April 17, 2013

Divided room speaks out on county commissioner’s racial slur

Saline County Commissioner Jim Gile has faced pressure from the Kansas Republican Party, Kansas Young Republicans and others to resign but he says he won’t.

A largely divided crowd spoke for more than an hour Tuesday defending and opposing Saline County Commissioner Jim Gile’s use of the term “n*****-rigging” at a study session two weeks ago.

Mandy Zimmerman, who is white and said she has two black children, asked Gile to resign, saying a public official shouldn’t have used the phrase and it’s caused division in Salina.

“We took 10 steps back and our children are saying things they heard spoken from our public officials,” Zimmerman said. “The skating-rink children (who are saying the word), I don’t hold them accountable; I hold their parents accountable and public figures that say those things and teach our children.”

Gile’s wife, Joann, asked him not to resign.

“Jim and I have been married for 45 years, and I firmly believe he is a good, honest and caring man,” Joann Gile said. “He wants to help others, and his work in the community shows that. That’s why he ran for commissioner, because he felt that was a way to do that.”

Gile used the phrase during a discussion about repairing the roof on the county’s road and bridge department building. When asked at that meeting by someone in the audience what he’d said, he said he meant “Afro-Americanized,” which caused some of those in the room to laugh.

He declined to speak Tuesday.

Pressure to resign

Gile has faced pressure from the Kansas Republican Party, Kansas Young Republicans, Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, and members of the community to resign but told the Journal he won’t. His use of the term has been mentioned on CNN, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” Huffington Post, Slate, Gawker, MSNBC and multiple other news outlets and websites. John Bowman, a comedian who opened for Lewis Black this past Friday at the Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts in Salina, mentioned the incident.

Gile said Tuesday that he will seek racial sensitivity training from the Salina Human Relations Commission, which offered the training to all members of the county commission.

What’s the definition?

At Tuesday’s televised meeting, Salinan John Miller said that when Gile uttered the phrase, he meant “niggar.” While “niggar” is not a word, according to Merriam Webster, “niggard” means “a stingy or ungenerous person.”

According to the online Urban Dictionary, the phrase Gile used is derived from the racial slur, and denotes poor or inferior quality work.

“With all due respect, the word ‘niggard’ is 15th and 16th century and means miserly and stingy,” said Trent Davis of Salina, who is black.

He said it sounds similar but isn’t the correct term.

Zimmerman asked Jim Gile if he meant the phrase in the manner of doing a job well-done with resources available.

“No,” he responded.

Miller clapped and said “Let’s do the Harlem Shuffle.” He was referring to the Harlem Shake, a dance that has gone viral online.

A few people laughed.

Working on the farms

Joann Gile said her husband, in the context of the conversation about the roof repair, didn’t mean anything bad by the phrase.

“I want you to realize where that phrase came from, back in the 1900s, when farmers, when people, we get hung up on our words whether we call them, we have friends: Negroes, blacks, colored, whatever,” Joann Gile said. “When the colored people, or black people as we refer to them now, worked on farms and the farmers praised those people because they had the ability and knowledge and know-how to put something together with nothing.

“They could get it together with a piece of baling wire or something else,” Joann Gile said. “Those farmers praised those colored people. They had that knowledge that some of them (farmers) didn’t have so they could get their work done. They (black people) were proud that was called ‘n-rigging.’ We take it out of context, but the way this gentlemen (Miller) spelled it (niggar), that’s the correct way. You could get something fixed in a quick way, just not the proper way but something you could get your job done at the end of the day.”

Joann Gile said her husband didn’t mean anything bad but wanted to fix the roof to last 30 years instead of six months.

Hurting and apologies

Salinan Cora Williams, who is black, said Gile’s words hurt her and others in the community. She said he can apologize but it will take a long time before the wounds are healed.

Zimmerman said people had warned her about racism in Kansas before her family moved here three years ago but she hadn’t encountered it until Gile made the comment. She said people have been talking about it since.

‘Please don’t resign’

Brenda Crowder, who is white, said she had experienced discrimination as a young person who grew up in a military family in Salina’s Schilling Manor area. She said she didn’t condone Gile’s use of the phrase but felt he has shown he cares about the community.

“I, too, am horrified by the word and we try so hard to move forward and there is a slip,” Crowder said. “Unfortunately, that was a huge thing that (Gile’s) generation said too much. There are many things that offend me. I am horribly offended when I hear young people in our community, and I walk through the mall and downtown, call women ‘bitches’ and ‘ho’s’. I am not either one. It horrifies me.”

“The bombing in Boston,” Crowder said. “My God, I bawled. That horrified me that someone could do something so horrible to our country. It hurt my heart when our president (Obama), a flag passed by and he didn’t put his hand over his heart. I was raised in the military. You put your hand over your heart when a flag passes by. Mr. Gile, please don’t resign.”

Rappers use the term

Bob Homolka said the term is one his generation used. He said it is still used by black rappers.

Davis said the black community needs to “have its own house in order.” He said that is a work in progress.

“My kids know there are certain albums they can’t bring into the house,” Davis said. “It is a big topic. Parents are held to a higher standard than children. The three of you, or any politician or sports figure, are held to a higher standard.”

Seeking training

Gile said he and Commissioner John Price had looked into sensitivity training last week but couldn’t get hold of anyone.

“Jim used the wrong terminology, and he will seek guidance with word usage and to understand the diversity of cultures,” Joann Gile said. “I hope you can all see this as an opportunity to help us all grow together, for the good of the community.”

Davis invited Gile to the NAACP meeting at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Salina Arts Center, where he said Gile would learn the correct “20th-century” terminology. Gile said he planned to attend.

Accepting an apology

Saline County Commission Chairman Randy Duncan said he has heard from some in the community that Gile’s apology at last week’s county commission meeting wasn’t sincere.

“I took personal offense to that because it was one of the hardest moments we, I, as a commissioner, have ever had,” Duncan said. “It was one of the most heart-felt apologies I have ever heard anyone make.

“I accepted his apology, personally,” Duncan said. “I hope the community accepts Jim Gile’s apology. As far as Commissioner Jim Gile’s future and resignation, that is up to Commissioner Jim Gile and the voters of Saline County, Kan.”

Duncan said Gile has made his intention to stay on the commission “clear.”

Would laugh again

Commissioner John Price apologized for laughing when the original comment was made but admitted he probably would laugh again.

“The laughter; I can’t explain that,” Price said. “I have to say, if you say it again, I will laugh again. You said it once. We are past all of this now. We can learn from this.”

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