The melon trap

My thoughts on the Jennifer Olsen scrape, from this week’s Outpost:

Is the chairman of the Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee a racist? I have no idea. And there lies a problem.

The Outpost published a story last Thursday about an allegation that Republican chairman Jennifer Olsen, also a Tea Party activist, had attacked President Obama with a racist joke on her Facebook page involving a watermelon under a box trap. The allegation first appeared on a blog, Montanafesto, which posted a screen shot of the Facebook image. The blog post was by Nicole French, an avowed Republican who has been active on the medical marijuana issue.

When Outpost freelancer Adrian Jawort contacted Ms. Olsen about the allegation, she denied that she had posted the joke. Fair enough. People who know far more about Facebook than I do say that hacking it isn’t that hard.

But Ms. Olsen did something worse than just deny the allegation. The way she and fellow Republicans reacted says a lot about their miserable support among minority voters.

Had the same thing happened to me, or probably to you, we would have known how to react. We would have denied having done it. We would have expressed regret that such an offensive joke had somehow become linked to our names, and we would have repeated our deeply held beliefs in racial equality and justice.

We wouldn’t, without evidence, have accused anyone in particular of doing the hacking, and we certainly wouldn’t have blamed the incident on an entire political class.

Ms. Olsen got all of that wrong. On her Facebook page, she posted a cryptic note (now vanished) saying that she would not comment on blog posts. “It is what it is,” she wrote, about as lame a denial as the English language can craft.

In response to our inquiries, she didn’t express regret that she was an innocent victim of a malicious hacker. Without providing any evidence, she blamed the posting directly on Ms. French.

Worse, she added this comment: “Liberals always try to take our focus away from real issues by doing things like this. It is absolutely not true.”

This turned a muddle into a mess. We got a response from Ms. French, who acknowledged that she has no affection for Ms. Olsen but denied being a liberal and denied that she faked the post. She also noted that she couldn’t be sure someone else had not done so. A couple of fellow Republicans chimed in, saying they had confidence in Ms. French’s integrity.

The response of some other Republicans was, if anything, worse than Ms. Olsen’s. Ms. French said she posted the screen shot of the joke on the Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee’s Facebook page with the comment, “Are these the ideals we wish to espouse?”

Before the post was removed an hour later, responses ranged from the dismissive – “it was a joke” – to the personally insulting to the idiotic, such as the suggestion that anyone who can see racism in a joke involving a black president and a watermelon must herself be racist.

Yes, that’s a mature response to an allegation of racism: Make an allegation of racism!

Now, it’s true that some Americans don’t understand the racist implications of watermelon. In fact, most Americans may not understand, provided they were born last week, somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon Line. But for prominent members of a major political party, one that has struggled for decades to win the votes of black Americans, that level of ignorance amounts to dereliction of duty.

Following November’s election loss, Republicans began soul searching about why so many white people vote for them and so few blacks and Latinos do. Mostly, they seemed to conclude, they haven’t done a good job of getting their message out.

No doubt. But some of the loudest conservative voices on TV and radio still talk as if racism is something that only blacks do to whites. In a more generous frame of mind, they say that blacks won’t vote for Republicans because blacks don’t recognize their own best interests.

That’s the way to win over political opponents: persuade them that they are too dumb to think for themselves.

In Montana, Eric Olsen, Ms. Olsen’s father and also a local Tea Party stalwart, has written on his Facebook page that Barack Obama is a racist. Tom Balek at Rockin’ on the Right Side, perhaps the most prolific conservative blogger in the state since the Electric City Weblog recently shuttered its doors, has called the New York Times racist.

Such language abuse amounts to, if not full-bore dementia, an astounding display of ineptitude or, worse, a deliberate attempt to render the word meaningless. If “racist” means nothing, then no one can be a racist.

So where are we left? Amid squalor and ugliness. The Yellowstone County Republican Central Committee put out a statement on Friday saying that Ms. Olsen has received death threats. Montana Cowgirl, probably the most widely read political blog in Montana, says it has received hate email about its posts on the incident, including one email that said, “You are a racist bitch. Please drink yourself to death.”

America has come a long way since I was growing up in deeply segregated South Texas. That was an evil time, and I would never want to go back. We have learned hard-earned lessons since then.

Unfortunately, some of us remain unschooled, and our ignorance does us all harm.

8 thoughts on “The melon trap

  1. How about we focus on the demise of our country? All the racist crap is exactly why Obama was “selected” to steer this country into collapse—you can’t do ANYTHING without it bring called racist. Who cares? Certainly not me. While the Democrats PRACTICE racism and we “fight” to accuse each other they are burning our country down !!! Thr Democrats and Republicans have already stolen all the wealth and here we sit with our 2nd Amendment on the line and we fracture/splinter in the face of the greatest challenge of all time — you all stay focused of “this racism” and kiss my country goodbye

    • WHOOSH! Right over someone’s head!

      But I really must ask, ken. “Your” country? Oh, I get it. You were a founding father in spirit, thereby granting you sole possession of this tract of land. Native much??? Sheesh.

    • Well, this country belongs to me as much as you, so I think you are crap out of luck as far as getting it back anytime soon. Too much ignorance and hate from the GOP for anybody too ever vote them into power again. Me included. And I say that as someone who proudly served in the military under Reagan and have voted for more Republicans than Democrats in my lifetime. Never again though and that’s a promise.

  2. Pingback: UPDATED: Busted! Student comes forward, fingers Olsen |

  3. Give Dave a few Shiner Bocks, and he’s the best newspaperman in the state! Just kidding of course. Dave should be in charge of a state daily somewhere. But unfortunately, the TRVTH is not relevant to the corporate world.

    • p.s. Dave, I’ll be heading down to Texas soon to visit some relatives. To a place called Deweyville. I think it’s near East Overshoe. Ever heard of it? They say the food is great down that way, which will be a HUGE frickin’ change from Great Falls.

  4. Ken,
    I’ve never heard such nonsense and ignorance in my life as that which you just wrote. It’s obvious that you have bought into all of the lies, conspiracy theories, and propaganda that some republican politicians, pundits, radio entertainers, and TV newsreaders have been peddling about President Obama and others. I was raised under segregation, and I didn’t have an opportunity to enter certain establishments/places until I was a senior in high school, yet, I hate no one because my parents raised me to deal with people on an individual basis. What many republicans don’t understand is that it’s an insult for them to say that we Black Americans and other minorities voted for the president because of race/racism. It’s an insult because they fail to remember all of the white presidents and other white politicians we’ve voted for in the past and for whom we vote to put into office today. Those who assume we voted for Obama because of race/racism are also sending the message that we aren’t intelligent enough to vote, simply because we didn’t vote for McCain or Romney. I voted for Humphrey, Carter, and Clinton for POTUS for the same reason I voted for Obama–their political view of the nation and their goals for it were closer to my own than those who ran against them. I know that being a retired high school teacher and someone who possesses an undergraduate degree from the University of GA and several post-graduate degrees from some of the best colleges in my state wouldn’t say to any sane person that I’m someone who c/wouldn’t understand the message and platform of any political party/politician. What some republicans do to People of Color they shouldn’t do, and one of those things is allow their anger to make them say/believe stupid stuff. Contrary to what many republicans believe, Black Americans are more politically astute that they know. There’s nowhere I go that politics isn’t discussed by us, be it the church, the grocery store, my hairdresser’s shop, social gatherings, etc. The stereotypes must stop. They’re not only inaccurate, but offensive, and do not reflect what America wants the world to believe that it is–a nation of equal opportunity where everyone is treated the same.

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