Diary

Obama’s “Hymietown” Graffiti Parallels Perry’s “N*****head” Rock

In Politico’s Arena, I tell the following story about Barack Obama. My goal is to get people thinking about whether moral outrage over Rick Perry’s tenuous connection to the “N*****head” rock is politically motivated rather than sincere.

[A] couple of basketball courts down the block from my cousin’s house in Chicago … have gained some local notoriety because people remember that, for many years, Obama brought friends and colleagues there to play basketball. Locals say that for much of the two decades he played there, the anti-Semitic term “Hymietown” was scrawled very visibly as graffiti across the old wall beside the courts. The courts and adjoining grassy area were called Hymietown Park by some of the neighbors, so the graffiti artist may be guilty mainly of insensitivity in repeating the informal name of the park.

As Obama’s reputation in Chicago grew, he persuaded local authorities to upgrade the basketball courts, which he continued to use. Eventually, he asked authorities to paint over the offensive graffiti. But some say that Obama was slow in doing so, and as recently as this spring, the word “Hymietown” was still faintly visible under the half-hearted paint job. To be fair, there is no other connection between Obama and the graffiti and, as far as I know, no one claims that Obama used the term “Hymietown.”

People … have suggested that Rick Perry is racially insensitive, not ready for prime time, or simply “pathetic” because of his tenuous connection to the “N*****head” rock. Can the same be said about Barack Obama because of his similar connection to the Hymietown graffiti?

In truth, Hymietown Park exists only in my imagination. But my Hymietown fable closely parallels the Perry story as told by the Washington Post and is intended to produce some cognitive dissonance for those who hold Perry to a standard very different than the one they apply to Democrats.