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Shawn Vestal: ‘Who, me?’ racist taints Coeur d’Alene’s Fourth of July celebration

UPDATED: Wed., July 31, 2019

Jim Valentine stands near a sign he put up in Post Falls warning homosexuals that they're not welcome in Idaho on Oct. 20, 2006. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Jim Valentine stands near a sign he put up in Post Falls warning homosexuals that they're not welcome in Idaho on Oct. 20, 2006. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

At a parade, no less.

The Fourth of July celebration in Coeur d’Alene was marred this year by the presence of a grotty old racist image of a “pickaninny” eating a bright red slice of watermelon, flanked by Confederate flag imagery, rolling down Sherman Avenue in the metaphorical footsteps of Richard Butler.

It was marred by the oversight failure of the Chamber of Commerce to allow an entrant with a public history of bigoted stunts, including past controversy over the very same watermelon sign.

And it was marred further still by the idiotic defense offered by the man who paraded that image: “I know a lot of people say slavery was a terrible time for Africans, and I’m sure it was for some,” Jim Valentine told the Coeur d’Alene Press in an article published Sunday. “But there were good times. There were good masters. There were happy Africans.”

Happy Independence Day, Lake City!

The chamber says it’s going to try and do a better job of vetting parade entrants in the future, which is the least it can do. If there is any community that should be vigilant on this front, it is Coeur d’Alene, where the Aryan Nations used to parade downtown.

The Aryan Nations have gone away, and good riddance. But it’s one thing when the racists put on uniforms and goose-step and fly swastikas in their own parade. It’s another entirely when the ugliness insinuates itself into the middle of a community parade, presented by a business owner in a context where people assume the tacit approval of organizers.

Valentine is not some simple, good-hearted Idahoan who’s not racially sophisticated. He’s an unreconstructed bigot who seeks attention for his ignorant provocations. More than a decade ago, he riled up decent people when he put this on the readerboard outside his business, Dixie Services: “PEDS QUEERS FAGS YOUR IN IDAHO NOW.”

Nor was the Fourth of July parade his first time in the public eye over his pickaninny sign – or over his inane, racist defense of it. Two years ago, he put the sign, an old ice cream advertisement, on one of his company trucks, creating a minor controversy. At the time, he acted like he was innocently bumfuzzled by the criticism.

“Is it the watermelon that’s bothering people?” Valentine asked a KHQ reporter in 2017. “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.”

And now here he is again. Same sign. Sherman Avenue. Fourth of July parade. Same faux bumfuzzlement.

Valentine embodies the representative species of our racist moment – the “Who, me?” racist; the no-racist-bones racist; the racist who, in the manner of the president, simply insists, when their racism is noticed, that it is not racism at all, as an audience of fellow cretins cheers. Check the online comments on this particular story, and there they are: furious, poorly spelled, ill-reasoned diatribes insisting that the “pickaninny” sign is not racist.

It’s the George Wallace argument, come back to life: The real racists are the people who notice the racism of racists.

Valentine’s entry in the Coeur d’Alene parade consisted of two vehicles: a refurbished version of the General Lee from the “Dukes of Hazzard,” complete with the Confederate flag design, and a semitruck bearing another Confederate Flag prominently on its grill.

It included a sign that reads “ ‘Our’ Ancestry.’ ” (Wonder who’s included in that “our”…)

And it included that old advertisement relying on racist stereotypes and images.

The Coeur d’Alene Press published a thorough story about the parade, including a wealth of moronic quotations from Valentine.

“There’s nothing racist about it,” he said.

“As far as slavery goes, there’s no slaves anymore, so there’s nothing to get upset about,” he said.

The sign, he said, “reminds people of a happier time.”

“Heck,” he said, “I go up to Africans all the time and I tell them: Watch out for the race-baiters. Watch out for the CNNers. Watch out for the Deep State people, the central government people. Watch out for people who are against the South and against Christian ideals. Watch out for the social cleansing of the left and the people who want to take down our statues.”

In a statement issued to the Press last week, the Chamber of Commerce said it didn’t realize what Valentine was up to. If organizers were unaware of Valentine’s history, that’s one thing. If they didn’t realize what he was parading through their downtown – didn’t see it before or during and do something about it – then they should have.

And in the future, when celebrating the birth of the nation, they should take great care not to welcome him again.

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