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Jana Hollingsworth, Forum Communications, Published June 27 2012

Duluth anti-racism billboard defaced

DULUTH, Minn. - A new Un-Fair Campaign billboard has been defaced with a spray-painted racial slur and a Confederate flag.

The billboard, above the intersection of Sixth Avenue East and Fourth Street in Duluth, states: “Racism: Ignore it and it won’t go away.” To that, someone has added, in red, “No naggers” and the flag symbol underneath the message.

The word “naggers” is another version of the more commonly known racial epithet, said Claudie Washington, president of the local chapter of the NAACP.

“I’ve seen many versions of that word,” he said, and because it’s been painted on a sign denouncing racism along with a Confederate flag, he has no doubts about its meaning. “It clearly indicates to me how racism is alive and well.”

“We will not tolerate racist slurs,” said Ellen O’Neill, executive director of the Duluth YWCA, speaking on behalf of the 18 partners of the Un-Fair Campaign. “This proves how badly this campaign is needed and how badly this community needs to talk about racism.”

The Un-Fair Campaign began in January. Its goal is to bring people together to talk about the effects of racism. The main message has focused on white privilege with the line, “It’s hard to see racism when you’re white.”

But it also ignited backlash, with many saying the campaign itself is racist, and alienating in its efforts. In direct response a white supremacist rally was held in Duluth in March.

A new video sharing the campaign’s message was rolled out this month. It resulted in more backlash, this time from one of its partners. The University of Minnesota Duluth called the video’s message “divisive” based on complaints at both UMD and the main campus of the university. Complaints have come from outside and within university walls, UMD Chancellor Lynn Black said this week. The message in the video was described by O’Neill as the same as before, but in a new format.

Phil Pierson co-founded a Facebook page in January with a goal of stopping the campaign, because he felt it should not have singled out whites. On Wednesday Pierson said he still doesn’t support the campaign, but such vandalism is “disgusting.”

“That’s outright racism,” Pierson said. “The campaign is divisive, but I don’t think they deserve that. It’s contributing to the problem. But the way the campaign has been run, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s upsetting.”

Washington said he expected such graffiti to appear on campaign materials, and is surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

“I didn’t think this early in the campaign it (racism in Duluth) would go away, because most people deny it exists,” he said. “I think it’s a sad day.”

O’Neill said campaign organizers would be talking with Duluth police and the sign company, Lamar Co., today to see how to proceed.