I must admit that when I first saw the headline “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year,” I was a bit curious. No Easter egg hunt this year? Why not? Surely the economy is not so bad they can’t spend a couple grand of that massive economic stimulus package to allow some children to run around the White House lawn looking for colored Easter eggs. I had already assumed it had something to do with the White House, because, let’s face it, it is where the most famous annual Easter egg hunt is held. What I did not expect was to see the story of Mayor Dean Grose of Los Alamitos resigning over a personal e-mail he had sent out entitled “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year” and its objectionable stereotypical depiction.
It seems that, for whatever reasons, Mayor Dean Grose felt the need to share a photo with a few other people. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with doing so. But captured in the e-mail photo was the White House with a watermelon patch superimposed. Grose sent the e-mail to Keyanus Price, a black community volunteer, over the weekend. Price found the image offensive and racist. She has made it very clear that she wants a public apology.
Grose had previously apologized by phone and e-mail to Price. He also apologized to the City Council of Los Alamitos.
According to MSNBC, the controversy has caused an outcry of outrage in the small city of Los Alamitos and across the nation. Mayor Grose arrived Wednesday morning to find a busted watermelon at his office doorstep. An incident report was filed and Los Alamitos Police intend to watch for any other acts of retaliation.
The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that Mayor Dean Grose sent an e-mail to the Orange County Register that he would resign at the next Council meeting. He wrote: “The attention brought to this matter has sadly created an image of me which is most unfortunate. I recognize that I’ve made a mistake and have taken steps to make sure this is never repeated.”
Does this sound as if the Mayor of Los Alamitos is hinting at seeking counseling by “taking steps”? Or has he pulled an Elvis and shot his computer? What may be the most ridiculous about the statement is the hedge that his image has been sullied by “unfortunate” attention. Unfortunate that someone who took offense saw the photo or unfortunate that it came down on him? Or both?
What is sad is that as the chief public official of a municipality he was not sensitive or discerning enough to realize what kind of impact such a photo might have on some people, regardless of their race. Keyanus Price could have just as easily been a white woman who took offense at the e-mail. But being a member of the same race as the first black man to ever hold office at the White House, a stereotype like this would most likely have had a greater negative impact on Price.
In fact, Mayor Dean Grose says that he considers Price a friend and had no idea that watermelons constituted a negative racial denigration of African-Americans. He told the Associated Press: “I’m sorry. It wasn’t sent to offend her personally — or anyone — from the standpoint of the African-American race.”
Grose is undoubtedly another one of those who still see absolutely nothing wrong with that “unfortunately misrepresented” monkey cartoon in the New York Post that has become part of the national debate on racism. People who claim to not understand that something is particularly racist or racially objectionable simply have failed themselves historically or are in abject denial of reality. Superficial personalities aside, when people fail to realize, fail to admit, or fail to confront longstanding stereotypes or generalizations, they have failed their basic civic responsibility of being able to enter into an honest dialogue with their neighbor. Unfortunately, that dialogue begins with another superficiality — the melanin level of one’s skin.
Race matters. It should not, but it does. Perception of race matters. There exists untold countless volumes of how race has mattered throughout the history of mankind. And not recognizing this and contributing to the divisiveness that it always brings with it was Mayor Dean Grose’s most egregious mistake.
Tony Norman at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said that he thought Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech wherein he called the United States a “a nation of cowards” regarding race was a bit “ham-fisted” and lacked subtlety to get through. A few things in the past week have caused him to change his mind. One of those things was Mayor Dean Grose’s e-mail photo. Norman now believes that Holder did not go far enough in his speech.
Norman is correct. Attorney General Holder brought up the voluntary social segregation of the races in the United States. Holder’s words were a condemnation of the social injustices that exist within the United States. Many of those injustices occur directly and indirectly from racial barriers and are responsible for much of the cycle of crime and punishment that Eric Holder now has as his bailiwick. And those same barriers are kept strong by continuing derogatory dialogue perpetuated by e-mail photos like “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year” and the ridiculous intimations that a socially cognizant person who can rise to the position of mayor can be so race blind that he could not see the offensiveness of his actions.
But people wanted to castigate the new Attorney General for being so forward. Instead, he should be commended for being so bold.
By committing such an act of public negligence, albeit through a private missive, Mayor Dean Grose will pay a heavy public penalty. As he should. He and all people in positions of public oversight and responsibility have an obligation to those they serve to do so without even the slightest hint of discrimination of any kind in their decision-making process.
Mayor Dean Grose’s “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year” e-mail photo violated his obligation and the public trust.
Los Alamitos City Manager Nita McKay issued a statement Thursday addressing the e-mail incident: “On behalf of the city of Los Alamitos, we regret the unfortunate incident that occurred earlier this week and assure you this is not representative of our City Council, city staff and the community as a whole. We certainly do not condone perpetuating any stereotype associated with race, ethnicity, gender or religion. We are saddened that this incident has reflected poorly on the heart and soul of our unique community.”
Of couse, there will be those who say that this is an overreaction to the incident. There will also be those who say that this is why there cannot be an open and honest dialogue about race in the United States, that some people are simply too reactionary to the subject. Some will say it was just a little photo and where’s your sense of humor? But the photo is not about honest racial dialogue; it is about denigration and debasement through stereotype. It must be submitted that Mayor Dean Grose’s e-mail was of a deroguatory nature (despite his protestations of ignorance) and not a source of amusement, especially to Keyanus Price.
It is the ignoring of social sensibilities that require strong reaction. Wonder if Mayor Dean Grose is amused now?
For those who missed the e-mail photo “No Easter Egg Hunt This Year” that started this controversy, it can be found on MSNBC.
Orange County Register