Texas mayor grapples with racism

HOUSTON — The mayor of a tiny town on the Gulf Coast of Texas tried to lead the way for the nation in prohibiting the use of the “n-word,” the racist slur directed at African Americans.

“I just think it would be great if this little town of Brazoria, with 2,800 people, leads the way in fighting against this offensive language,” Ken Corley, mayor of Brazoria, said. Corley, who is white, proposed the City Council pass an ordinance making use of the “n-word” in an offensive or aggressive manner punishable by a fine of up to $500. His remarks were reported in the Houston Chronicle Jan. 23.

In a recent phone interview, Corley told the World that when he started working on the proposed ordinance, 90 percent of the town’s residents were in favor of banning the offensive language. However, when he presented it to the City Council, its members were “noncommittal.” Initially there was a 60-40 split in favor, he said, but it shifted to 70-30 against, with some arguing that the measure would violate First Amendment rights.

Corley said many people were “missing the point” of the proposed law. The aim, he said, was to change the way people treat other people and “to get them to treat people with respect.”

“After all,” he said, “all men were created equal.” Corley said he agreed with others who have argued that banning such offensive language might help reduce racially motivated violence and hate crimes.

But on Jan. 25, Corley backed down in the face of local opposition to the ordinance. Some African American residents, including clergy, supported the measure. Others said that education of African American children was of more concern. Some pundits said that you can’t force people through legislation to be kind to each other. Others maintained that racism and use of racially offensive language should be outlawed and people who engage in such behavior should face serious legal consequences. They argue that the First Amendment was not intended to protect racists from prosecution.

Brazoria, located 50 miles south of Houston, was founded in 1828 by slaveowners. By 1860, slaves made up 72 percent of the population. The most recent Census says the town is now 10 percent African American and 11 percent Latino.

phill2 @ houston.rr.com