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Gary Horton: Don’t fall for fabricated horn stories

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: July 27, 2010 6:11 p.m.
Updated: July 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.

A few weeks after the presidential election, a man stopped us while on a walk in the Valencia Summit Park. After exchanging pleasantries, the man abruptly said he’d heard that with Barack Obama as president, they’d be tearing out the White House lawn and putting in a watermelon patch.

Bigotry, it seems, will die a very prolonged death in the world.

My Starbucks friend Herman knows about bigotry like this man never knew. Herman’s parents were enslaved in concentration camps in Poland during the Holocaust. His dad escaped and fought with the Russian army. His mother was liberated from her camp by the Soviets.

After the war, the two met and were married. For dire lack of options while seeking immigration, they ended up living at a concentration camp again, this time in the converted soldiers’ quarters of the infamous Bergin-Belsen camp. Herman literally began his life inside that infamous German concentration camp.

Herman knows firsthand, like most never will, that bigotry and racism are nothing to tolerate. Not in a joke, not in politics — not ever.

Yet, even here in America, after all the lessons of World War II, and after the Civil Rights movement, Americans still indulge in self-compromising, degrading acts of ignorant bigotry and racism.

Herman tells a personal story from when he served at the Fort Bragg Army base during the Vietnam War. New recruits had been arriving into his unit. Everyone was getting to know each other and learning to live in the close-quarters melting pot that is the military.

Late one night while sleeping in his bunk, Herman sensed someone moving close to him. He startled awake, eyes wide open and heart pounding, to discover a young man nicknamed “Red” standing six inches from his face, staring intensely at his head.

There in the dark of midnight and this kid soldier was checking out Herman’s head.

“What the &*%!!@$!! do you think you’re doing?” Herman demanded.

“Herman,” replied the slack-jawed Red, ”you’re a Jew, aren’t you?”

“Of course I’m a Jew! What the &*%!!@$!! are you doing next to my face?”

“Herman, Where are your horns? You don’t have any horns. Jews have horns.”

A true story. Red was a scarcely educated man from the backwoods Appalachian Mountains. He’d not been outside his impoverished town until the Army had him melting in the pot with rest of America.

Herman was the first Jew he’d met, and by golly, he didn’t have the horns he’d heard about.

Herman doesn’t have horns — he has a halo. I’ve seen reflections of that halo in Herman’s life. But ignorance and bigotry persist in America, and some folks continue to still see figurative horns on many of our brothers and sisters.

Last week, Andrew Breitbart, conservative blogger and tea party sympathizer, built a set of horns to stir the pot of public fear of “reverse racism” when he launched a smear campaign against the USDA Rural Development Office’s Shirley Sherrod.

Sherrod, who’s black, has spent her professional life with poor people in rural settings, working to help them save their land and farms.

Breitbart located an old video clip of Sherrod explaining her personal growth as she reached past her own African-American biases to serve all her constituents equally. Breitbart remixed the video, turning her positive statements into a “reverse-racist” hit piece against Sherrod.

Fox News picked up the trash and ran it as news, throwing red meat to its already racially fearful audience. Here was a smoking gun, proof of Obama’s anti-white bias.

But the whole thing was concocted by a racist. Sherrod is an exemplary public servant. Breitbart is a libelous, lying race-baiter. Fox News ever further burnished its bigoted, slanted, reactionary agenda-driven credentials. And Obama’s administration, so fearful of the “reverse-racist” label, clumsily caved and fired Sherrod without — as Signal columnist Steve Lunetta pointed out — “knowing the facts.”

What a mess we’ve become, as America’s first black president releases latent fear and bigotry, not because of what he’s done, but because of the precedent a successful president of color sets.

It was wildly outlandish to label Shirley Sherrod a reverse racist. Yet Obama has been labeled much worse. “Obama is Hitler,” we hear from crazier quarters.

Friends, if Obama were Hitler, wouldn’t the accusers already have been tossed into camps like those Herman’s parents slaved in?

“Obama is secret America-hating Muslim!” Aha! That’s why he’s expanded the war in Afghanistan and even into Pakistan — as cover for his Islamic agenda.

Obama is a socialist. Ah, so that’s why he’s tirelessly worked and invested to save capitalist banks and industries from ruin and save our jobs in our capitalist workplaces.

Friends, some will stir pots of fear and ignorance to have us seeing horns on the heads of people “different” than us. But we needn’t take even one small step to the dark places those paths lead.

Let’s get back to our senses. Our world is and will be forever, a multiethic place. If we’re seeing literal or figurative horns on the heads of folks different than us, then it’s time to check our own heads — for holes.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesday in The Signal.


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