A Racist Oasis

Tara at The Political Game has followed the Zeb Bell racist storyline when it first broke in mid-June.  Although I was aware of what was going on, I didn’t follow it closely enough to make any reference to it, especially being bogged down with the intricacies of dealing with our court proceedings & my dad.

On Monday’s broadcast, a broadcast that coincidentally was not taped by Bell or KBAR (the Rupert-based AM radio station), Bell reportedly referred to the Democratic presidential nominee as “black Negroid Barack Hussein Obama” and his guest, one Frosty Wooldridge, referred to Senator Obama’s mother as “trailer trash” drawn to African-American men.

Shit like this always begs the question: What is IT with people that they just cannot ‘decipher’, attack’ the policies, beliefs or opinions of a public figure but have to denigrate them based on their ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, et.al? What is their fear?

Tara has kept an eye on it all with posts about the owners who lease Bell air time with further vigilant posting on Zeb Bell’s perpetuating “hate rather than elevating discourse” as one of the commenters wrote, and further postings at Red State Rebels, and 43rd State Blues.  This is one of the reasons I read Tara’s blog:

In my state alone we have at least one radio pundit who sees fit to call the Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States of America a “Negroid.” He is inclined to refer to Mr. Obama by his middle name of Hussein in an attempt to scare his listeners into believing Mr. Obama is not Christian, but rather connected to Islam. He has in the past belittled the hard work and dedication of decent Idahoans who work for very little and contribute to our communities in big ways. With pride he has claimed to pull a gun on a local Hispanic man; has told horribly demeaning jokes about Native Americans; has allowed his guests to speak atrocities such as that of his recent guest who referred to Senator Obama’s mother as trailer trash and another guest that he entrusts his show to from time to time to state that American Indians deserved to be a conquered people; he has consistently stated, in reference to the monument at the Minidoka internment camp site, that we have nothing for which to apologize because our internment of Japanese-Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor was justifiable; and, he has attacked the youngest and brightest citizens in our communities for their beliefs, political and otherwise.

The likes of Zeb Bell, I’m sure, exists in most ethnocentric hideaways.  Communities that absolutely do not want to accept ‘the others’ and think it’s there ‘God-given right’ to reject those who aren’t them or like them.  I know they have existed here and do in Idaho definitely since first becoming aware of such when in grade school, and most certainly by the time I started high school.  I lived in such a community although the predominant factor there was religion with 95% of the town was one particular religion.

Among one the things I’ve learned recently about my father is that contrary to what WE thought, he did do something significant during WWII. As far as we knew his primary duty station was Alaska where, we supposed, he tracked polar bears and played cards, then married an Inupiat woman (Elvira) and had a son – our older half-brother, Dan. As it turns out, the court visitor who spoke to my father, during all that guardianship fuckery, learned my dad actually fought as a gunner heavily involved with the Aleutian Islands battle.

The islands had very little actual strategic value for either side, but the Japanese reasoned that control of the Aleutians would prevent a possible U.S. attack across the Northern Pacific. Similarly, the U.S. feared that the islands would be used as bases from which to launch aerial assaults against the West Coast.

However this isn’t about my dad, the Aleutian Islands or dementia.  It’s about my older brother, Dan, and the racism that confronted him.  I don’t know the specifics; I do know the generalities of why my father didn’t stay in Alaska, and why Dan stayed in Alaska with his grandmother rather than his mother or father until he was 15.   But when he was 15, his grandmother died and Dan came to live with us;  I was 7. And suddenly we all had an older brother who could, among other things, kick the branches on the big maple tree in the front yard which were above our heads, and thus, we were suitably impressed.

As you can see in the picture, Dan doesn’t really “look” like the man in the picture, who is our father.  My father’s father came from Norway; his mother, France; while my maternal relatives were Scots/Irish. Now, the biggest and greatest thing about my older brother is how he protected us from my Dad’s anger, which more often than not was directed at my mother quite violently.  In the almost three years Dan lived with us there was only that one, initial outburst.  My brother was a sanctuary for us.  He gave us respite.

While living with us Dan attended Borah High until he went into the Navy in 1963.   In ’65, Dan was killed by a drunk driver on April 1st, one month prior to his discharge from the Navy.  Some 45 days later my parents lost a child when my younger brother Brian died shortly after his birth.  Within a month we had moved from Boise out to the hinterlands bordering on the desert.

A few years into the hinterland farming experience, my father was notified of the death of Dan’s mother in Ohio with her husband to forward all things belonging to Dan to my father.   Among those things forwarded was a journal Dan kept while attending school in Boise and his time in the Navy.  When I read it, I was 14.  I was stunned.  I was appalled.  There it was, all in his blocky handwriting of how he was treated “like shit” while at Borah because he was incredibly different (physically) from everyone in his classes and economically, we were floundering – 6 kids plus him.  He also talked about how there were only two places in the world while in the Navy he felt comfortable.  Japan and New Zealand.  On top of all that, there was his grief in the loss of his grandmother.

For me, it was relatively simple.  How could anyone NOT enjoy my brother?  How could anyone NOT be curious about him or interested in him?  How could ANYONE judge him based on what he looked like rather than who he WAS?  I can honestly say that was a ‘deciding moment’ for me.  If one moment defines how I view others, it’s that moment when I realized that the brother I greatly loved and respected, and felt beholden to, did not have that love or respect reciprocated because he was “another.”  And not to mention growing up in the ’60s.

I’ve lived in Idaho since the age of 2 or thereabouts, and in that time I’ve run across plenty of the Zeb Bell types. Dumb shits who feel they are so entitled in all their white glory there is no room for anyone else, and if there is room it is then in deference to them.  Who, when their ethnocentric boundaries are pushed, go ballistic.  People like this woman and the subsequent discussion at Racialicious regarding that letter.

I am a white female and I can tell you that I don’t talk about blacks for fear I will be called a racist or be called to the table, especially in the workplace, for discrimination.  We (whites), at my company, are not allowed to talk about blacks or any other ethnic group because we would get fired.  I will say that whites are very sensitive now because we are discriminated against.  Blacks can have the NAACP, BET (Black Entertainment Television), Black History Month, United Negro College Fund, etc.  If white people were to start something like the before mentioned there would be a huge uproar.

As the responder to the letter writes: “Your one e-mail covered most of the race-based malarkey I heard growing up.”

How do you explain to someone who enjoys the benefits of being the dominating factor in racism that their very existence is about what is mainstream, that which is viewed as ‘majority’, ‘normal’, ‘correct’, ‘the best’, etc?  How do you explain to them it is absolutely UNNECESSARY to have “white clubs” because it goes without saying that those clubs, ventures that exclude ‘the others’ are embracing and emblematic of white society?  Mainstream” media can be more accurately called white media. Again, as the writer asserts:

Your demand that we “Get over the color!” is an expression of white privilege. It’s only possible to “get over” it if you are in the majority culture. Assuming you’re white, YOU can “get over the color!” but it’s simply not possible for people of color to get over who they are, what that means and the damage our society has purposefully done over the centuries by color.

When in Cleveland I lived near University Circle at 110th & Lee for almost three years.  To say the area was predominantly black is an understatement.  Outside of a family I knew some two blocks up, I was the only white face around for blocks and more often than not when riding the bus, grocery shopping or doing laundry.  I never cared. I figured as long as I stayed true to myself and treated people how I wanted to be treated, how could I miss?  Then too, my brother is always in the back of my mind, lurking, reminding me that he wasn’t treated as should have been, reminding me that every second of every day, he was aware of who he was and how he was ‘different.’  Me – I don’t ever have to worry about it.  Not really.  Not unless something transpires to remind me of who I am because I generally don’t make apologies for who I am.  I am who I am, as the adage is said to go.  It’s what I do with it – just like Mountain Goat referred below.  Just because ‘it’s always been that way’ doesn’t mean it’s needs to continue, it’s the best way to go or I can’t do something to alter it.

I have known plenty of people like Zeb Bell.  These are generally hard-working, God-fearing, what most would consider salt of the earth type people.  They live in small towns where high school sports is a religion and where school rivalries can elicit passions that grown men should have outgrown but haven’t.  They believe in family and church and the 4th of July.  Insiders are in and outsiders are out and they’ll explain the inexplicable with, “That’s the way it’s always been.”

As yet another commenter at Racialicious, who appears to be a teacher, wrote about discussions he ‘witnessed’:

Upon reflection, I also wonder if perhaps the white students benefited the most, by having some of that clouded vision removed.

Removing clouded vision along with fear.   I’m figuring it’s going to take a lot longer than I want it to take.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks, Wordsmith. Your perspective on this (and many other things) is very valuable to me. And you’re right, unfortunately, it is going to take a lot longer to erase Idaho of this hatred than most of us would like.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your blog, and I’d like to invite you–and your readers–to join a national movement of positive bloggers for Obama: we’ve pledged to write a positive blog post once a week about Obama for the next 10 weeks.

    It would be easy for you, since you are already a prolific blogger—and your blog will probably get a lot more traffic because we’ll all be linking to one another’s blogs and promoting the event. There’s nothing more to it than the positive blogging you’re already doing, but the “10 Post Pledge” is really catching on, building the positive momentum of the Obama campaign all over the country!

    Our goal is to get all 50 states represented and we’re halfway there! but we’re missing Idaho, so we can’t do it without you!

    check out the link to see the details and sign up: http://my.barackobama.com/page/event/detail/44hfj

    I hope you’ll join us! You can see the interactive map showing 45+ bloggers in 25 states who are participating at: http://rubycrushonobama.blogspot.com

    -Ruby

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