The summer of simmer
The volume of racism, hate and bigotry has fluctuated over time, but it’s always been on
It’s going to blow! That’s kind of how the summer of 2019 has felt so far and we’re not even all the way through July.
Welcome to the Teakettle Times. The vitriol of the summer made me think of a teakettle because its ear-piercing whistle doesn’t start to immediately ring out just after you fill it up and set it on the stove. It takes heat … and time.
When I read the “go back” tweets from Trump on July 14, one of the first things my mind conjured up was a John McCain town hall gathering from his 2008 presidential campaign. Maybe I have a thing for duality?
During that town hall in Lakeville, Minnesota, a woman in the audience told the Republican Senator, “I can’t trust Obama,” she said. “ … he’s an Arab.” His response, which starts by shaking his head, was straightforward, “No ma’m. He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”
Over the past few weeks, focus on that encounter has been on McCain’s very statesman-like response, but I keep going back to the woman who asked the question. And before her, a man in the crowd had the microphone and said to the Arizona senator, “ … frankly, we’re scared. We’re scared of an Obama presidency.”
That was more than 10 years ago, and the judgement, fear and hate was there. It just needed time and someone to turn up the heat.
Those things were also there six years later, in a living room in northeast Wisconsin. That’s when I was among a group watching the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears game, when a man, commenting about a scrum on the field, said, “It's a big ol' (N-word) pile!”
In a column I wrote about the incident for the Green Bay Press-Gazette, I recalled what happened when I spoke up, letting him know that word was not acceptable or appropriate. In part, I wrote:
“I was quickly criticized for being too politically correct. You know, in that broad-brush ‘the elitist journalist doesn't think we should say that word’ kind of way. … So here I am, by myself, trying to articulate — on Sept. 28, 2014 — that you cannot possibly equate the horribleness of the N-word, a word that conveys sub-humanness, to a gutless PC joke.”
A few days after that column appeared online and in print, the tide of hate and misogyny rolled in again. I received a letter from a reader who was upset by my column. RR had a number of things to say, in comic sans, of course, including: “There is nothing worse than an outspoken (C-word).”
That rolling tide of racism in the United States has always been here. We brought it here! We delivered it to this country’s shores on slave ships and we doled it out to the indigenous people who were here before us.
I think I knew this before I knew it.
As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, it was a special treat to go downtown to watch a Major League Baseball game at Cleveland Stadium. On one of those trips, before the Indians moved to the newly constructed Jacobs Field in 1994, I remember being with my dad in a crowd of people walking from our parked cars to the stadium that prominently featured Chief Wahoo.
As we walked, we went by a small group of Native Americans who had gathered there together, holding signs to protest the offensive mascot. The response from those mostly white fans walking to the game? A mocking war cry and laughter…and silence.
I wished they would have told us to go back to where we came from.