Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bad Day at Black Rock Has Rick Perry Pushing Up Daisies

Rick Perry had a bad day Sunday on account of a rock outside the Texas hunting camp his family once leased that had the name Niggerhead painted on it. Herman Cain called it insensitive, Mitt Romney called it offensive. No doubt, in this day and age that name is regarded as just that, insensitive and offensive.

But does Perry really need to take Al Sharpton's suggestion that he should withdraw from the race? Or is it possible that this is nothing more than a Texas ranch family naming their property many years ago after a beautiful albeit unfortunately-named wildflower?

Here we have an Echinacea, a purple coneflower of the daisy family whose roots and seeds are used in herbal medicine. These were once called niggerhead and the medicinal extract niggerhead tea.

Here we have a Black-eyed Susan, also formerly called niggerhead, another member of the daisy family and the state flower of Maryland.

One usually thinks of racist terms as having pejorative or insulting connotations. Beautiful flowers and medicinal herbs do not fit that mold. Is niggerhead an obviously racist epithet, or does it give honor by naming a flower afer a downtrodden race, a respectable word which has suffered guilt by association?

The press and the blogosphere are having a field day with Rick Perry:

The Washington Post - "Throckmorton County, where the hunting camp is located, was for years considered a virtual no-go zone for blacks because of old stories about the lynching of a black man there." - "Defense of Confederate symbols and Southern institutions can still be good politics below the Mason-Dixon line."

Steven Thrasher at the Village Voice - "Was Perry's campaign offering the crudest possible caption for just exactly what he was doing to that corn dog?"

chaunceydevega at Daily Kos - "Niggerhead will be a missed opportunity. This could be a teachable moment where White Americans could choose to look in the mirror and see the collective ugliness looking back at them. Whiteness, for most people in America, and indeed the world, was the face of terror. It was ugly and not beautiful."

Jason Cherkis at the Huffington Post - "Conservatives might rally around Perry's embattled campaign because a man with the living memory of what life was like for black people in the segregated South had the chutzpah to suggest that there was something 'insensitive' about a place called 'Niggerhead.'"

Jon Stewart also weighed in on The Daily Show:

All we can say for sure at this point is that the Texas property came by its unfortunate name many years before the Perry family began leasing it. Hints at a dark connection to so-far-undocumented lynchings notwithstanding, it could easily have been named for nothing more than a once-common colloquial name for a native wildflower.

Rick Perry's says his family painted over the old name as soon as they took up the hunting lease and later turned the stone over so it could not be read. Others claim the name was or is still visible, although oddly there were no pictures published of the alledgedly racist rock in the original Washington Post story, none out there that I could find.

Now don't get me wrong, if Rick Perry was actually inviting people out to the hunting camp using the name Niggerhead, that's a fatal political mistake showing poor judgment, rank stupidity, and gross insensitivity. But so far all the story really establishes is that the old name for the place may have been incompletely obscured and some of the oldtimers in the rural county continued using the old name.

You might ask who actually owns the property. That is reportedly the Hendrick Home for Children Trust, a 70-some-year-old charity that judging by the pictures on its website serves children without regard to race or ethnicity.

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