So, a couple of weeks back, I’m sitting at the Lowdon Track and Field Complex at Texas Christian University watching my daughter and her teammates prepare for the upcoming Texas Amateur Athletic Federation’s State Track and Field Championships. Her coach is working them hard, even in the summer heat. They’re running curves and practicing hand-offs. Another track club is there as well and some TCU sprinters. The athletes are starting to get into a groove. Coaches and parents are admiring the vibe, quietly jazzed by the effort and speed of the kids, whether they’re elementary, junior high, high school, or college students.
Then a white compact sedan drives by, and a young white male hangs out the passenger-door window, and yells “Nigggggers!” at the top of his lungs.
At first, I’m not sure what I heard. This is, after all, the 21st century.
But sadly, I had heard right — the plural version of the N-word, loud and proud. And I saw in some of the other parents’ faces that they heard it too. It made me angry. And then I was just embarrassed.
You see, most of the other parents were black, and I’m white. The bumpkins behind the drive-by were white, of my tribe.
In the world of serious track, white folks are the minority, and we’re hard not to notice. We try to fit in, but sometimes it’s difficult, especially when Caucasoid clowns are howling racial slurs.
There was nothing to be done about it. We shook our heads and turned back to our children. The incident wasn’t anything the black parents and black kids hadn’t experienced before, so they seemed to take it in stride. But it stuck in my mind.
When those racist clowns got to where they were going, did they yuk it up, proud of themselves, high-fives all around? Did they salute a Confederate flag back at their frat house or a Nazi swastika in their flat? Did they revel in “white” pride?
In the bigger picture, our new mixed-race president seems to have reminded a lot of white folks of their white pride. Closet racists who might otherwise have never been heard from or ever openly emitted a racist chirp have come out of hiding because they think their bigotry is now legitimized under the auspices of “taking their country back.” Talk-radio blowhards are telling them President Obama is out to get them. And right-wing operatives like Andrew Breitbart are stoking the inanity behind racial prejudice and racial paranoia by trumpeting distortions of the New Black Panther polling-place incident and outright lies about upstanding black Americans like Shirley Sherrod.
I fear that at this historical moment, the stars are curiously aligned for racists in the same way they aligned for Joe McCarthy (a precursor to contemporary Neocons) during the Red Scare. Riding a wave of gullibility, ignorance, and xenophobia, McCarthy fueled and legitimized a communal neurosis that spread through the ranks of un- and ill-informed Americans like the ride of Paul Revere. I expect that, Fox News notwithstanding, racial paranoia will end this time around the same way that Communist paranoia did back in the ’50s, but the damage will be done, and we could spend decades trying to heal.
Racists are not going to like hearing this, but their frenzy of ignorance is as understandable as it is ludicrous: It’s the only weapon they have against irrelevance.
Ultimately, that’s what folks like Breitbart, Rush Limbaugh, and the bumpkins who yelled a racial epithet at our track practice are: irrelevant. The country is moving on. The ulterior motives behind their campaigns against Obama are obvious. And the racist jabs and jibes are simply a long and protracted death rattle. Their impunity is finished. Their imbecility is drawing to an end. The country isn’t going to stay white anymore than it was going to stay slaveholding, McCarthyistic, or homophobic.
The bozos behind the drive-by are ugly relics — living, breathing reminders of a more obtuse, unjust time that too many white folks in this country still hold dear. A time when pasty-complexioned, gray-haired conservative presidents told them they were better than everyone else and that their paleness would prevail.
Someday the racist factions of my tribe will finally transcend the ignorance and lies they were unfortunately raised with or inspired by. But it may take a million more slurs, a few more Arizonas, a dozen more lily-white Glen Becks, and perhaps even another George Armstrong Custer. But we’ll get there. We’re just a little slow.
E.R. Bills is a FortWorth-based writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications.