By Taylor McClain
Last Tuesday marked the end of the Mardi Gras season and the beginning of the Lenten season. For those of you non-Catholics and non-Mardi Gras celebrants, Lent lasts forty-six days and marks a period of austerity and frugality, and is generally a period of fasting of at least one food or drink.
Mardi Gras is the time of joy and celebration—and much inebriation. During the last few years, many cities have begun their own parades, emulating Mobile and New Orleans in that respect. There is one parade however, that is distinct and can only be viewed in Mobile—the Comic Cowboys parade. It is not the colorful spectacle associated with other parades—the floats are quite drab—nor is it that the “Queen” of the organization is a male (see here) member in drag (only men comprise the organization); rather it is the large wooden signs affixed to the floats on which are written very funny, witty, ribald, and often scatological one or two sentence barbs.
The signs are most often directed at local politicians, but a few are well-aimed and hit the bullseye of state and national figures. This year, the most commonly lampooned targets were Alabama Republican Governor Bentley and President Donald Trump. Bentley was prominently featured because of his alleged extra-marital affair and divorce woes. And Trump—well, because he’s Donald Trump.
Up until this year, everyone who was targeted by this misogynistic, homophobic, racist, feminist-baiting, union bashing, un-politically correct, federal government trashing, gaggle of boozehounds looked askance and the next day all was forgiven. After all, it is Ash Wednesday.
That is until this year.
It seems that the ‘Boys’ signage crossed over the PC line when a City Councilperson was the object of a well-slung arrow that took aim at his trip to Africa. The sign did not question the purpose of his trip, be it personal vacation time, personal business matters, or City of Mobile taxpayer funded recruitment of—what, the importation of Dashikis or to foster a “sister city” relationship? None of these. It was their reference to the robbery and shooting of the Councilmember, whose name is C. J. Small, and who happens to be Black, while he was there.
In case you were not aware, the City of Mobile is populated by 50% African Americans and has a very high rate of violent crime. Some might argue that the violent crime statistics of Mobile match that of similar-sized African towns or townships, or whatever they call an aggregation of Blacks on that continent.
And with that as context, the sign admonished Mr. Small that it would have been cheaper for him to stay in Mobile and taken a bullet from one of the Saturday night specials possessed by a member of one of the many local gang members. The sign didn’t mention that Small was Black but most everyone in Mobile knows this. See here. There was also a sign on a different float that hit two separate targets with one arrow. It read that the President’s “outreach’ program to Africa was similar to his campaign slogan but slightly more nuanced to read, “Make America Mo’ Great Again.” You can interpret this one, however, you will, but it is telling that both Whites and Blacks signified it the same way—the dire education of Blacks in both Mobile and America. And, finally, there was the stone the ‘Boys threw at the controversial, hate mongering organization, Black Lives Matter. That sign announced that the Black Lives Matter group demand justice, but “They’ll Settle for Big Screen TVs.”
Okay, so that is one send up of Blacks generally, one well-placed spear chunked in the foot of a local politician, and one critique of a racist trolling tribe that has no doubt heard this before. But no matter—all hell broke loose in Mobile.
A City Council meeting was convened the following week at which there was much preening, virtue signaling, gnashing of pearly whites, and lamentations that were probably heard all the way back to Pretoria. The Mayor and a White councilmember doxed themselves, expressed umbrage in their best “look at me carrying the cross” manner, and resigned their membership in the ‘Boys.
Paula Deen could not have been more proud if the two of them had been her own sons.
Mayor Stimpson said . . .
“And even though to some, what they’re trying to do may be humorous, to others it’s very hurtful. And so, as the mayor, I can’t afford to be associated with an association that is being divisive, so I tendered my resignation.”
In other words . . .
“I’m up for reelection this year, and I need the Black vote.”
There are several noteworthy items here. First, Mr. Small’s comment that the sign about him implied that Mobile was overrun with violent crime. That was a “disservice,” he said. But was it? And if so, then who was disserved? The three Canadians who flew into town to snatch candy and plastic cups from the air during the parades? The Councilmembers who moralized that they kept their children home on the day of the ‘Boys’ parade so that they would not be exposed to the material that was “likely” to be unfit for them to read?
I imagine that these same parents are going to keep their children home from school on the day the teacher discusses “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is filled with a vivid description of rape, racial discrimination, violence against children, dirty words, and on and on.
But this is more than just an issue of free speech; it is rapidly devolving into an issue of one’s ability to exercise free will. When the President of the local Mobile County Branch of the NAACP tells the City Council that not only is an apology required from the ‘Boys but also the council should enact a city ordinance, “to eliminate such embarrassing and bad behavior from people like the Comic Cowboys.”
What she and other Blacks want is the iron hand of government to hammer White men into cowering submission so that Blacks will no longer be embarrassed by rednecks behaving like, well, you know, rednecks.
This kind of governmental overreach would be far beyond laws criminalizing speech that is hateful; it is a call to ban behavior that is annoying or bothersome—to Black people. And, Lord knows we certainly don’t want to agitate a Black woman ahead of us in the checkout line at the grocery store when she can’t find her EBT card in her purse.
Small’s attitude seems to imply that his feelings were hurt only because the ‘Boys poked fun at the fact that he was shot, and not because he was shot in Africa. But suppose the shooting had occurred in a white neighborhood in Mobile or while he was traveling in Iceland; would he still be so mortified?
Blacks in Mobile want the right not to be embarrassed by misbehaving White folks, and I can imagine Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court writing a decision opining, “Yep, here it is right here in the Constitution and I found it—the right of persons of color not to be embarrassed by Caucasoids.”
But what of the right of White people not to be bewitched, bothered and bewildered. There were no complaints emanating from Blacks or the Council or the local newspaper about that despite the ‘Boys’ knuckle-dragging cartoons about the White race, especially of the male subspecies. See here.
Or this cartoon of Attorney General Jeff Sessions shown cutting out Klan-style robes for the Supreme Court. See here.
Small took umbrage at the ‘Boys implying that Mobile’s level of violence was high, but what he was really saying was that the sign about him implied that the level of Black violence was high. Perhaps he was correct in his observation, which may be the reason there was, let’s call it, a spontaneous meeting on March 5, 2017, of Black youth at the local mall to discuss this issue and see if a consensus of opinion could be arrived at. See here.
There had been many such spontaneous discussions in recent years at this same mall with no resolution, which may be the reason mall officials issued new guidelines concerning unsupervised teens holding meetings on Friday and Saturday nights. These rules follow similar restrictions implemented last year at local movie theaters after a spontaneous meeting of Black teens where it was alleged that someone had a knife and also alleged that someone else had a gun. Moreover, it was alleged that someone heard gunshots. The four teens with bullet wounds taken to the ER in an ambulance seemed to confirm the allegations.
Theater management announced that in order to provide the public with a more “family friendly” environment has made the theaters “gun free” zones.
I recall when Tipper Gore in 1985 called for a ban on offensive language in music recordings and a warning label on the covers of CDs containing curse words or foul language. In like manner, I suggest that the Comic Cowboys have the lead float in their parade carry a large sign (in English and Spanish) announcing that, “People of color and members of the Snowflake generation should beware—potentially embarrassing or offensive signs to follow.”
Taylor McClain is a practicing attorney and an alumnus of the University of Alabama