Thursday, October 30, 2008

Curb enthusiasm

This Sunday afternoon, from 2 to 5, Hampshire County supporters of Barack Obama will be standing on the curb in front of the county courthouse in Romney to wave Obama signs and pass out bumper stickers and literature to passing motorists.

I’ll be out there with the rest of the gang, waving a sign. This will be my first partisan event at what locals call “the stoplight” (there are actually two traffic lights in town, but the other one is for pedestrians from the West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind to cross the street over to McDonald’s, so it generally stays green). We’ve had a number of demonstrations against the Iraq war there, where we usually get far more positive reactions than negative. It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction Obama gets.

There seem to be a lot more political signs around the county than usual this year, but I’ve only seen one Obama sign, and it was gone the next time I passed. Hampshire was the most Confederate county in the state during the Civil War, and the first county in the country to erect a memorial to Confederate soldiers afterwards, and the attitudes about race from that era still prevail pretty strongly.

When we moved out here from DC fourteen years ago, I hadn’t heard a white person use the “n-word” in years, so it came as a shock the first time. Since then, I’ve heard it a number of times, usually from older people who say it so naturally that it still makes me feel uncomfortable, but it seems as much as an anachronism as the dying small farm culture that they grew up with, an anachronism that I can no more affect than I can change their way of life. So it just makes me sad.

I wish I could say that the use of the “n-word” will die off in a generation, but I think hate will always be with us. And we do have a small hate group in the county, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a chapter of the American Nazi Party, to encourage the word’s use into the future. But I’m not sure the “n-word” has the same resonance it used to.

For example, I was talking with this old guy recently, and he was going on about how “that n…” seemed to make so much more sense than McCain. And then he ended up saying, “I’m probably going to vote for “that n…” This prompted a little cognitive dissonance on my part, but I was thinking that I didn’t want to mess up his vote by trying to correct his language, so I just told him I thought that was a good idea. I thought that he represented an unusual “post-racial” anomaly until a few days ago, when the Charleston Gazette quoted a voter in the southern part of the state saying, “I’m voting for that n…” Maybe it’s a trend.

The Obama campaign seems to think so. I remain skeptical. But if you happen to be in Romney WV on Sunday afternoon, you’re welcome to join us. We’ll have signs.

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