Ever since reading The Post’s Sunday story on “Niggerhead,” the unfortunately named hunting camp used by Gov. Rick Perry and his family, I’ve struggled with what to think. Sure, the name is horribly offensive. But as we all know, there are streams, hills and mountains that have the N-word names all over the country. Also, the Perry’s didn’t give their leased property its name. The 1,070-acre property was always known as such. They couldn’t even whitewash it, literally.
But after days of hashing this out in my head, I think I’ve zeroed in on my problem with Perry in this episode. Call me naive (and many of you do already), but I can’t wrap my head around how anyone could 1.) lease a property with such an offensive name and 2.) not be ready to discuss the situation with clarity once the offense was inevitably revealed.
Leave aside the presidential ambitions and how that forces people to alter their behavior and get their stories straight over problematic things in their past. Could you imagine if it came out that President Obama rented an apartment or stayed at a property that had, say, the vile taunt Arbeit Macht Frei over its doorway or gate? I could never imagine crossing the threshold, let alone staying in a place marked thusly. And inviting people over with traces of that evil phrase still visible?! Nope. Not a chance.
Let me be clear: “Niggerhead” and the “Arbeit Macht Frei” example are by no means equivalent. But their shock to the senses and our values is.
I know Perry is Texas through and through. It might never have crossed his mind that leasing a property forever known as “Niggerhead” would be insensitive at best, even as late as the 1980s. And while being associated with such a property might not cause an eye to bat in certain precincts of the Lone Star State or among certain Republican primary voters, it certainly is cause for concern when Perry wants to be president of the United States.
Candidate Barack Obama deservedly caught hell for his association with a preacher who said God should damn America. People wondered what that said about him and his character. They wondered if it meant he didn’t love this country. It fit neatly with the emerging narrative that Obama was an other from another planet. And then-Sen. Obama gave the speech of his life. It not only was an eloquent oration that gave voice and credibility to the concerns, fears and grievances of blacks and whites, but it also repaired the damage done to his campaign.
With “Niggerhead” and other questionable race-related controversies hanging over him, Perry must now do the same. Perhaps he could still win the nomination attached to something so ugly. But I don’t see the American people being willing to cross that threshold with him without at least an explanation and a discussion of his views on race. Telling The Post, “Niggerhead” is an “offensive name that has no place in the modern world” isn’t enough.