Thursday, June 24, 2010

A story with a life of its own

Having broken the news that started the whole Blair-vs-mural hubbub, which went international and brought a whole lot of unkind attention on our fair city, now the Courier editors have had enough and wish it would just go away. Show's over, nothing to see here, move along.

Taking their cue from Mayor Kuykendall ("The public wanted the opportunity to speak, and now we're going to put this behind us"), today the unnamed Courier editor has decreed that further discussion of the topic is officially boring and we should be done with it, even promising additional censorship of the letters and comments. Nice.

This controversy touched a raw nerve in our town and opened a dialogue that's been a long time coming. It's no surprise at all that a lot of people want to be heard, nor that many are staking out extreme positions, nor that the champions of the status quo would like to vacuum the genie back into the bottle. It's an embarrassing story, and Prescott's customary way of dealing with embarrassment is to sweep it under the rug.

But is that any way for a news organization to act? Tim Weideraenders shows that this is a preferred approach in telling us he doesn't watch TV because tampon ads gross him out. After restating his own position, Steve Stockmar declares the argument over, clearly expressing the short attention span of the media in general and the public at large, as well as the typical offhand hubris of journos in deciding what's important and what's not.

Steve, Tim and the Mayor all seem to believe that their function is to lead the people in how to think, and what happened yesterday is not important. But they're all missing both the core of the story and the opportunity it presents, and forgetting that they are all in their chairs to serve the public.

Councilman Blair, Superintendent Kapp, Principal Lane and a bunch of racist yobbos all did things that were deeply offensive to the Miller Valley kids, their parents and teachers, and a large part of this community. Mr Blair has got some deserved blowback from his constituents and suffered some predictable cost in his commercial relationships. Messrs. Kapp and Lane walked their actions back and apologized, but that should not get them off without public discussion of how things are done in our schools, and how important political deals are made in secret among friends.

The Mayor blew an important and rare opportunity for sensible dialogue to address the day-to-day injustice and high background radiation of unacknowledged racism that splinters our community under its Leave-It-To-Beaver facade.

All of us overfed, comfy white folk would like to think of ourselves as friendly, open people who wave and greet passersby and treat strangers as new-found friends. But we all know or should know that we don't respond that way to all strangers, or even all of our neighbors. The majority here has grown comfortable in not seeing the ones who are different, or poor, or young, or mentally challenged, and there's constant pressure to make them even less visible. Many of us are in deep denial about how Prescott is changing with the world around it and refusing to go along, making Prescott increasingly neurotic.

This is news, one of the biggest news stories in our community. Refusal to talk about it, including by our local media, has built up the pressure we see being released now.

Rather than pulling the curtain and telling us the show's over, the Courier should be leaning into this story, seeking out the reasonable voices and different viewpoints, challenging rhetoric with facts, and pushing for answers to the very important questions it raises. Proaction, not reaction.

I don't know how long the story will sustain itself. Americans really do have the attention span of a gnat, after all, and in its current form the dialogue isn't very productive. The status-quo types will probably win. But be warned that the issue of racism in Prescott will not go away, it will only repressurize and emerge somewhere else, uglier and more recalcitrant. The editors have only kicked the can down the road.