"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Unless you rely exclusively on the local daily for your news, you probably saw the account last week of a rodeo over at Greenwood that concluded with an effigy of a black man being brought out, abused for a time by bulls and clowns, whereupon an announcer issued an altar call of sorts, inviting spectators to come on down and join the ritual lynching. "Who wants to rip Obama's head off?" he said.
Not surprising, this being Arkansas. A little shocking to some of us who lived through the Assassination Era, the 1960s, but not surprising, the Natural State still largely attitudinally recognizable as Faubusland a half-century on down the road.
Who wants to rip Obama's head off? Do you reckon more audience hands shot up than didn't?
I have more acquaintances who are 'necks than not. Most of them would have raised a hand, I'm fairly certain, and those who didn't would've hesitated only out of a sense of natural reserve — not shyness but an eschewal of public demonstrativeness, and not from any objection to the idea of ripping the president's head off. Vicarious participation would've pleasured them no less than the active kind.
In the days following, I consulted a number of these Einsteins, eavesdropped on others, hoping they might collectively enlighten me on how we'd come to this pass. Again. Did they really hanker to see the president's head ripped off, or was that just some unfortunate hyperbolic metaphor? Was their appetite for a good presidential head-ripping-off exclusive to this particular president? And exclusive to him because he's black? Or because he's black and doesn't know his place? Or because he shows no respect for their opinion concerning what or where his proper place might be? (Would it even be possible to be president and Stepin Fetchit at the same time?) And how do you rationalize being involved in such a spectacle, even as a cheerleader with no symbolic blood on your hands afterward, or as a conscientious objector content to stay mute and look the other way?
I think that's what I wanted — a rationalization I could understand. Not necessarily one I approved of. One that was merely comprehensible, not utterly vile, and a maybe little less crazy than Wilkes Booth's Sic Semper Tyrannis on the broken leg.
That's what I wanted but this is pretty much what I got —
OK, first, it's not that we hate niggers. Some of our best friends are niggers. Well, maybe not our best friends, but some of our best football players. We had to let them in there so we could compete with the teams that had let them in earlier. Otherwise we were dead meat and couldn't beat the Henderson Reddies.
But that's the thing, we let them in there to play ball. They didn't just barge in without our consent or acquiescence. They might've been the stars on the field but that didn't de-nigger them any as far as their rightful place in the larger scheme.
They got some civil rights and access, and there was an occasional appointed nigger judge or constable, but that was of no greater concern than that of "The Cosby Show" undermining the old comforting nigger verities of Amos and Andy — and it certainly didn't suggest the impending peril of a nigger actually going and getting himself elected president.
That eventuality sort of snuck up on us. That is, we knew it was possible, but who would've really thunk — ?
So we let our guard down and the nigger wriggled in there. He got in there and nothing we could do but wait him out. Four years is a long time to have this big an indignity stuck in your craw, but there it was. There was some impeachment muttering, but most of the impeachment ammo and impeachment zeal had been used up trying to oust ol' Clinton, the real first nigger president, and the arguments for impeaching the nigger nigger were always pretty flimsy — the birth certificate deal and what else? You can't impeach somebody for melanin.
So we hunkered down, temporized, swallowed some Sean Hannity camels, some Limbaugh horse hockey, tore the heads off of blackface scarecrows, or thought about it, and did some tall talking that maybe amounted to some rhetorical spitting on of pickininnies. But that was about it.
We could mouth. Mouth and bide our time and meantime make league with the orange weasel opposition as it filiblustered, obstructed, voted no, no, a thousand times no. Make league with them knowing they'd sell us out to the first billionaire that got out his checkbook and uncapped his pen. They did it, too, sold us out, and had no qualms because they knew our options by then were down to two — go hat-in-hand back to nigger-loverdom or into denial.
Mouth and bide our time and hope like hell that this time they'd come up with a more credible opponent with less swarth — one not a laughing-stock, not a total gander, not a stalwart in one of the dopier cults, not the only honky out there among 50 million of them that the nigger, alas, would be almost a cinch to beat. You know how that worked out. Enough to make an ol' boy want to rip off somebody's head, you betcha, garontee.
Bob Lancaster, one of the Arkansas Times longest and most valued contributors, retired from writing his column last week. We’ll miss his his contributions mightily. Look out, in the weeks to come, for a look back at some of his greatest hits. In the meantime, here's a good place to start.