"N*ggerhead" was once the name of a mountain. More than one, actually. One can search and discover hundreds of American hills, creeks, canyons, bays, valleys, springs, lakes, ponds, knobs and gulches with variations on "n*gger" in their histories. Americans could, once upon a time, purchase "N*ggerhead"-branded items: soap, oysters, tobacco, golf tees, shrimp, pistols and (sigh) even watermelon. Also, it seems, you could lease a hunting ranch in West Texas that went by that name. That's what Rick Perry's family did.
As detailed by the Washington Post this weekend, the name was written legibly on a stone marker outside the camp a hop, skip and a jump away from his hometown of Paint Creek. Asked about it recently, Perry offered an explanation for how the family handled this issue:
"My mother and father went to the lease and painted the rock in either 1983 or 1984," Perry wrote. "This occurred after I paid a visit to the property with a friend and saw the rock with the offensive word. After my visit I called my folks and mentioned it to them, and they painted it over during their next visit. Ever since, any time I ever saw the rock it was painted over."
The rock, as described from photographs viewed by the Washington Post, was poorly painted over, the word still faintly legible through a "sloppy" coating of white paint. There are claims that the rock was also turned over to hide the name.
But the county where the camp is located is virtually devoid of Black residents, and more than once in the article residents refer to "N*ggerhead" as a common reference to the property (now renamed "North Camp Pasture") that locals used (ahem) indiscriminately. Governor Perry reportedly hosted events there for supporters and fellow legislators throughout the years. Even today, the article claims that several residents interviewed for the piece "spoke matter-of-factly about the hunting camp and its name and wondered why it held any outside interest."
It seems that it took his going national for this to become a potential liability.
Ironic, then, that the first fellow contender to air a beef about this report was Herman Cain, considering his own history of public intolerance. Still, he aired his beef yesterday on Sunday-morning news shows. Via Politico, Team Perry responded to Mr. Cain, and to the Washington Post's reporting:
"A number of claims made in the story are incorrect, inconsistent, and anonymous, including the implication that Rick Perry brought groups to the lease when the word on the rock was still visible. The one consistent fact in the story is that the word on a rock was painted over and obscured many years ago..."
The next Republican debate is in a little more than a week; I suspect someone will ask him about this. But does it say more about Rick Perry, or about the America we live in? Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that it's the latter:
Surely there are people, in both stories, who find the name offensive. But what we see on display in the quotes is the insidiousness of racism, the way it gets in the blood, and literally alters the senses. A black woman in the county claims she was constantly addressed as "N*gger." A white man, in the very same county, claims that "Blacks were perfectly satisfied."
Several people in the story have no notion of why the name "N*ggerhead" would be offensive. It's just what it is. I'm sure the people quoted recognize racism, on some level -- like say an outright lynching -- but if calling a hunting-ground "N*ggerhead" isn't offensive to them, I think it's safe to say that white racism doesn't really exist as an actual force in their minds.
What say you?