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.