On Friday at 6:30 pm., the West Yellowstone Police Department received a 911 call reporting a missing/overdue snowmobiler.  The 55-year old male from California became separated from his sons about two hours earlier off the South Plateau trail, 15 miles south of West Yellowstone. Cell Phone forensics indicated his last location was approximately 10 miles west of town.

Rescuers from the Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue West Yellowstone Division responded.  With rescuers unsure of the missing snowmobiler’s location, teams were sent both south and west in an attempt to locate him.  About 9:00 P.M. the rescue team south of town found the man 20 miles from town, down a very steep embankment, and in about 5 feet of snow. Rescuers navigated very tough terrain, poor visibility and deep snow to get to the him. He was uninjured and able to ride out on his own after the rescue team retrieved his buried and upside-down snowmobile.  He said that he became separated from his sons, got turned around and lost and while trying to find his way back to town missed a hairpin corner. He went off a steep drop-off, and tumbled down the hill.  He was unable to climb back up the steep hill and due to the pitch-black darkness, was unable to determine how to get to another part of the trail.  His efforts were complicated by the deep snow. The West Yellowstone area received between 4 and 12 inches of new snow yesterday. He was convinced that he was going to have to try to survive the night out there. Deputy Sheriff Mike Gavigan

said last night, “Another success story for SAR at the end of the night.  It is personally the most snow I have ever snowmobiled in, super tough conditions.  The West Yellowstone team responded amazingly as I have come to expect.”

Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin would like to remind snowmobilers to know your limitations.  A fun adventure into this amazing backcountry can quickly turn into an emergency.  Always remember to ride with a partner, stay with your partner, carry a reliable means of communication and be prepared to survive the night if you should have to.


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