All’s Fair in the Skin Game

In the summer of 2002, a young white woman named Valinda Elliott set out from Phoenix on a business trip with her boss. The two were trying to locate a tiny speck of a town called Young, Ariz., population 666 (talk about a bad omen). They took a wrong turn and became lost in the desert, in a remote location with no cell service. Before long, they ran out of gas. After spending the first night in their vehicle, by the next day, running out of water and rapidly facing dehydration, it was decided that one of them needed to go for help. Elliott, a mother of three, volunteered for the trek.

Two days later, losing the battle against the merciless July Arizona heat, Elliott heard a helicopter in the distance. Desperate, she set a signal fire by lighting a small bush with her cigarette lighter, and the copter—spotting the smoke—swooped in and rescued her (her boss was rescued as well). Unfortunately, Arizona summers being what they are, the signal fire spread, and soon a large brush fire resulted.

Around the same time, on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation (also in Arizona), an Apache named Leonard Gregg who was employed as a seasonal firefighter decided that the best way to get work was to begin setting fires. I mean, you can’t argue with the reasoning. The man’s a part-time firefighter, and dammit, he ain’t gonna get paid if there ain’t no fires. So Gregg, whose Indian name surely should have been Dances with Arson, began setting brush fires, intentionally and maliciously, because he needed booze money.

Tragically, the two fires—the one set with no ill intent by Elliott, and the one set with a hell of a lot of ill intent by Gregg—merged to create the largest wildfire in Arizona history. No lives were lost, but 467 homes were destroyed.

In the aftermath, Arizona authorities, understanding that Elliott’s actions were reasonable and without malice, decided not to prosecute her. Gregg, on the other hand, faced serious charges for felony arson. The local Indian community screamed “racism.” Angry Injuns stormed the press conference where the decision not to charge Elliott was announced, hooting, hollering, and (in one case) tossing a charred log at authorities. Reno Johnson, chief of staff for the chairman of the Apache tribe, demanded that the “white woman” must go to prison if the Indian does.

Because “fairness.”

What might have seemed like an anomaly when Big Chief Head-Up-Ass demanded it in 2002 is now the norm. The new big thing among minority advocates is to judge every crime story involving a minority in terms of “they’da been treated better if they was white,” and every crime story involving a white in terms of “they’da been treated worse if they was a minority.” This new mania is based upon a simpleminded notion of fairness that dismisses as irrelevant the specific details of different cases. All that matters is a one-to-one ratio: a white life for a minority life.

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