Before I launch into this blog I want to apologize to those who may have sent me emails on my latest blogs. My hard drive went down and I replaced it but lost emails. Please forward or respond to my blog again and I will answer.
This blog is about an experience I had here in Arkansas where Nanci and I winter. We have twenty acres and live well out of any towns. We live in a dry county and we belong to a private club where we go to have a drink, eat and relax. The club bills itself as a sports bar and restaurant which is essentially true. We have met many people at the club and our experiences have been mostly good and folks have been welcoming and engaging. I don’t kid myself, I live six months in Arkansas and was born here; I know that racism exists here (just like in Minnesota where we live for the other six months of the year)but have only been exposed to a little of it.
The club is owned by a family which is part of a larger family which owns many business’s in the town. The owners have always been gracious and kind to us and their son is the bartender and runs the club. The son is forward thinking and we spend time talking about politics, economics, sports and racism. There are other people who come to the club that also discuss the same issues with us although it is not the center of all discussions.
The patriarch of the family, Johnny, is a self made man and is quite well off. He built his business with hard work and determination. I have had many discussions with Johnny about his childhood and his business. We have had good conversations and I liked spending time talking to Johnny until last Wednesday.
Nanci and I went to the club to watch a basketball game and relax. We were having a good conversation about basketball with the bartender and I was sitting next to Johnny who had been spending his time talking business to his nephew. At a commercial break in the basketball game, Johnny leaned over to me and said in a quiet voice: “I never thought I would live to see the day, especially after 9/11, when we would have a Black Muslim in the White House”. I responded that I was confident that Obama was a Christian and not a Muslim. Johnny went on to say that Obama doesn’t go to church and sits in the White House reading the Koran. I again said that Obama was a Christian. Johnny just said: “I see where this is going” and turned away and continued talking to his nephew. I didn’t think much of this, but told my wife about the conversation on the way home.
Yesterday, Saturday, Nanci and I did some shopping in town and then went to the club for their Valentine’s Day party. I was sitting at the bar drinking coffee, my usual since I don’t drink, and talking to another patron that we know quite well. Johnny came up to us and said: “look at those niggers on TV; they aren’t very smart since they just came out of the trees”. Then he did his dance pretending to be a monkey and then said: “Look at Obama’s wife she looks like she just got out of a tree she is all hunched over and walks like an ape”. He continued on sprinkling “nigger” throughout his rant. I ignored him since he had been drinking and I learned a long time ago the arguing with a drunk is not rewarding. Nanci and I left.
I have been thinking about this encounter all night and today. I know that I will confront Johnny, but won’t change his beliefs. I know that part of Johnny is the way he was raised as a child in the south; similar to the racist way I was raised. I changed; Johnny won’t because he is still a bully. After I confront Johnny, Nanci and I will probably be kicked out of the club which is too bad since we do enjoy going there. For us it will be worth not being a part of something bigoted but it is sad that an old bigoted man will dictate our social life.
I will confront Johnny because I believe in social justice and know that if I am silent then it is a tacit approval of bigotry. This experience makes it clear that those who work for social justice will always have something to do, say and achieve. It can be a tough road but I am up for it.
Timothy A. Bess
February 12, 2012