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Contentions

Bad Day at Racist Rock

I am still trying to figure out why the “news” that Rick Perry’s father once held a deer lease on a 1,700-acre hunting camp known to locals as “Niggerhead” is a national story. By the Washington Post’s own account, “the name does not appear on U.S. topographic maps” and could not be found “in a database maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.” No one can remember Perry’s using the name, although it was evidently painted on a five-foot-by-three-foot rock beside the entrance to the camp. When he was a state legislator in the mid- to late-1980s, according to the Post, Perry “began hosting spring turkey shoots and other hunts for supporters and fellow legislators.” By then, however, the name had been painted over and the rock turned flat. On that score, pretty much everyone is in agreement.

Nevertheless, Gawker was “not surprised” to learn about “Perry’s old hunting ground.” The Huffington Post raised the inevitable question whether Perry is “racially insensitive.” The Village Voice chortled that “the phrase ‘Niggerhead’ will now always be associated with the Perry campaign,” and ran a photo with a caption that was far more “racially insensitive” than anything Perry is accused of.

Even Perry’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination piled on. Herman Cain said Perry showed a “lack of sensitivity.” Mitt Romney told Sean Hannity the name is “offensive.”

I am still trying to figure out what Perry was supposed to do. Rebuke his father for signing the original lease? Refuse to have anything to do with the place? The Perry family did not own the hunting camp and could not “rename” it by some kind of magical authority, as Cain and others are suggesting. Nor is there any evidence Perry or his father even referred to the camp by that name. That others did so, and that the Perrys did not take some unspecified action to stop them, are sufficient grounds for insinuating racism, I guess.

The whole episode reminds me of The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield, the phoniness-sniffing hero, sees “F–k you” written on a wall and tries to rub it out with his hand. It won’t come off. “If you had a million years to do it in,” he says in resignation, “you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘F–k you’ signs in the world.” All Holden succeeded in doing was to earn a reputation for “profanity” and “obscenity.”

American culture has become so hypersensitive to certain offensive words, spotted in isolation like rare birds, that all feeling for language, all sense of moral proportion, is being lost.


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