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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Racist truck sign honors shameful history

Jim Valentine, who runs a landscaping and excavation business in Post Falls, stands near a sign he put up warning homosexuals that they're not welcome in Idaho Friday, Oct. 20, 2006.     Valentine believes all homosexuals are pedophiles. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Jim Valentine, who runs a landscaping and excavation business in Post Falls, stands near a sign he put up warning homosexuals that they're not welcome in Idaho Friday, Oct. 20, 2006. Valentine believes all homosexuals are pedophiles. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s not like the guy could be all that smart.

But there’s no way Jim Valentine could be quite this dumb: The Post Falls man stuck a gross caricature of a young African-American girl eating a big slice of watermelon on the side of one of his business’s trucks. When decent people criticized it, prompting news reports this week, Valentine pretended not to understand what all the fuss was about.

“Is it the watermelon that’s bothering people?” Valentine asked a KHQ reporter. “It’s not the watermelon because that’s what … that’s what … they live down south and that’s what they eat so I think what’s really getting people is that smile on her face.”

They live down south. That’s what they eat.

Valentine said something similar to a KXLY news reporter.

“I was looking at it saying, ‘Is it the watermelon? Is it her hair?’ ” Valentine said. “And I know why they don’t like it. It’s cause she’s smiling and a very happy child like a lot of children were in the 1800s.”

Yes, the 1800s were a happy, happy time for children, and African-American children in particular. That’s just history. Heritage. Valentine says he loves the South, and all its rich history and heritage, and that has nothing to do with racism or slavery, he says – which were surely less than ideal, he acknowledges, but which are sometimes used to cloud over the happier parts of those good times, like happy African-American children eating watermelon, along with a stronger sense of states’ rights.

“This kind of hatred thing that’s been built up around the Confederate flag, there’s a lot of goodness and happiness and it’s a part of history and a part of heritage, so we put the name on our company,” he said.

Yes, Valentine’s tree service and landscaping company, Dixie Services, is named after the glory days of the Confederacy, and some of his company trucks sport Confederate flags on their front grills. It’s always interesting to remember that Northwesterners who fly that flag – whether it’s in their trucks or their yards, on their ballcaps or snotrags – are expressing pride in a heritage that has nothing to do with our history here.

It’s almost like they’re taking pride in something else.

Remember the time that Heather Scott, the Idaho lawmaker from Blanchard who lives in that alternative reality known as the American Redoubt with Matt Shea and the Bundys, proudly displayed the flag at a Timber Days event in Priest River in 2015?

Like Valentine, Scott saw something noble in the symbol of the American states who went to war for slavery.

“Protecting and promoting our free speech is an honor,” she wrote at the time on her Facebook page.

Later, Scott put it this way to The Spokesman-Review: “I’m sure some people find an American flag offensive, right? There’s people that burn it, there’s people that disrespect it. I will never kill someone’s freedom of speech.”

The truth is, the flags that Scott and Valentine fly so proudly do have a North Idaho heritage, but it’s not related to the Confederacy. It’s the heritage that has stained our region for years – the one that includes white supremacist parades and bombings, and the persistent dream of a white homeland for wingnuts. It’s the same heritage honored by Richard Butler, the lizardlike former head of the Aryan Nations in Coeur d’Alene, who once rode in the back of a pickup truck flying a Confederate flag in a Nazi parade.

It is the heritage of Butler – not Jefferson Davis – that Jim Valentine honors with the racist emblem on his business’s trucks. The heritage of ignorant hatred. It’s a part of our history here that we should put behind us, not celebrate. A part we should reject as loudly as possible, in our leaders and our neighbors and in those we choose to hire as landscapers – or not to.

In his interviews with local reporters this week, Valentine pretended not to understand. He pretended to be just a big ol’ fan of history. Of the good, happy times during the Confederacy, which he thinks sometimes gets a bad name. He pretended to be innocent. To be dumb.

But not even he is that dumb.

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