Shields’ foolish letter was a mockery of racism’s impact
On Feb. 13, the Clinton Herald printed a letter from retired Clinton Police Capt. Les Shields. It was a sarcastic mockery of the real moral failure that is racism in America. Capt. Shields wrote of a sixth-grade Christmas play in which he was painted red and portrayed a Santa-napping Martian. He then went on to “apologize” for this past “moral failure.”
A quick Google search of “red face makeup” yields approximately 601,000,000 results. Every page returned advertisements for cosmetics and tips for correcting blemishes, acne, rosacea and the like. There was nothing controversial because “red face” is not an issue. Capt. Shields invented it so he could act as a victim of political correctness.
One can, of course, also Google “black face makeup.” I did and was greeted with 798,000,000 results dealing with the history and derogatory implications of and the multiple ways in which blackface has been used to demean and demonize black people, particularly black men.
So I ask you directly, Capt. Shields: What is the point of your letter to the editor? To highlight one of the ways in which you think people are overly sensitive to racial issues? To do so by likening your childhood experience to that of candidates for public office and elected officials choosing as adults to don blackface in certain “celebratory” capacities is foolish and illogical.
In Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam has so much of this type of activity in his past, he couldn’t even remember if it was him in a 1984 blackface yearbook photo. Should the 20 percent of Virginians who are African-American not feel betrayed by this? I do not think that is up to you or I to determine.
Florida Secretary of State (now resigned as a result) Mike Ertel attended a party as recently as 2005 in blackface with a label of “Hurricane Katrina Victim.” This was eight months after he was elected county supervisor of elections and just two months after Katrina devastated New Orleans. Capt. Shields, is it your place or mine to tell anyone not to be offended by this disgusting display? Shall we ask the 56 percent of black residents in New Orleans who feel that even more than 10 years after the disaster the city has still not recovered? The Pew Research Center did in 2015. When asked for comment, Ertel merely said, “There is nothing I can say.” He is right. He should be listening instead.
In South Carolina, candidate Brent Tomilinson lost a county seat in the 2018 election cycle after similar images surfaced of him. It appears that the majority of voters in Seminole County, not just those representative of the 27.4 percent of African-American South Carolinians, saw a problem with this.
In 2017, a photo of House of Representatives candidate Robbie Gatti in blackface was released. Gatti lost the election. He said it “never crossed my mind for a split second that I was doing something wrong.”
Voters should be able to expect their elected officials to know right from wrong. Capt. Shields, you of all people know that ignorance of the law is not a defense for breaking the law. And while it certainly is not against the law to dress in blackface, that does not guarantee that those that choose to do so are free of the consequences that result from it.
As another Man of the Badge once told me, “It’s not against the law to be a piece of s---.” Voters are listening and watching and questioning like never before. I suppose they tire of being “represented” by people that enjoy offending them.
Capt. Shields, you stated in your letter you would “never again be able to” run for elected office.
Sir, this is 100 percent inaccurate. There is absolutely nothing preventing you from doing so other than your own decision not to participate, for which I applaud you!
I am appreciative of your past public service, but I too feel it’s best that you decide not to represent our community in an official capacity any longer. While Clinton may only be less than 5 percent African-American, every single one of our citizens deserves fair representation, and with your obvious disdain for respectful race relations, I cannot see how you could truly act in the best interest of all Clintonians.
In 2013, Brooklyn Assemblyman Dav Hikind called the backlash he experienced after wearing blackface “political correctness to the absurd.” He aptly chose not to run for re-election after 36 years.
If this letter was an attempt at humor, it is lost on me. I do not find racism, or the defense of, humorous.
Now to the Clinton Herald directly, I encourage you to print this and I ask you, as the largest mouthpiece of our community (aside from Les Shields), will you make a statement about where you stand on the issue of black-faced skeletons in the closets of white politicians? If you truly are trying to encourage a thoughtful conversation on race, you will.