Oct 052011
Authors: Jesse Benn

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I sold cars. And one of the techniques salespeople use to help sell cars is “turning” a customer. That means giving them to another salesperson – make an excuse, introduce your associate and walk away. Your associate then takes one more shot, a last- ditch effort to get the customer to buy. If they succeed, you split the commission.

But you don’t turn a customer unless you have to, because bragging rights and a bigger paycheck are on the line with each sale.

Once, I was on my way to selling a Dodge Charger and getting a nice commission – until the customer told me about their trade-in.

“Yeah, we call it ‘Big Nig’ because it’s a big black truck.”

Now, I probably should have told them what I really thought about that, but I was at work, and speaking your mind doesn’t always go over well while working, particularly when you work at a big American truck dealership.

So, I excused myself and turned the sale.

And that’s the closest I’ve ever come to needing to decide whether or not I should lease a property named “Ni**erhead.”

As you can see, I wasn’t interested. Of course, that’s just me. Rick Perry is a little more insensitive I guess.

I hope that wasn’t too harsh of me, calling Perry insensitive; I’m not Herman Cain, so I think it should be okay. When he says stuff like that, he’s obviously playing the race card.

And wasn’t that an interesting way things played out? Here you have a white guy, with a checkered past on racial sensitivity, who leases a hunting property with a name like that. Then you have the only black candidate in the GOP bunch, a man who is old enough to have experienced segregation first-hand, and he calls Perry insensitive (pretty light criticism I thought).

But it’s not the white guy leasing the ranch who comes out as the controversial one in GOP circles – it’s the black guy who dared criticize him for it!

Welcome to the Twilight Zone, home of the RepubliCON party. Here scientists aren’t just fools, but science is foolish. Here the government doesn’t do anything except invade sovereign nations, tell people who they can marry, what they can choose to do with their body — and here it’s Herman Cain who is out of line for calling Perry insensitive, rather than Perry for leasing a ranch with an inflammatory name.

That Twilight Zone is a weird place indeed.

I know some of you are reading this thinking, “big deal, the place was named that by someone else. Perry says they painted over it, and there are other places called that, etc.”

Well, you’re wrong. It is a big deal. It shows a level of comfort with a word that only certain types of people — rappers and racists —  cozy up to. And as far as I know, Perry isn’t dropping an album anytime soon. (Although I hear Hank Williams is free to collaborate.)   

The fact that it was named by someone else when things were “different” (code for “when overt racism was acceptable”), and that other places bear the same name (more than 100 according to The Daily Show), doesn’t excuse Perry’s leasing of the ranch, but instead speaks to the greater issue at hand.

Think about it this way:  If there are still more than 100 places with a name like that ranch, what does that say about the legacy of racism in this country? We haven’t even gotten around to renaming places that include that word –- imagine how far we have to go to correct the deeper, institutionalized and generational racism our country was built around.

So here we are, presented with the opportunity to begin that conversation and to address how far we still have to go. We should be talking about the disparity in wealth, unemployment, education and incarceration rates between whites and non-whites, the rich and the not-so-much. But instead, we hear crickets. Both political parties and the mainstream media give barely a peep — or at best, a faint yell from Al Sharpton.

And that’s the real take-away. We still aren’t even ready to talk about race in this country. We may have a half-black president, but we’ve got a long way to go before that means what a lot of people want it to mean.

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who is not flying to Istanbul later this month. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:20 pm

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