After country star Brad Paisley kicked off a national conversation about white guys who don't want to be called racist just because they say or wear things with racist connotations, we find a fascinating case study in Salina, Kansas, where a county commissioner suggested last week the county should avoid "n— rigging" repairs to a local building. Yes, as Slate's David Weigel pointed out, Saline County Commissioner Jim Gile (pictured at right) told a meeting of local officials that the county should hire an architect to fix its Road and Bridge Department building instead of "n— rigging it." When asked by an attendee what he said, Gile was exceptionally clear about his meaning: "Afro-Americanized."
A few days later, Gile explained that he actually meant to say "jury-rigged." However, jury-rigged does not have the meaning Gile intended. Jury-rigged is a nautical term that implies a temporary fix but not a shoddy one. It's sort of like MacGyvering. From context, it seems what Gile meant was "jerry-rig," which does imply shoddy work, and comes from a slur for Germans.
Gile is adamant that he's not racist. "I am not a prejudiced person," Gile told the Salina Journal. "I have built Habitat homes for colored people." He said he has a very close friend who is black. He gave the newspaper a long list of charitable groups he's worked for, which is very admirable. He went a bit over the top in his self-defense, saying, "I don't ever do anything bad and don't know how to do anything bad. People know I am not."
This is the cycle Brad Paisley unintentionally described in his song "Accidental Racist," in which he says he doesn't want to be called a racist just because he's wearing a shirt bearing the Confederate flag, the most widely-recognized symbol of treason in defense of slavery. Likewise, Gile doesn't want to be called a racist just because he used a racial slur in public, and then, when asked for clarification, said he was referring to African-Americans. When you don't question your long-held prejudices, and you say them out loud to people who don't share those prejudices, they get offended. Then you get all mad that people get offended, because what? You've always said that. What's the big deal?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.