Pennsylvania Burning

7 November, 2008

Earlier, I  wrote this in reference to the election of Barack Obama:  “Two things about this election:

  1. We are not nearly as racist a nation as we sometimes appear.
  2. Bush and his minions fucked up America so badly that even the pseudo semi-racists were willing to overlook his skin colour and vote for reality, science and competence.”

Please note that in #1, I state that we are not nearly as racist as we sometimes appear.  Unfortunately, some people are exactly as racist as they appear.  Pennsylvania has been described as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Alabama in the middle.  And Alabama appears to be burning again.

Up along the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania, farming and logging are a way of life.  The roads are not always paved.  The steep ridges are heavily forested.  And the population is, like much of small town America which has seen the flight of capital and youth, bitter.  Among some, bitterness can manifest itself in racism and xenophobia.

A couple from Massachussetts retired to rural Douglass Township, not too far from Binghamton, New York.  According to a friend of mine, he’s a retired architect.  He and his wife (Jewish and white) started up a small pottery studio and settled in.  Over the last couple of years, according the Associated Press, they have face some racism.

Then, on November 2, during the run-up to a truly historic election, a cross was burned in their lawn. 

Neighbor Mike Ditty told Douglass Township police he saw a man with a shaved head trying to light a cross wrapped in cloth and soaked with a flammable liquid in the yard of Eudes DeFoe.

“I started approaching him, asking him what he thought was doing. He then said to me, ‘Come down here and I’ll show you what I’m doing. I have a gun and I’ll shoot you,'” WCAU-TV, Philadelphia reported Tuesday.

And from Fox Newsup in Binghamton, New York:

[The] Gibson [Barracks of the Pennsylvania] State Police say the incident would qualify as a hate crime, and the charge against who is responsible might be Ethnic Intimidation.

Nooses at Baylor.  A cardboard cutout hanged at a Quaker school in Oregon.  Accusations of rape and mugging in Pittsburgh.  This is not going to end.  I sincerely hope that the Federal Bureau of Investigation will take a look at this, and other, attempts at racial intimidation which, unfortunately, appear to have been sparked by an African-American candidate for President.  Not only that, but one who won.

The burning of a cross is an offensive, racist act.  It carries with it the baggage of hundreds, possibly thousands, of lynchings.  It is an act of intimidation generally aimed at ‘uppity niggers’ — African-Americans who do not know that the Bible says that they are condemned to servitude because Ham saw his father naked. 

A part of me hoped that, with the election of an African-American President, we were past this.  A part of me also knew that as long as xenophobic conservatives, clinging to their Bibles and their guns out of fear and bitterness, are a part of the American culture, this will be with us.



  1. Did you see the last South Park? Look for it.

  2. Can’t say that I have. I’ve watched South Park once and didn’t understand either the plot or the dialogue. Not only that, the fact that I don’t understand it makes me feel old ((((Girl))) claims it’s a generational thing, or I’m just not ‘artistic’ enough to understand).

  3. Racism etcetera will never go away, at least not until the climate crisis wipes us out, along with our stupidities.

    As for the FBI, forget it. They’re too busy hunting anything that could remotely look like a terrorist, the whole bunch of which can, at their best, do far less damage than a few ignorant, greedy American politicians and American preachers can do as they spew their hatred, their bigotry, their stupidity over the countryside.

  4. Our common state of Pencil-Yucky has always had a very biggoted outlook, (((Billy))).

    It was a very handy tool for the booses of the mines, mills, and shops all over the state. The “Plutes” as my father-in-law called them, had a great weapon in “they”. Work harder for less money and worse conditions, or we’ll bring in “them” who will work for even less.

    And, the local ethnic group leaders did it, too. Look out for the Poles/Czechs?Krauts/Ukrainians, they’ll cheat you. Stosh, don’t let your daughter marry that Slovak bum. They’re moving out of the neighborhood?! Do they think they’re BETTER than us??!!

    That sort of thing.

    “The Troubles” in Ireland were going on right here in Altoona years before they boiled over across the water. It was “Catlickers” and “Potlickers” (catholics and protestants) and it was every bit as bad as gang violence in New York, all in the name of a religion which allegedly is founded on “love”.

    Hasn’t quit around here, either. “Up The Mountain” in Nicktown, a mining community, a doctor from Pittsburgh bought a house. He was retired and set up a small practice out of his house, wanted to be a country doctor a la Marcus Welby or something.

    He was also a mason, with emblems on his car.

    His house, car, and property were continually vandalized, and after two years he finally left. The townspeople were sorry to see him go… but…

    He wasn’t Polish and he wasn’t Catholic, so, what did he expect? It was almost obligatory to harrass the man. What else could they do?

    There are times when I think finding a cave, going inside, and pulling the entrance down so no one could get in sounds tempting.

  5. Sarge said, Our common state of Pencil-Yucky has always had a very biggoted outlook

    Unfortunately, that is my recollection. I lived in Pennsylvania from the ages of 3 – 18. An awful lot of the people I knew when I was growing up were terribly bigoted. It’s sad to read that things haven’t changed much in the decades since then.

  6. Yeah, people were upset with Murtha when he metioned us “rednecks” and racism. I am, in fact, a “redneck” (ie: no credentialed education, have soldiered, participated in ‘blood sports’, have done agricultural work, drag raced, etc.) but I won’t say he’s entirely wrong in his assessment. Like any broad brush application it covers things that don’t fit in, but I personally know a lot of people who it DOES fit. Plus, no one stands up for us rednecks, it’s still safe to hold us in contempt and be vocal about it.

    Still…for a while now people on my hill who spoke to me from a very lofty height of culture and education, uh, ‘scuse me, I guess I should say, ‘ejjimuckashun’, mustn’t step out of my assigned place, have been hailing me, and sure enough, they have questions. Can you fix…do you have a (tool)… will you look at… You get the picture.

    Still, I’ve mentioned it before, but I think a lot has changed for the better.

    In 1963 my “Information, Please Almanac” listed in excess of three hundred lynchings the year before. This was something they did every year. Yeah, lynchings and such asaults still happen but people now think that the perpetrators should be punished. Back then the best you could hope for was an indifferent shrug.

    I lived in Virginia then, and I remember hearing about the couple who were arrested and exciled from the state for an inter racial marriage. I met my daughter-in-law, a black woman, in the same room.

    Yeah, some things are better.

  7. Sarge said, “no one stands up for us rednecks, it’s still safe to hold us in contempt and be vocal about it.”

    I guess that makes rednecks the second most-hated minority in America, right behind atheists. It must take a lot of guts to be an atheist redneck, Sarge! 🙂

  8. Ric: I don’t expect racism to disappear. I just had a hope that the more egregious versions of it would not be as prominent. As for the Feebies, I expect them to spend between now and January searching for non-existent voter fraud.

    Sarge: Hiding and/or hermitism sounds tempting. But we are social animals.

    Up at my park, we (the front-line people) keep finding ways to illustrate the racism, anti-semitism, religious bigotry, and ethnic animosity within the railroad industry, specifically in Scranton. Sometimes the bosses don’t notice and we get away wtih it.

    Chappie: Racism is still rampant, but (down here in the ‘city’ (such as it is)) the current version is anti-Hispanic — even though the Hispanic immigrants are the ones opening stores which have not been open for years, the old-line Polacks, Krauts, Hunkies, Eyeties, Micks and Whelps think that they are all illegal and should leave. Lou Barletta (R) came close to unseating Kanjorski (D) by using anti-immigrant animosity.

    Sarge (again): Despite my edjumication (BA in History), many view me as a redneck and, I guess, culturally, I am (just a little bit), based on food, dress, and use of the word ‘ya’ll’. I’ve known some very racist rednecks when I lived in Maryland. I’ve also known some (generally those who attended the less radical churches) with refreshing openmindedness.

    Chappie (again): What about socialists and communists?

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