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By J. Smith

Should Gov. Rick Perry of Texas have to answer to a past that isn’t completely his own? According to The New York Times, Perry’s early upbringing in a once racially oppressive town and his education at a then-racially insensitive university are environments that he didn’t create, but he certainly was a part of. So does that mean he is inherently racist as well?

In the wake of the “niggerhead” controversy – a report that Perry had entertained guests at a West Texas camp known as “niggerhead” – some concede that the governor has a racially sheltered background, but claim that his political track record shows that he has overcome his early surroundings. Others say his advocacy of states’ rights resemble a “yearning for the Old South,” the Times reports.  No one can truly know, but the sister of a former maid in the Perry household recalls quite clearly that the governor was well aware of his first class citizenship in Paint Creek, Texas.

“In the heart of Mr. Perry’s home county, Haskell, the tiny black community used to be centered in a segregated area east of the railroad tracks called Niggertown. White residents ‘didn’t use it N-e-g-r-o, they said N-i-g-g-e-r; it seemed like a pet word for them,’ said Mae Lou Yeldell, 86, whose sister once worked as a housekeeper for the Perrys,” the Times reports. “In 1968 Mr. Perry left home for Texas A&M, a deeply conservative university whose yearbooks early in the century included Ku Klux Klan-robed students and a dairy group called the Kream and Kow Klub.”

However, Perry will go down in history as the one who appointed the first black justice to the Texas Supreme Court.  He also signed a hate crimes bill that his former boss, George W. Bush, had rejected. “Over his three terms as governor, he has nurtured relationships with black leaders, including the head of the Texas N.A.A.C.P., who extols the governor’s open mindedness,” the Times reporters write.

There’s no way to confirm Gov. Perry’s true feelings toward non-whites, but again, avoiding questions about an unpleasant racial history will only raise the public’s eyebrows even higher. Once politicians learn to confront race head-on instead of shying away from it, it would greatly reduce their chances of being caught off guard with “niggerhead”-type controversies.

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