Monday, October 3, 2011

Is It Really "Just a Name?"

I definitely am not surprised to see that the media was all a-twitter about Herman Cain's "insensitivity" charge against Gov. Rick Perry over the name of the parcel of land where Perry's family has hosted hunting parties for years.  But I have to admit that I don't see this issue as necessarily problematic for Perry politically.  I think it's simply a reminder of our country's long lived racial history.  It will be interesting to see how Perry handles this. 

I know that there will be a fair few who will accuse Perry of racism.  I think it's a worthless accusation, and I just don't see Perry as a racist.  However, I do find it interesting that no one in that county really seemed to make an effort to stop calling the hunting grounds "Niggerhead," and it seems that few had any real problem with the name to begin with (a local judge said that it was "...just a name....It's just what it was called).  It reminds me of the portion of the Washington Post story on this issue where two Haskell County, TX residents offered very different perspectives on their experiences in the county.  Mae Lou Yeldell recalled that "it was not uncommon in the 1950s and '60s for whites to greet blacks with 'Morning, Nigger."  Meanwhile, Don Ballard recalled that there "[c]ertainly were no picketing signs.  Blacks were perfectly satisfied with what was happening."  And therein rests the problem.  The perceptions and realities are simply different.

I am sure that there are many who will be disappointed in Cain for "playing the race card," as though Cain should understand that "Niggerhead" is "just a name."  As I did research on African American historic places across the country, I was surprised by the number of places that bore the name "Nigger," like "Niggerhead."  And though it may sound strange to some, I think that there is a value to the broader populace being made aware that places like "Niggerhead" existed and continue to exist (though certainly not with a great deal of public prominence).  It would be interesting to see if Perry tackles this issue from the perspective of just the big rock announcing one's arrival in "Niggerhead," or if he will tackle the issue of how a name that charged could be brushed off as simply "just a name."  Will Perry end up having to do a race speech like Obama (or religion speech like Romney)?  It might be helpful for him to do something like that, and it potentially could help other Baby Boomer white Southern conservative politicians running for high office (remember Haley Barbour's Jim Crow era remembrance?).

I wanted to add that I really liked Ta-Nehisi Coates' perspective on this, and it prompted me to write this post.  I also found Matt Yglesias' comment quite funny, and eerily accurate.  Please check them out.

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