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Let’s get one thing straight first – I’m not a racist.
I’m a Democrat and more likely to be accused of being a member of “the liberal media” than a conservative mole.
Last week, two ladies called me following the election of Barack Obama and the publication of our election edition.
They both said they were African-American who live in Owen County.
They both wanted to know why the paper chose to run a picture of John McCain on the front page instead of announcing the presidential victory of Barack Obama.
I tried to explain to them that we ran the photo because McCain had won the county. We also had photos of Mitch McConnell, Damon Thayer, Royce Adams and the other candidates who won the county. The Owen County results were published under the headline: “And the local winners are ...”
Because of our election-night deadline, we didn’t include any statewide or national winners in our coverage. The paper went to press at 9:30 p.m. The major news outlets didn’t announce Obama’s victory until around 11 p.m.
There was no intent to say McCain won or was even winning the state. There was no attempt to diminish Obama’s standing or imminent victory.
By one of the caller’s own admission, whatever I said didn’t really matter. No explanation would do.
Printing the McCain picture wasn’t a statement about Obama – the decision to run the picture of McCain was simply made to illustrate who won the county – not the race for the state or the country.
One caller said the publication of the McCain picture was “racist.”
When the caller dropped the “R” word on me, something very sour swelled up in my stomach. There are plenty of insults you can throw out at me – some of them are even deserved. But being motivated by ignorance or racism isn’t one of my faults.
In the interest of full disclosure, I supported Obama for president and I have the yard sign to prove it.
I told her that “racist” was a very harsh term and shouldn’t be thrown around without some pretty strong evidence.
I felt like I was being prejudged. And no one wants to be judged by others based on some superficial suspicion or angry over-reaction.
Is there much of a difference in being judged by suspicion or by the color of someone’s skin?
Prejudging someone is simply wrong.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Chris Hagan, pastor of the Second Baptist Church, who was also concerned whether the News-Herald would be running a story this week about Obama being elected president.
I told Pastor Hagan that the News-Herald, like most small community-oriented newspapers, doesn’t focus its attention on national stories. There are better outlets for national news than us. Our focus is on Owen County and her people.
At Pastor Hagan’s request, I checked the 2004 election edition to see what kind of coverage the News-Herald gave to George W. Bush’s re-election.
Four years ago, long before I started here, the paper did almost the same thing – even the layout was similar with pictures of the winners in Owen County printed across the top of the front page. The story did mention that Bush was leading in the national results at press-time but the story focused on local races and results. There was no story outlining the local reaction of voters.
That’s not to say Bush’s re-election can compare to the historical significance of Obama’s election. It’s an amazing milestone in American history that many people didn’t think they would live to see.
This week, the paper features a story on some of the local candidates who won on Election Night. We will look at Obama’s impact in an upcoming edition.
A friend of mine asked me if I was angry about the accusation of racism in the paper’s coverage. I told him no. I was mostly saddened by it all.
Here in the early 21st century, the echoes of racism still exist. The election of an African-American as president does not signal the end of racism. The old crimes haven’t been pardoned. The cuts are still fresh and new wounds break out every day. There is no escaping that. And the election of one man doesn’t end the racial problems that exist in our country.
It is a step though.
I can’t pretend to know the joy and pride felt by many members of the African-American community here in Owen County and across the nation in the victory.
I do have my own sense of pride in Obama’s win and the majority of white Americans want to share that feeling too.
It’s a moment that all Americans should celebrate, remember and learn from.