The people of Arkansas have long-suffered an imbalanced portrayal of our state by irresponsible and sensational journalists. One of the best known examples of this comes from an 1857 edition of the New Orleans paper, DeBow’s Review. The “reporter” describes the feral savages with whom he came into contact while in our state, “It was, also, particularly unfortunate in its early settlers, Ishmaels of old, without means or love for civilized life, the wilderness is their home; they scorn the city and multitude; neither have they house or lands; wherever night overtakes them they pitch their tents and heard their flocks; ‘and when the railroad starts, they will start also, to go with her it cannot come’; so strong is their love for un-civilized life, so great their aversion for improvement of whatever kind.”
We have fought against this unfair, externally-crafted image of ourselves for almost two centuries. Because we come from where we do, people in other regions often assume we are uneducated, backward, lazy and bigoted. Even Rhodes scholar and future president Bill Clinton faced the tarnish of being some kind of unrepentant hillbilly.
On one hand, this cancerous reputation has driven many of us to excel — to prove the detractors wrong. You can see this in the legion of accomplished people who have the privilege of calling the Natural State home.
On the other, there are those among us who seem perfectly content to perpetuate the myth. To be sure, this is more than some gap-toothed redneck telling CNN “what the tornado sounded like.” This is a dogged determination to loudly proclaim the worst that is in us.
The most glaring example of late was provided by a pair of state politicians, namely Rep. Jon Hubbard of Jonesboro and House candidate Charlie Fuqua of Batesville. While both men are Republicans, state party leaders have (to their great credit) made a wholesale rebuke of them both. The distancing act comes as a consequence of recently publicized hate spew in the form of books written by each man.
Hubbard wrote in his 2009 self-published book, Letters To The Editor: Confessions Of A Frustrated Conservative, that “the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise.” He also wrote that African-Americans were better off than they would have been had they not been captured and shipped to the United States.
Fuqua, who served in the Arkansas House from 1996 to 1998, wrote there is “no solution to the Muslim problem short of expelling all followers of the religion from the United States,” in his 2012 book, God’s Law.
The ignorance and intolerance evidenced in these points of view reflects poorly on all of us. They seem to validate all the stereotypes we have worked so hard to slough-off.
More than either of those things, hate-speech cloaked in biblical directive and reactionary political posturing shows what men like Hubbard and Fuqua obviously want: theocracy. They would be content to inaugurate a narrow, ultra-conservative, Christian fundamentalist regime, where biblical interpretation, rather than the Constitution ruled. The great irony there — one that they are obviously blind to — is that the Muslims Fuqua appears to hate often come from countries ruled by Sharia law. In short, Fuqua and Hubbard don’t abjure theocracy, just theocracy that isn’t theirs.