A couple of contributors have referred to this post by Neetzan Zimmerman of Gawker:
County Commissioner Jim Gile, 68, of Saline County, Kansas, was in a study session with his fellow commissioners when the subject of hiring an architect to design the repairs for the county's Road and Bridge Department building came up. Gile, a first-term commissioner who started serving in January, told the county that he preferred to hire an architect over having someone 'nigger-rigging it.'
According to Chris Hunter of the Salina Journal,
His comment brought laughter from others in the room. Salinan Ray Hruska, who attends most commission meetings and study sessions, asked Gile what he said. 'Afro-Americanized,' Gile replied.
So ha-ha, Gile thought saying "nigger" in a public meeting was pretty hilarious.
Now, let's look at Gile's "excuses," offered after the fact:
(1) "... he meant to say 'jury-rigged.'" Because "jury" sounds a lot like "nigger," which sounds a lot like "Afro-American," so it was a slip of the tongue.
(2) "It was a bad choice of words." Yeah.
(3) Commission Chair Randy "Duncan said Friday that Gile's choice of words was not intended to offend anyone." So he had good intentions when he used a racial slur, then laughed about it.
(4) "Gile said he grew up around the term, but it is something he shouldn't have used." Old habits die hard.
(5) "I am not a prejudiced person. I have built Habitat homes for colored people." "Colored people": another great choice of words, a term that has been taboo for half a century. Evidently Gile forgot he knows how to say "Afro-American" -- as a "joke."
(6) "Gile said he also has a close friend whom he regards as a sister who is black." So one of his best friends is black. This is one white boy who can't be a bigot.
(7) "I don't ever do anything bad and don't know how to do anything bad. People know I am not." Well, maybe just this one time he did something bad.
As Zimmerman of Gawker & Commission Chair Duncan both point out, Gile's remark -- and his excuses -- were reminiscent of U.S. Rep. Don Young's (R-Alaska) casual remark last week about "wetbacks."
Like Gile, I am white and I grew up in the South. He and I are roughly the same age. I attended segregated public schools in a relatively poor section of the city. Racial prejudice was part of the fabric of the times. But "nigger" was never an acceptable term, and nobody I knew used it. You didn't hear it from students; you didn't hear it from teachers. You didn't read it in the newspaper; you didn't hear it on the radio. I won't say I never heard it. I did. But people who used racial slurs might as well have walked around wearing big signs that said "ignorant." Decent people -- and we're talking decent poor white people -- knew better.
There's a difference between the racial prejudice that pervaded the South (and elsewhere) and the racial animus that characterized the pushback against the civil rights movement. Whatever prejudices whites had against blacks -- and there were many -- they viewed as the nature of what was. They may have thought black people were "different" or "inferior" or should be "separated," but they took that as the "natural order of things," not as an indictment against a race of people.
What Gile was expressing was racial animus. He's Bull Connor, writ small. There are far too many like him still around. And one of the bad things they know how to do, to borrow Gile's phrase, is to lie. They are lying when they tell you they can't help these innocent little slips of the tongue because "they grew up around the term." They grew up knowing the term was taboo, that it was derogatory and that it was hurtful. They choose to use it anyway.
Where I grew up, people would call Jim Gile "white trash." I'll just refrain. Because I am a good, well-intentioned person who is not prejudiced and has a close friend who is white and I don't mean to offend anybody with my choice of words.