Many years ago now it seems when Fred Phelps died, a lot of people were celebrating his death. Without a doubt, the outspoken racist, bigoted and prejudiced so-called pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. wasn’t a true man of God. He spoke of intolerance and hatred. His people protested funerals of military personnel and even showed up in Laramie, Wyo. following the murder of Matthew Shepherd to “sing the praises” of his death.
But when he died, I was in my final days at the newspaper business. I encouraged people to pray for him. This is small-town Oklahoma people who will send “prayer warriors” for someone who stubs their toe on the coffee table. But yet, they were wanting to speak ill of him. Yes, they should do whatever they want. But I told them the best way to show him how true Christians act, they should pray for him and his family. Because if we cheer his death, he wins.
It seems that they only got upset about Phelps’ hatred when he criticized military personnel as we were in two wars, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s funny that people were okay with the hatred when it was directed at the LBTQIA community but when it switched to the military, they got upset. The “church” even protested a death in the community I worked in. They knew the law. They wanted people to assault them so they could file legal lawsuits and make money. No one did, because they sent women and young girls, who hopefully have learned the errors of their ways in the years since now they’re adults.
But it was their right to protest. It was Phelps’ right to protest military and say what he said. The one thing the “Church” didn’t do was to encourage others to get physical with military. Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson, to name a few, are really about pushing a false narrative repeatedly it’s leading to harm for other people. Donald Trump, who once was President which is still hard to believe, did the same. People even said they voted for him just so he would “hurt” people.
This is where it gets dangerous, especially when it result in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection coup attempt. People knew what Trump was saying. They knew what he meant. He wanted them to do his dirty work. And yes, I’m accusing the former President of inciting violence.
The McMinn County, Tenn. School Board voted earlier to ban Art Spiegelman’s metaphorical graphic novel Maus in a 10-0 vote. The novel references the Holocaust and it has been around for 30 years. I’m sure it’s raised some controversy, but that in my school days, boards were more concerned about certain language in books than certain tone.
Slaughterhouse-Five was in my local school library. It was a part where a character calls another a “motherfucker.” The Catcher in the Rye, a novel I don’t like, has been on the list of banned books for description of minors drinking alcohol and use of the word “fuck.” And of course, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird have been hot topic books for their usage of the N-word.
A few years ago, they attempted to change the N-word and its usage in Finn with the word, “slave” which sounded worse. Samuel Clemons, aka Mark Twain, wrote the book in dialect to criticize those who prided on those antebellum days. He was only using the words that other people use. It didn’t mean he used them or even condone them. The same could be said with Harper Lee and Mockingbird. Lee grew up during Jim Crow in Alabama. She probably saw and heard a lot worse.
Naturally, rappers and filmmakers have used the N-word to much of white people’s chagrin. But it mostly because white people not allowed to say it. Well, they can say it, but that doesn’t mean someone might think differently of them or even start a fight. Their excuse is, rap musicians use it. But rap musicians don’t speak for an entire race of people. Richard Pryor used it until he realized that he didn’t need to because it was used by white people to falsely describe the “wretchedness” of black people.
Now, the other F-word can’t be used to describe people in the LGBTQIA community. That word is used to criticize someone’s sexuality or even behavior that isn’t “manly.” We’re having same-sex couple getting married in churches in 2022. We don’t need to use it anymore. Nor do we need to use the N-word.
But what about other words to describe white people such as “honky,” “cornbread,” “cracker,”
and of course “whitey.” I don’t have a problem with any of those words, because they’re not used as a sign of racism. And we should give black people more credit because a lot of them don’t even call white people these words.
Even Sherman Hemsley who said, “honky” on The Jeffersons said after a few seasons, he no longer wanted to use it. A lot of people, regardless of race, sex or creed refer to other people through derogatory words, especially now since many of them have been raised in tolerant households in the post-Civil Rights era. Hopefully, we’ll stop excusing racist, sexist and bigoted remarks by saying “That’s just the era they were raised in.”
Well, people can change. And people have the right to change. People should change. But they should change for the better. A lot of conservative pundit want to pull out the hypocrisy and sometimes it’s warranted, but most of the time, they are making arguments just to make arguments. I heard one men talk about the Quacker Oats logo as a sign of a stereotype. Well, no, that’s because the Quacker is just a man dressed in attire of the time.
The Land-O-Lakes Indigenous woman presents a stereotype in a sexualized manner to sell butter. Aunt Jemima represents the Mammy stereotype. Even Seth MacFarlane said they had to refer to her as a “slave” when they dubbed a Family Guy episode in overseas language as people in that country didn’t have Aunt Jemima products. That’s not censorship for a company to change a logo if it’s offensive to a group of people.
Lately, social media Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube have been banning people permanently who are publishing misinformation about the 2020 election or Covid. This isn’t censorship but a necessity as these apps are used by people carrying this message. And they’re as much liable as the users. This isn’t a Kill the Messenger deal but more of the Ones Who Drive the Getaway is just as guilty. For years, these tech companies spent millions if not billions on lobbying efforts or licenses to keep them listed just as “tech companies.”
But those days are gone. It’s a Brave New World and there’s a lot of people getting their news from YouTube and social media apps, not well-regarded news information sources on the apps, but people with little to no journalistic integrity. I have never been a fan of Matt Drudge but at least he was smart never to post too much of stuff to get him in trouble. But when you’re like Jones and you keep pushing this narrative that the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre was not real and people see that and go harass the parents and faculty/staff, then, you’re wanting people to believe it wasn’t real. That’s wrong.
In the newspaper business, we got it wrong. I did. But I was quick to print a correction or clarification, even if the people told me something that wasn’t true or accurate. When I was working in Americus, Ga., the police chief didn’t really want us reading the incident reports if there were no arrests. If there was ever any question, we’d ask to speak to the investigators or supervisors on the case. The Georgia State Patrol barracks just wouldn’t let us have the accident reports but often would recite what happened almost verbatim. Sometimes, they relayed the wrong information. One thing I don’t like getting is second-hand info from law enforcement. Give me the reports so we can both be right.
But this happens. The problem is when you don’t back down when you know you may be wrong. Take the Richard Jewell case in Atlanta. I went to school with a handful of people who were there that night on July 27, 19996 in Centennial Olympic Park. They said it was chaos as the authorities shuffled them. And since not a lot of people had cell phones, they couldn’t call each other to check up to see if they were hurt.
Jewell was immediately considered a person of interest and his name got out and his life from then on was a living hell. After the authorities cleared him as they switched their focus, some media outlets held firm they weren’t wrong. They had the right info at the right time. But they were wrong. If there’s any doubt, I would never print anything.
Freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly doesn’t always exonerate you from individual responsible. Speech, press, religion and assembly is only useful when done in an orderly manner. I don’t like. A lot of people don’t either. But when the Ku Klux Klan has marches, they were always in an orderly fashion. They knew the law. It’s their rights to do so.
Banning movies and books that don’t encourage violence but just have details we may not like. I know the school board is saying we should think of the children, but the Holocaust should be taught truthfully. I remember hearing horror stories of it when I was in grades younger than eighth. People have access to the Internet and other resources now. That’s both a good and a bad thing.
I would much rather children read Maus than The Anarchist Cookbook or Atlas Shrugged.
What do you think? Please comment.