Good for the indignant complainers. They felt really offended last Saturday in Creston when a rodeo clown told a joke. And they didn’t let it pass; they reacted.
Mike Hayhurst of Barstow was a hired clown at the Creston Classic Rodeo. He told a joke about first lady Michelle Obama. It was disrespectful and racist.
I won’t repeat it. The Tribune retold it four times in daily updates on the story. Newspapers repeat stuff because they worry some people missed the earlier stories and won’t know what the fuss is about.
I’m proud of those indignant complainers. They complained to news reporters. Their criticism got results. On Tuesday the board of directors of the Creston Classic Rodeo apologized for Hayhurst’s “distasteful words.” The board said it would “sever all ties” with him.
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Also on Tuesday the Tribune printed an apology from Hayhurst. He apologized for “irresponsibly” telling “a joke that many people found offensive.”
A day earlier the United Bull Riding company of Bakersfield apologized for remarks Hayhurst made during the bull riding contest that followed the rodeo.
Of course some people who commented on Hayhurst’s words found nothing wrong in them. One man said, “It’s not racist at all. It’s a joke.”
Well, it struck me as belittling the first lady and all black women. It also tried to consign black people to some inferior status. It reminded me of the service stations I saw in Georgia in 1952. They had three restrooms labeled “Men,” “Women” and “Colored.”
A woman defended the joke saying, “It’s called freedom of speech.” She’s right, but criticizing Hayhurst’s jokes is also freedom of speech. Things that really threaten freedom of speech are being arrested for protesting peacefully or being threatened with an expensive lawsuit by a big corporation that wants to stifle your complaints.
I admire the people who complained about the clown’s jokes; they weren’t afraid to speak. I remember with shame a day in 1995. We were visiting relatives in Mississippi. They invited friends in to meet us. The TV was showing the Million Man March, which brought maybe three-quarters of a million black people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
One of the men in the room said, “While we’ve got them all together we should drop a nuclear bomb.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say. I wish I’d at least said, “Whoa!” like a woman said at the Creston rodeo.
Reach Phil Dirkx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2372.