On Monday I had a meeting on Capitol Hill with the chief of staff of a black representative in Congress. The subject: race and the 2012 election.
Surprisingly, one topic that did not come up in the hour-long chat was the Washington Post front-page story on Sunday that seemed to portray Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a racist because a large stone at the entrance to a West Texas hunting camp he leased was painted with the name “Niggerhead.”
Admittedly, I set up the meeting to talk about President Obama, but the omission seemed glaring and reflected a deafening silence about the story from influential blacks. Where are the statements from angry members of Congress and activists? Where is the outrage?
The most prominent African American to criticize Perry was Herman Cain, who told Fox News on Sunday that, “For him to leave it there as long as he did, until before, I hear, they finally painted over it, is just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country.”
But by Monday, Cain had pivoted, telling reporters he was “satisfied” with both Perry’s response to the story and the fact that the word was painted over. He said the article was a “distraction.”
Perhaps Cain had read the quickly accumulating news reports that were choc full of influential blacks in Texas saying that Perry is no racist.
Or maybe what changed between Sunday and Monday is that Cain had a chance to actually read the Post’s story which, despite fuzzy details, evoked images of Perry and well-heeled, white fat cats laughing their way past the epithet at the ranch’s gated entrance on their way to a weekend of hunting.
The story established only two things for sure: some locals have referred to the land as “Niggerhead” for generations (Federal, state, and local governments have been trying to erase old, racist monikers from plots of land, mountains, and other geographical formations since the 1960s), and a rock bearing that name stood on that 42,000-acre property at some point.
But that’s about it. The manager of the ranch, Chuck Wilson, told the Post that “about five years ago” the ranch was renamed North Camp Pasture. Presumably, the manager would know something about the entrance of his ranch being labeled with a racial slur. The Post either didn’t ask Wilson or did not print his response, because he probably would have said what he told the New York Times on Monday: “There’s nothing to see out there. I’ve been handling the property for 10 years, been all up and down it, and I ain’t never seen that rock.”
In light of the confusion, Perry’s explanation seems highly plausible. Perry told the Post his father first leased the property in 1983 and painted it over the rock shortly thereafter because it was an “offensive name that has no place in the modern world.” He also said the rock stands by an entrance to the property that has not been in use since the 1980s.
The Post reporter, Stephanie McCrummen, responded to a request to discuss her story with a one-word email that read, “Why?”