Readers who are easily offended by racially offensive terminology may not want to read this column.
If you happen to fit that description, however, please do have a friend read it and discuss the content with them later. It’s about the presidential candidates — white ones and Black ones. It’s about the lingering, racial insensitivity in the United States of America and — most importantly — it’s about several people who just might be elected president of the United States, in the year 2012.
Let’s start by going back to October 2, and a story that appeared in the Washington Post, which disclosed that Republican Presidential Primary front runner, Rick Perry, had made a practice, earlier in his political career, of “hosting fellow law-makers, friends and supporters, at the family’s secluded west Texas hunting camp “... a place that bore the name “Niggerhead” on a slab of rock at the front gate.
As bad as that might sound, the Post was actually being very kind to Mr. Perry, by describing the situation as one that happened “early in his political career.”
In fact, the name was prominently painted on the rock at the Throckmorton County camp, from 1985 to 1990, while Perry was a state legislator. It was there early in the 1990s, while Perry was the Texas agriculture commissioner. It was still there in 1998, when he was elected Lt. Governor, and through 2000, when he succeeded George W. Bush as the state’s governor. It has to be pointed out that the word was still on the rock, and the rock was still there, for each of Perry’s re-elections to the position of Texas state governor, in 2002, 2006 and 2010.
It’s been reported that the “Niggerhead rock” was still in place at the Perry family hunting camp, as recently as this summer.
In a perfectly fair and just world, one might expect this kind of insight into Mr. Perry’s personal beliefs to be a problem for his candidacy.
Not so fast.
Indeed, if you go by a couple of recent blog posts related to the story by two “scholars” who go by the handles “NRafter530” and “bpai99,” this story of a rock with a “nigger” name may even be helpful in restoring Perry’s recently sagging poll numbers.
Here’s what good ole’ NRafter530 posted: “This is supposed to hurt him with Republican voters how exactly?”
“Bpai 99” was even more conspiratorial, in posting: “This likely will unite the GOP base behind him and stop his slide in the polls.”
“Very canny move by his campaign strategists— should Perry become president, this will be seen as a brilliant bit of political timing.”
Is “Bpai” serious? Does he (I’m just guessing the writer is a “he.”) believe the Perry camp actually “leaked” the “Niggerhead rock story” to gain political advantage?
Please, say it ain’t so.
But, then, again, considering how and where Perry was raised and his response to race-related issues during his political life, to date, none of this should have risen to the level of “shock” or “surprise.”
Amazingly, Haskell County, Texas, where Perry was born, just began to recognize Martin Luther King Day, two years ago.
Here’s something else: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Throckmorton County had a population, in 1950, the year Perry was born, of 3,600 persons, of whom, just one was Black. Yeah, that’s right, one.
By 1960, Throckmorton’s Black population had risen to four; by 1970 it had fallen to two. In 1980, when Perry was working for his father, as a cotton farmer, the county’s Black population had dropped to zero. By 2010, however, there were 11 Black residents in Throckmorton.
So, it’s easy to understand how Perry family members wouldn’t have received much “push-back” from the local African-American population, for whatever they decided to paint on their rocks.
Then, again, maybe the few African Americans in the area had gotten out of the habit of being outspoken, due to the county’s history of lynching Black folks.
What we do know is that with that background, Perry was certainly prepared to publicly defend his assistant agriculture commissioner, Dick Waterfield, who had casually informed an agricultural loan applicant, “We already have one nigger (who submitted a loan application).” “We don’t need another.”
Waterfield, subsequently, said he “didn’t know whether or not (he) used that word.” Perry defended him, anyway.
With all of that as background, no one should have been surprised, at all, that, in 1999, Perry helped stop the passage of a hate-crime bill in the state of Texas.
They also shouldn’t have been surprised by his public expressions of support, over the years, for the Confederacy and, specifically, for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Few of us should have pretended to have been caught unaware, either, in learning that there even was a Texas camp called “Niggerhead.” The truth is that, in 1967, it’s been reported, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names changed the word “Nigger” to “Negro” in 143 different place names across the country. In west Texas, for example, “Dead Nigger Creek” was renamed “Dead Negro Draw.” “Nigger Nate Grade” in California was renamed “Nathan Harrison Grade Road” after numerous complaints by the NAACP. And in Baton Rouge Parish, in Louisiana, “Free Nigger Point” now goes by the name “Free Negro Road.” (I feel a lot better about that; how about you?)
So, the big shocker in all of this is not related to Perry, or even to the name on the rock, but to the reaction to the story by public officials and pundits. That has allowed us to look deeply into the souls of a great number of America’s leaders — and to, once again, be disappointed.
Take, for example, on Thursday, when the U.S. House of Representatives voted, almost strictly along party lines, to block a resolution by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (remember him?) that called for Rick Perry to apologize for not “doing away” with the rock, immediately.
Not surprisingly, the vote to block the resolution was 231-173. That’s 95 percent of Republicans in the House voting to drop it, and 90 percent of the Democrats voting, unsuccessfully, to move it forward.
Even beyond the recent House vote, there were other disturbing revelations relating to the “rock.” Not the least of which has been the spineless reaction to all of this by the only non-white Republican presidential candidate, this year, Herman Cain (Please note that I carefully refer to the apparently Black Mr. Cain simply as “non-white,” because he is on record as saying that he does not want to be referred to as “African American,” by those who comment on, or report on his candidacy. He just wants to be called “American.”)
By the way, good luck with that, Brother Cain.
In any event, when initially asked to respond to the story about the Perry family’s rock, Cain said that he thought Rick Perry’s camp name was “insensitive to a lot of Black people in this country.”
But shortly after having been blasted by the extreme right wing of his own party for taking a “cheap shot” at Perry, and for being a race-based political opportunist, Mr. Cain promptly ate all of his previous words, changing his position to: “I really don’t care about that word. They painted over it ... I’m not playing the race card.”
Man! Who can you trust?
So, here’s what we’ve learned: In 21st century America, using racially insensitive language, and insulting Black folks with the term “Nigger,” may not be a political liability, after all.
Curiously, what may be more politically risky during these twisted times, is to have the temerity to speak out about bigotry, no matter where it occurs, in the United States.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.