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Editorial: State’s racism conversation is far from over

With the resignation of Wolfeboro Police Commissioner Bob Copeland on Monday, the temptation is to say, “Thank goodness,” and move on.

Make no mistake: Copeland needed to resign after using a racial epithet to describe President Obama. But it is too simple and too easy to reduce the whole episode to the embarrassing bigotry of one 82-year-old man.

Copeland’s continued refusal to apologize for his language, and the reactions of those who know him, suggest that some New Hampshire residents don’t understand how racism or modern society work.

Unless we all learn from this, we will all be embarrassed again.

Take the words of commission Chairman Joseph Balboni to Monitor reporter Sarah Palermo before the story went national.

“I think it’s crazy. Bob is a very nice person, and he’s been very generous to the town of Wolfeboro,” read his quote in Thursday’s paper. “He’s worked with a lot of blacks in his life. . . . He said some harsh words about Mr. Obama, and here we are. This woman, she’s blowing it all out of proportion.”

This reflexive defense of someone using racist language is deeply disturbing.

Jane O’Toole, the person who lodged the original complaint (“this woman” to Balboni) is depicted as the problem. The fact that Copeland worked with black people in the past functions, in Balboni’s mind, like an inoculation against racism. And Copeland’s supposed niceness and generosity trumps all.

Does any of that pass the smell test to you? Or does it read as though people in power are automatically defending someone they know, without considering the way his words would reverberate across the state and nation?

Before you answer that, let’s remember what former U.S. congressman and current state Sen. Jeb Bradley was quoted as saying in Friday’s paper: “I would hope that my good friend Bob Copeland would apologize for the remarks he made. They were uncalled for, and I hope he’d apologize.”

Bradley’s first reflex was to defend someone he knew. There was no acknowledgment of how Copeland’s words might affect others or the message that their repetition might send. And there was no call to resign, only a tepid (“I hope”) request to apologize. That was the first reaction of a politician who has served on the national level, and it was depressingly shortsighted.

By the next day, Bradley had bowed to the inevitable and joined in the calls for Copeland to resign.

Then there are the copious reactions of online commentors on the story. Again and again, the same basic arguments are made. That Copeland was railroaded by a busybody (“this woman”), that he was only exercising his rights to free speech, that way too much is being made of all of this. Never mind the fact that O’Toole didn’t put racial slurs in Copeland’s mouth. Never mind the fact that the First Amendment doesn’t protect us from the consequences of our speech or the attention it generates.

Is the story finished? If we believe it’s only about the racist words of one man who refused to see them for what they were, then yes.

But with a broader perspective that incorporates the comments of Balboni and Bradley and the social context that made them feel comfortable defending Copeland, then the story isn’t finished at all.

In fact, the discussion is only beginning.

Legacy Comments10

Great posts TCB and G Carson. Balboni was most likely the one who convinced Copeland to resign when he did not want to. So basically, he was very instrumental. And if in fact he was defending Copeland, my guess is he would have encouraged him not to resign. Bradley wanted an apology, and possibly also assumed Copeland would resign. So when he did not, Bradley did not jump on any bandwagon, he made it clear he should resign. As far as the woman involved. I can imagine she has heard ignorant hate speech before about other Presidents. I know I have. Why she decided to make what she heard public is her decision. How that will impact her in regards to her neighbors, remains to be seen. Hate rhetoric is hate rhetoric no matter who it is directed towards. That applies to hate terms used to describe any signaled out group. Bias can be based on skin color, political party, religion and nationality. And we hear a lot about respecting the office of the President. Yet many presidents have been the victims of hate rhetoric. President Obama is not the first. Comes with the job. So lets be honest here about hate rhetoric. It is in fact unacceptable. So lets not use it on anybody.

what do the Benham Twins, Hirsi Ali, Condi Rice, Mozilla CEO all have in common ?

I still stand by earlier comments on the subject. Racism is not defined by words alone. It's also not something that is strictly defined by color or religion. Racism exists in many forms that have nothing to do with color. Not to make light of Mr. Copeland comments, but they were more endemic of the world of polarized politics rather than true racist leanings, or at least I hope. I would hazard a guess that he was probably trying to paint our President in the most disparaging manner possible. In NH we are insulated from racism in all but isolated incidents due to our population. Most of our exposure is from the news or second hand reports. This does not mean racist views are not held in NH but it's also not part of our daily life. You can't legislate away racism and education only goes so far. Prejudice is the ugly part of human nature whether we care to admit it or not and it takes many forms. The secret is to address it not hide behind it.

If this is to be a serious pragmatic discussion, and not just theater, racism needs to be viewed more realistically and just a stereotypical "a white-man's disease". Racism is alive & well in the black community, Hispanic community and if you really look almost all communities. For example; Look at the statistics of who plays the "knock-out game". Hard statistics are color blind. Wanting to believe the makeup of prison populations is all about racism and has nothing to do with who committed crimes and violence against others represents serious blinded thinking. I feel most folks do not really care what race their neighbors are as long act like good neighbors, care for their community, families, education of the children and do not make/sell drugs or play music disturbing to their neighbors and so forth. Those are cultural aspects not racial. A thousand years from now we will probably all be a similar color/structure but for now if we are serious about this conversation, pretending racism is exclusive to one group or another is silly and counterproductive.

Racism by those in power, by the predominant group or culture, perpetuates itself. It reinforces itself, and dehumanizes everybody else; and it prevents or at least interferes with the fair application of laws. The fact that some black folks have a generally unfavorable view of white folks does not compare with institutionalized racism.

There is a definition of Political Correctness - do you know what it is?

Veritas, Ever live in Cleveland? What is the percentage of black representatives in congress compared to percentage of the population? how can you contend only one group affects laws, regulation and systems?

I hope "this woman" will be left alone, and not be forced to move as Henrik Ibsen put it, as an "enemy of the people." It was Copeland and Copeland alone that brought shame to the nation's oldest resort town. It is he, not O'Toole who called the world down up them. ---SWL

the left wing lynch mob goes after every person that does not conform. The CEO of Moxzilla was destroyed when someone illegally showed that 6 years earlier he had given $1000 to a California initiative that they disapprove of. That is what they have done to America today - conform or die and then they will make it a populist election issue

You nailed it BPR, here is a video example from invasion of the bodysnatchers (the 1980's) verson. It paints the perfect picture of how they act: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=final scene from invasion of the body snatchers&FORM=VIRE6#view=detail&mid=1AA7742EE7195C7AEC511AA7742EE7195C7AEC51

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