Is Jackson County a racist community?

One might think so given the recent events in Hoschton. For those who missed the controversy, Hoschton’s mayor reportedly made a comment during a hiring search for a city administrator that the town might not be ready for a black administrator (a black man had applied for the job.)

That was the spark, but then the mayor pro-tem threw gas on the fire by saying it “makes my blood boil” when he sees racially-mixed couples. He said it was his Christian upbringing that taught him about the need for racial purity.

The response to that was swift. Multiple people, including the chairmen of both the local Democratic and Republican parties, called for the officials to resign and decried the comments as not reflecting the overall community.

But maybe they’re wrong. Maybe such comments do reflect a deeper current of racism and bias in the community.

Hoschton isn’t the only example of this kind of thing. Jackson County’s state representative has long been a Confederate apologist, claiming that the KKK wasn’t a bad group and that slavery didn’t have anything to do with the Civil War. He was also opposed to putting MLK’s statue on the grounds of the State Capitol. For a time, he was cast out of legislative leadership because of his embrace of the mythological “Lost Cause” theology.

A few years ago, a county commissioner used the “N-word” about a county manager. That cost the county a bundle of cash when the county manager was fired.

The real question is, are these isolated views by just a few local public officials, or do they represent a deeper vein of racism in the community?

One would hope that the backlash in Hoschton by upset citizens represents the community more accurately.

But I’m not so sure.

There are some who have refused to denounce the comments in Hoschton and instead, blamed the whistleblowers for the controversy. Some area business leaders have, behind-the-scenes, been vocal about supporting the Hoschton officials despite their racist comments.

Much of that undercurrent is on the down-low. We’ve received a couple of anonymous letters from people blaming the Hoschton controversy on the media and claiming that the mayor didn’t do anything wrong.

”...let a good mayor ask a reasonable question asked by every hiring manager and they want to lynch her,” said one anonymous letter.

That, of course, is BS. No legitimate hiring manager would ever inject race into a hiring process. It’s illegal. It’s also illegal to disqualify a potential employee based on religious beliefs, gender or sexual preference.

Think of this another way: Hoschton’s mayor is female (as is a majority of the town’s city council.) What if during an election, a male opponent made the statement, “Hoschton isn’t ready for a female mayor.”

Bet if that happened, the sensitivity about this issue would be a little different.

None of this is really surprising. In today’s USA, being “politically incorrect,” including the spewing of racial and ethnic tropes, has become common. Things people would never have said publicly in the past few years are now shared ad nauseam on social media. People have been murdered by right-wing nuts just because of their religion or skin color, in part due to the poisonous political atmosphere we live in today.

Much of that racism is a backlash against President Obama who was, for eight years, the target of intense racial animosity by right-wing politicians and conspiracy-mongers. Multiple efforts were made to delegitimize him, including the fake “birther” movement that claimed Obama wasn’t really an American.

Today, one of the loudest voices from the fake birther crusade, Donald Trump, is president. From his perch in the White House, Trump has stirred up all kinds of racial and ethnic animosity. His diehard followers think if the president can be an amoral bigot, they can be too.

Jackson County is not very racially diverse. Because of that, there hasn’t been too much public confrontation here between whites and blacks over the decades.

When local schools were integrated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, white leaders in the community didn’t create a whites-only private school — a segregation academy — as happened in many other Georgia counties. For the most part, local school integration was calm.

But that doesn’t mean the community’s record has been spotless.

In 1956, a state senator from Jackson County led the move to put the Confederate Battle Flag on the state flag, an obvious reaction to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education court decision. (He denied it was a reaction to the court, but the timing suggests otherwise. The flag was later changed and the battle flag removed, an effort that was largely responsible for the defeat of Gov. Roy Barnes who led that movement.) For a time, there was a local “White Citizens Council” here in the 1950s, a group that was just a cleaned-up version of the KKK.

And there was one famous case in 1968 when a group of white thugs beat two black men at a truck stop in Braselton just because the black men were eating in the diner.

Those are perhaps extreme examples. Since the 1960s, the racism here has usually more subtle, less “in your face” than it was in the 1960s.

That’s why the comments in Hoschton were so shocking. Seldom are such racist comments made so openly, especially by public officials who should know better.

I suspect that there are a lot of people in the community who, to some extent, agree with what those two officials said in Hoschton. They may not have voiced it as openly, but they would never have hired a black man for a city leadership position. There are a lot of white bigots who think it’s fine to hire a black man as a janitor, but never as someone in authority.

And there are some in the community who undoubtedly continue to harbor racist ideas about mixed-marriages. That’s especially true among older whites who grew up in an era when race-mixing was considered the worst kind of abomination and could be deadly for those who dared challenge the taboo.

Old, bigoted beliefs die hard. Not too many decades ago, race defined everything about the South; its politics, religion, social and cultural norms.

Those old thoughts are still around, simmering just below the surface.

Maybe such racism doesn’t reflect the overall values of Hoschton, or of Jackson County. But I suspect there’s a significant number of people in the community who don’t see anything wrong with what the mayor and councilman said.

I hope I’m wrong.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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