Obama mask at rodeo highlights racial divisions
The rodeo incident at the Missouri State Fair and the clown at the center of it have become the latest illustration of racial divisions that continue to surface nearly five years into Barack Obama’s presidency.
The Washington Post
SEDALIA, Mo. — As some people at the Missouri State Fair see it, the rodeo incident last weekend in which a ringleader taunted a clown wearing a mask of President Obama as a bull charged after him was neither racist nor disrespectful.
It was a joke, they said, overblown by a news media that’s hypersensitive to any possible slight against the nation’s first black president. They said the hooting and hollering from the crowd that night was because of a fundamental dislike of the president.
“I’ve got no respect for him,” said Virgil Henke, 65, a livestock farmer who explained his distaste for Obama with several falsehoods about his background: “Why, he’s destroyed this country. ... I don’t care whether it’s a black man in office, but we have to have a true-blooded American. I think he is Muslim and trying to destroy the country, catering to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.”
The rodeo incident and the clown at the center of it have become the latest illustration of racial divisions that continue to surface nearly five years into Obama’s presidency.
A three-minute amateur video of the rodeo act was picked up by news outlets worldwide. Democratic and Republican elected officials in Missouri condemned the incident, saying it was offensive and inappropriate at a taxpayer-funded event with children in attendance.
Asked about it Wednesday, an Obama administration spokesman said it was not one of Missouri’s “finer moments.”
But some conservative radio talk-show hosts and writers have dismissed the act as a joke no different from jabs aimed at other presidents. Moreover, they said, Obama’s supporters ought to learn how to take a joke rather than seeing everything as racially motivated. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, who tweeted that liberals are “thin-skinned and totalitarian,” has invited the clown to perform at rodeos in Texas.
Whether the scene at the state fair was meant merely as mockery or something more sinister, there was no room for nuance among a dozen fairgoers interviewed Wednesday. There was near universal agreement that the incident was all in good fun.
“I was raised to think the blacks were bad; I’m not gonna lie,” said Margaret Abercrombie, 68, who is white and grew up along the Mississippi River in Sikeston, Mo. She said she voted twice for Obama but didn’t find anything wrong with the rodeo act.
The crowd at the fair, which lasts 11 days, was overwhelmingly white. One vendor sold “rebel pride” hats emblazoned with Confederate flags for $8 each. Another, who would only be identified as “Dennis the Sticker Dude,” hawked car decals featuring a cartoon boy urinating on Obama.
At the rodeo last Saturday night, a clown wearing an Obama mask stood on the arena’s dirt floor, propped up like a straw man with the appearance that a broom stick was going up his backside. A second clown called him “ya big goober.”
Before letting the bull loose to charge at the clown wearing the Obama mask, the second clown provided live narration over the loudspeakers:
“Obama, they’re coming for you this time.”
“He’s going to getcha, getcha, getcha.”
“Yahoo! We’re gonna smoke Obama.”
In the stands, Perry Beam was so sickened by the scene he began recording it. “It reminded me of a [Ku Klux] Klan rally,” Beam said. “It had that hateful aspect.”
Beam’s video led Missouri’s elected officials to strongly condemn the act.
Mark Ficken, the rodeo announcer, resigned as president of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, although Ficken’s lawyer, Albert Watkins, said it was the ringleader clown, Tuffy Gessling, who made the inflammatory remarks.
“Sort of like Madonna, he wears a little headset with a live microphone,” Watkins said of Gessling. “What was funny and cute morphed into an off-color and inappropriate series of comments that basically everybody who has a room-temperature IQ and above will agree were inappropriate and racist.”
Missouri State Fair officials permanently banned Gessling from future performances. On Wednesday, an apology was issued on a Twitter account that appeared to be from Gessling. Gessling could not be reached for comment.