• Mike Matson

Ground Truth

This column was published November 13, 2021 in the Manhattan Mercury.


It may be dangerous to let facts get in the way of a good opinion column, but I’ma spout a few:

At Manhattan High, 36 percent of the student population is not white. These young human beings break down this way: Fifteen percent are Hispanic, 9 percent are of two or more races, 8 percent are Black, and 4 percent are Asian.

Last year’s census provided additional factual confirmation to what those of us in the more populous Kansas communities see all around us. With each passing year, we are becoming more racially diverse.

We’re creatures of habit, and many of us haven’t given much thought – much less critical thought – to how things have changed right here in these places we’ve called home our whole lives. Many look around today and find themselves in a community where their clique no longer sustains critical mass.

Lest you believe we in Manhattan are somehow on the leading edge of this cultural change in Kansas, a couple more facts. We’re the fourth or fifth wave. Earlier this calendar year, the Shawnee Mission, Atchison and Wichita school boards voted unanimously to move racially insensitive mascot nicknames to the ash heap of history.

More facts: The U.S. Census Diversity Index is just what it sounds like. Zero being none and 100 representing complete diversity. Sedgwick County registers 55 percent, Riley County 46.2 percent, Johnson County 41.5 percent and Atchison County 26.8.

Those are facts. That’s ground truth.

In Kansas, our culture changes to reflect our society. This manifests itself, most visibly, in policy decisions made by our elected and appointed leaders. If done the way the process was designed, the decisions reflect the thoughts in the heads and the feelings in the hearts of those they represent, while simultaneously protecting the rights of the minority.

It may be apples and bananas, but I’m drawn to how our society has progressed… evolved… adapted… (I like all three of those descriptors, so I kept ‘em in) on same-sex marriage. In less than one generation, a mere blip on the ‘dawn of man/end of time’ continuum, Americans flipped on this emotionally-charged social issue.

Why? How?

I’d like to think it had to do with a critical mass of erstwhile opponents or fence-sitters who looked around and saw, maybe for the first time, their own individual relationships with gay and lesbian friends and loved ones. Real people. Human beings.

It’s the confluence of how we as individual human beings actually feel, the values we profess, and what we believe is socially acceptable to say out loud.

Maybe it’s at least apples and pears.

When I authored a book about addiction-related traits and behaviors of my young adult life in the ‘70s and ‘80s, an ancillary benefit was traveling back in time, remembering, then chronicling how it used to be. When I reflect on the societal norms of the ‘70s and ‘80s, it dawns on me how much the world has changed, and how I have changed with it.

Like same-sex marriage a few short years ago, maybe now is the time to look around, perhaps for the first time, at the individual human beings in our community, at the kids in our high school.

Maybe now’s the time to think about their kids. In that same high school a generation from now.

Who we are isn’t about a mascot, a nickname, static symbol, but a living tradition built by the young people who study, compete, and cheer under a banner of esprit de corps that we hope launches them as bright young adults who will continue the important work of community and family.

What will this conversation and eventual decision say about Manhattan as a community? How does it reflect on us as individuals? How will our children think of us? What will it say about the way we treat each other?

It’s really not about “Indians.”

It feels a lot bigger than that.