Over the Hill

Phil Dirkx: Stamp out prejudice pox early on

I’m not happy that Michael Hayhurst resigned this week as superintendent of the Excelsior Charter School system in Victorville. Good jobs are hard to find. He resigned after making a mistake Sept. 15 at the Creston Classic Rodeo. He is also a part-time rodeo clown.

His mistake was telling a joke about first lady Michelle Obama that many people recognized as racist. They complained publicly. You can read the joke on the Internet by going to sanluisobispo.com and searching for “rodeo clown.”

Its punch line promotes racial prejudice by suggesting that black Americans are of little value and belong in the primitive regions often pictured in National Geographic magazine.

Racial prejudice is a contagious disease, the early symptoms of which should be treated promptly with strong doses of disapproval.

The Civil War, for example, was an almost-fatal case of the racial prejudice.

This county’s racial divide started well before that in 1619 when pirates stopped at the Jamestown Colony in Virginia and traded 20 or more African slaves for food and other provisions.

Eventually, European slave traders created a systematic business of kidnapping or buying Africans and shipping them to the New World. Those slaves who survived the voyage were traded for agricultural products to be sold in Europe. The Southern colonies needed lots of slaves to work on their plantations.

In the 1960s, Mamie and I visited her sister and brother-in-law in Louisiana. One day, he took me out to a field to see what he called the “slave house.”

Actually, it was a long-vacant but still-intact two-story house, with broad steps leading up to its front door on its second floor.

The plantation owners had lived on the second floor while their slaves were imprisoned on the ground floor, similar to valuable livestock. The slaves were serving life sentences of hard labor for the crime of having dark skin.

Eventually, an antislavery movement developed in the North. It finally caused 11 Southern states and parts of two others to secede from the Union and form the Confederate States of America, whose vice president was Alexander Stephens. He declared in 1861 that the Confederacy was founded on “the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man.”

The Confederacy lost the Civil War, but Stephens’ warped vision survived in terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and in the Jim Crow laws. It also survives in landlord and employer discrimination and in Internet jokes. It is a blot on the character of our republic, which pledges “liberty and justice for all.”

Phil Dirkx writes special to The Tribune. Reach him at phild2008@sbcglobal.net.