Smile Politely

Ford County, we must denounce racism in our community

On Wednesday, April 14th, the Ford County Record in Paxton, Illinois published an editorial written by Leo Morris. He opened the article stating, “None of my best friends is black. Ok, I apologize. I did that just to get your attention.”

His opening statement is ignorant, the grammar is wrong, and it’s racially charged. The use of “sensational journalism” is outdated, tacky, and a big chunk of what gives journalists a bad name. This is white privilege and irresponsible journalism at their worst.

The article is titled “Facebook ‘friendship’ is qualified.” It has since been buried on the Ford County Record website, but can still be located by Googling “Leo Morris Ford County.” It should be noted the Ford County Record does not have an actual editor, but is managed by it’s publishing company Champaign Multimedia Group.

The Champaign Multimedia Group found fit to post Morris’s editorial as Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer Kim Potter officially resigned after fatally shooting Daunte Wright.

At the same time, the country watched the defense begin to present their case in the highly publizied trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd after several months of protests nationwide.

While millions were crying for racial justice, Morris found it acceptable to write, “We have become so race conscious in the last couple of years, I figured that sentence would cause everybody to read further…” He continued, proving his ignorance and insensitivity even more, “…if for no other reason to see if I would say something irredeemably stupid.” Morris then proceeded to write the rest of the article about his Facebook preferences.

No need Morris, you’ve already said plenty that is irredeemably stupid. You’ve also told me you are racist and full of white privilege, as well as self-absorbed and completely unaware of the world around you. And all of this was done to merely express your view on something as insignificant as having 100 friends on Facebook.

Morris is an editorial writer who describes himself as “a grouchy weekly columnist for the Indiana Policy Review.” He boasts of an award from the Hoosier Press Association and a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize, which quite frankly surprises and saddens me as someone who has a deep love and respect for journalism. I doubt Morris realizes he’s greatly tarnished his journalist title as well as the journalism field. At the very least, he owes an apology and should be reprimanded by his employer.

As a child growing up in Ford County, my grandmother worked at the Paxton Daily Record, an early version of the newspaper. I can’t help but think of her rolling in her grave. I doubt these statements would have passed on her watch, and I wonder how this could be allowed or go unnoticed.

Perhaps it is because the population in Ford County is over 96% white, and according to the US Census, does not have a single business reported to be owned by a person of color in the entire county. I doubt the Record has even one subscriber of color.

The same grandmother once coached me in an essay contest about patriotism in grade school. I cried when I lost. Now thinking back, I laugh. The “American Hero” Grandma and I decided on as my subject was Ralph Nader. No essay on Nader was going to win a contest judged in Paxton, where 73% of voters are registered as Republican.

It definitely would not win in Paxton, where in that same grade school white nationalism ran so deeply, my peers actually bragged about having fathers in the Ku Klux Klan and I was taught of our identification as a Sundown Town. Absolutely not in Paxton, where in 2008, a Japanese friend visited me and I was taken aside at the local bar and told I should really be with my own kind.

In that same bar, a few years later, out of town friends gathered after my mother’s funeral. They alerted the staff that someone had carved “white power” into a table. The staff responded with a shrug and walked off.

Exposing the town I was raised in is going to burn a lot of bridges. I am 100% okay with that. For too long this area of Central Illinois’ reputation of epic racism has been overlooked and swept under the rug. It’s beyond time for change.

Please, Ford County, use this moment to show racism, ignorance, and insensitivity will no longer be okay in the community. I speak not just to the Ford County Record, but to the citizens as well. I beg of you, do not let this slide. Do not look the other way. Hold people to be accountable, boycott the newspaper, and demand apologies. Denounce racism in our community.

I first saw Morris’s article as featured by the Ford County Record on an international news app. The whole world can see us, Ford County. Do the right thing.

Top image screenshot from the Ford County Record website.

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