In Wildwood, N.J., somebody apparently thought it would be funny to post a sign in front of a small apartment building reading, “Parking for whites only.” Is it a stupid prank or is it “the worst thing anybody can do to anybody”?
We can all agree that racism is a bad thing. Right? But the U.S. culture has become so hypersensitive about the issue that it seems most “right-thinking people” go into overreaction mode when it comes up, because everyone seems to be competing to see who can be the most non-racist.
The latest example of this hyper-overreaction comes from a Philadelphia television station and the mayor of Wildwood, N.J. Here’s what happened:
A black couple have owned a small apartment complex near the beach in Wildwood for 11 years. They’ve apparently had minor problems with neighbors who don’t care for the apartments, although it’s not clear why. (Homeowners never like renters and apartment complexes, so I assume it’s just the standard reasons.) This past Wednesday, someone placed a sign on a pole in front of the apartments saying, “Parking for whites only.” Instead of taking the paper sign down and going about her business while muttering about the insensitivity and stupidity of some folks — which would have been reasonable — the owner took the sign to city police, who are investigating the “crime.” Mayor Ernie Troiano apologized on behalf of the city and told the TV station:
“This is the worst thing anybody can do to anybody. We never had problems with this neighborhood. For someone to do that, that’s a sick person.”
Really? This is truly the worst thing anybody can do, Mr. Mayor? Do you understand that this is just four ignorant words on a paper sign? How does it compare to killing someone? How about stealing people’s money? Is it worse than rape? Would you rather worry about someone posting that sign or about military aircraft dropping bombs on your home when you’ve done nothing to provoke it? Is the sign worse than police wrongly raiding a home, terrorizing people and killing your animals, then just saying, “Oooops,” afterwards?
If this is the worst thing anybody can do, we must live in a pretty perfect world otherwise.
The reality is that this isn’t even in the ballpark of the worst thing people can do to others. It’s just garden-variety stupidity that some people elevate to a place of importance because they’re scared of being branded with the modern scarlet letter — “R” for racist.
We’re taking a stupid prank too seriously when a mayor is so scared of being called racist that he says what this guy did. We’re taking it too seriously when a TV station treats it as though it’s a real news story. We’re taking it too seriously when police are investigating it as a crime. We’re taking it way too seriously when we can’t realize that idiocy of this sort goes on every single day — about race and gender and accents and religion and dozens of other things.
Reacting wildly out of proportion to one stupid incident doesn’t fix the problem of people being uncivil to others. It just make it clear that some people are badly out of touch with reality.
Update: I’d like to call your attention to the fact that the apartment owner at the center of this debate has joined the discussion in our comments below. Uyvonne Robinson is being very classy by coming here to add to her side of the story. If you choose to respond to her, please note that uncivil responses will be deleted.