Irene North


We are better than this

I woke up to my community in despair on Saturday. A letter to the editor in the local paper, the paper where I work at as a reporter, was causing a stir.

The letter, which many people have spread, can be seen below in the screenshot from the Scotts Bluff County Democrats. It is full of hate and ignorance. Its words make me want to leave this town, but I have spent two days thinking about where to go from here.

This is what a racist looks like.

Shortly after I started working at the Star-Herald, a young man’s car was vandalized. A classmate has scrolled the word “nigger” on his car. I can’t imagine how deeply this cut into the young man’s soul. My editor at the time, Steve Frederick, wrote an editorial after the court case surrounding the incident ended. In it he wrote about the community that had come out to say it wasn’t acceptable. We all struggled to find the right words to eloquently say, “this bullshit has to stop.”

We’re sorry that a half century after Martin Luther King was assassinated for speaking out against institutionalized racism and after so many fought and died in the streets to bring fairness and decency to our nation’s laws, bigotry can still raise its nasty head in America. Our community isn’t immune, sad to say. Even today, we still catch whiffs of it. It still stinks.

You might have noticed that stench surrounding some of the comments on our Facebook page. Some posters seem to be challenged by the notion of what it means to be well raised. Apparently, for them, it covers racism, a vice no baby is born with. Pay attention to the others, the good folks, and take them to heart. You have many defenders out there, including some you’ve never met. They called the crime horrible, ignorant, racist behavior.

And it was…

…They’ve got life all wrong and will have to live with the consequences.

That might take awhile, unfortunately. Scrubbing away the darkest stains of human history takes persistence. Those who toil at it often find themselves facing down entrenched resistance. But take heart. It’ll happen. It’s happening already.

And so things did improve, for a while. When I had my column at the paper, I would get calls, emails and letters from both sides. I laughed at the bigots and racists. I noticed they seemed to be the same people. They are a loud minority, but they are there.

After Donald Trump was elected, these people seemed to be emboldened. There were several letters to the editor I thought about responding to here on my website. I chose not to give them attention. I feel it necessary now.

There was the letter calling President Obama a buffoon. It also said, “Those ‘tolerant’ (laughable) liberals really have to get behind something that’s going to help America, not just another topic that is set to divide us further which is basically their goal.”

No, sir. We are tolerant because we prefer to get along, to see people’s differences and allow those differences to enhance our lives.

Another letter commended the Star-Herald for printing an editorial in the paper and didn’t suppress free speech. While this is accurate, the same person had written me personally after the presidential election with vile, hateful words. The letter mocked me and said it was now their turn to run things and fix what Obama had done (whatever that was), and that my turn (a threat) would come soon. I suppose free speech is only good for this person when you are espousing views they agree with.

The person who wrote the letter to the editor that was printed in the Saturday, Nov. 4 edition of the Star-Herald is a familiar name to those who have been paying attention.

As the story spread through the community and was shared of Facebook, the consensus was it should have never been published. Greg Awtry, publisher of the Star-Herald, defended its printing on someone else’s Facebook page, saying it was best to shine a light on racists and bigots.

I can see both sides of the argument, but the discussions with my coworkers has left us feeling guilty. I take care of the “news” email. I could have deleted it. Maybe I should have called more attention to it than reading it to eight people in the office and shaking my head at the ignorance and hate.

Our copy desk feels they should have refused to print it, but it ultimately isn’t their decision either. We are all grappling with the guilt and shame we feel for having something so vile in the paper. We don’t have the answers, but we are trying to have this debate. Can this debate change anything?

I don’t suppose people who find hate and division acceptable will ever go away. But for most of my life, they knew their ideology was going extinct. They would rise up from time to time, but things were getting better.

When I moved here 10 years ago, I knew I thought differently from many people. I kept my thoughts and ideas to myself. A liberal in a conservative land must tread softly. The newspaper encouraged me to let my voice be heard.

It was after the newspaper decided to pull all reporters’ columns that I learned there are many more like me here, but they are often forced to remain silent due to their livelihood.

There’s the woman who raises millions of dollars for her organization, but can’t speak out because it would mean she could no longer do her job effectively.

There was the letter that asked the paper to reinstate our columns. It didn’t happen, but it let me know there was at least one person who could openly step forward.

There’s the man who would lose his business if people knew what he truly thought. There are doctors, teachers, lawyers, restaurant employees, who know their jobs would be in jeopardy if they said a word. They often say their thoughts to me. When I am in despair, they encourage me to go on, to continue to speak out. But I will not lie. Some days are harder than others.

I miss the guy from Alliance who called me almost every week after my column was published. He’s a member of the “greatest generation” and he made me smile every Thursday when he called.

There are the friends I’ve made that I can talk to, rely on, and have a conversation about where we, as a nation, are going.

There are many people in this community who find this latest letter to the editor abhorrent. They are shocked. Angered. Enraged. I will pay attention to those good folks and I will take them to heart.

I woke up to my community in despair on Saturday. But what I heard was no. We don’t accept this. We will not accept this. We will speak up and discount this talk of the ignorant few. We will prevail.

And they gave me hope.


Another reason to not eat Papa John’s


Maybe we are like this


  1. Bonnie Smallfoot

    Thanks for noticing seems to be a lot of in our town

  2. Peter Dampier

    Good they’re shining the light on it really – shame they don’t publish full address/phone number.

  3. Stephanie Bradley Leeper

    Well said! I was truly appalled and you are right. His name is very familiar. He’s a racist through and through. But now the community knows. Some may not care but I have to believe that more do. We are better than this. Keep speaking the truth. We got your back!

  4. Mary Wernke

    I honestly thought it was satire. No one is that bad. I was wrong. Allow me to shine a light 💡…

  5. Peter Dampier

    Mind you – looking at general election results it should be down right scary to live in Scots Bluff. 7 out of 10 registered voters there cast their ballots for Trump knowing full well who they were voting for and what he stood for. So I guess most of the community there do agree with much of the sentiment expressed in that letter. Glad here in WA the result was the complete reverse of that!

    • Irene North

      There are some really good people here, liberal and conservative, but, IIRC, Scotts Bluff County is the reddest in the state. It is slowly changing, and maybe it will always be conservative, but I would like to hope even people who don’t share my political views would agree racism and bigotry have no place in society.

    • Peter Dampier

      While I have political differences with people who voted for Bush, McCain and Romney I agree they can be good people and I’m friends with many. I don’t feel that way for anyone who voted for Trump this last election. They knew EXACTLY who they voted for and what he stood for and he has not disappointed them. If I knew that 70% of people I would meet in Scotts Bluff voted for the treasonous scum I couldn’t handle it. 🙂 Guess its lucky I live here.

    • Irene North

      Peter Dampier I won’t lie Pete. It isn’t always easy to live in a place where so many people think differently from you, but I try to live by the example that hate isn’t acceptable and I’m going to call you out on it when I can.

    • Carole L. Mix

      Peter Dampier It’s really hard when you have family that ARE good people, not ones to approve of the things he did, and yet they voted for him just to vote Republican and against Hillary. We can not discuss this at all. 😥

    • Peter Dampier

      Carole L. Mix See I could do that when they voted for Bush, McCain or Romney but after everything Trump said and did during the run up to the election there is no excuse – they voted KNOWING who he is. They are complicit. In addition they had a choice of a third party such as Libertarian or Green. They didn’t have to vote for Hillary.

    • Carole L. Mix

      Peter Dampier I agree, but I am old, am an only child with no aunts or uncles left. I need family and this is a daughter, son-in-law, and a granddaughter that I know voted for him. My other daughter and other family members I don’t know how they voted and won’t ask as it would change the way I think about them. We just avoid talking politics because I would not be able to not say how I feel. 😥

  6. LeAnn Nuss Lovato

    I feel the paper definitely was right to print it. Put that shitty opinion on blast, let people see it in all it’s ugliness. There are too many of us in this community walking around with our heads in the sand thinking we have an idyllic little community full of nice people. They ignore the dark side; racism, the classism, the sexism, the drug problems, poverty problems….the list goes on and on. We can never forget that while guys like this, the ones who are wide open with it, are fairly rare, these are the ideas a lot of people in our community espouse in the privacy of their homes, to their children. It’s those kids that need to hear the discussion that this letter brings up. It’s them that need to see opposition to that sort of poison.

  7. Kerri Schnase-Berge

    Thanks, Irene North, we ARE better than this. Thanks for writing this.

  8. Gail Moran

    Keep up your good work, Irene! These are dark times that call for light and truth! — formerly of Scottsbluff…

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