GOP Presidential candidate Rick Perry sweated bullets in issuing statement after statement claiming that he got rid of the offensive named “Ni**erhead” rock on his family owned West Texas hunting lodge years ago. Though some say the name stayed on the rock for years after Rick Perry frequented the lodge, Rick Perry continued to insist that the racial epithet on the rock was blotted out years ago at his request and that he would not have personally condoned the vile word on any landmark on his property.
But the “Ni**erhead” rock revelation did two things. It loaded him up with another bag in the steadily growing locker room full of baggage Rick Perry is lugging around about his past, his actions, , and even his fitness for the presidency.
The revelation about the pejorative scrawled rock also cast another ugly glare on America’s long and shameful penchant for slapping the N word on streets, places and things in all parts of the country. More than a half century ago, the NAACP campaigned hard to get a spot in Southern California that was branded “Ni**er Grade” renamed.
It got the change but as it turned out that was only the tip of the racially defaming iceberg. More than a decade later, the United States Board on Geographic Names scoured the country and found nearly 150 places with “Ni**er” in the name. It changed them to “Negro.” The Board was undoubtedly well-intentioned in trying to purge the word from everything or locale that carried it. But it didn’t seem to quite get the fact that simply trading the harsh “ni**er” for the gentler Negro was still race coding. In this case, the coding still pinpointed blacks. There was no record of any wholesale coding of locales and things as “p**awood” or “c**cker” to demean whites. But the damage had been done.
In 2004, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education found that more than 600 locales and geographical features were tagged with “Negro” in their names. Despite the federal government’s profuse assurance that no place in the country carries the “N word” in its name, the term still has a pesky way of repeatedly cropping up There was “N Pond” in Pennsylvania that after some protests a few years ago was changed to “Negro Pond.” There was “Ni**er Jim Hammock Bridge” in Hendry County, Florida. It took a bill by state Senator Steven A. Geller last year that mandated the elimination of all racially offensive names from locales and structures in the state. The legislature unanimously passed the bill. Yet the nagging question was what took the state so long t act and how many legions of Florida residents and tourists tooled across the racist named bridge in the decades that it carried the epithet.
Then there is the road, a stream and lake in upstate New York that a regional environmental researcher discovered and told authorities about in 2009 that carried the “N word” slur. Despite the “revelation,” state officials didn’t take immediate action. The Department of Environmental Conservation finally scrubbed the word from its website. The agency said there was no public outrage over the slurs. But it blithely attributed that to public ignorance of the slurs on the road, stream and lake. This requires belief that few, if any persons, ever drove, crossed, or paddled around the lake the road, stream, and lake. The DEC can’t rename the entities. That’s strictly a local matter. This in effect means that the racist name of the entities still officially remains their name. There’s also the suspicion that the New York case is hardly an isolated case where racial slurs remain on landmarks. There may well be more roads, streams, rivers, lakes, and ridges, and hills in out of the way places that have the “N word” in their title or are privately referred to it with the term by the locales.
A case can be made that as vile and despicable as slapping the “N word” on anything that’s tied down is simply part of the nation’s past, though horrid and shameful, is still just that a part of the historic past. And like other shameful things in a nation’s history, shouldn’t be totally altered but rather learned from. However, that rule doesn’t apply to a would be presidential candidate. What Rick Perry did or didn’t do when he saw the offensive named rock on family property is immaterial. The fact that it was even there and stayed there that long with no apparent objection from those in the region; a region that Rick Perry delights in claiming as the region where his roots are, and a region that has a long and checkered history of racial segregation, exclusion, and naked bigotry, makes one wonder just how much of that bigotry Rick Perry imbibed.