“A coalition of blacks, Latinos, feminists, gays, government workers, union members, environmental extremists, the media, Hollywood, uninformed young people, the ‘forever needy,’ the chronically employed who don’t want to work, illegal aliens and ‘fellow travelers,’ have ended Norman Rockwell’s America.”
DALTON — The above is an excerpt of a screed circulating on social media that rounds up the usual suspects guilty of destroying America in the eyes of the radical right. As hate speech it is fairly routine bilge, except that the America cited is that of the painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell. Did the cherished Berkshirite honored by a museum in Stockbridge deserve to be dragged into this cesspool?
No, of course not. But before looking at Rockwell’s America it is worth taking a closer look at the harangue itself, which says more about the extreme right than it does about those the extreme right blames and denigrates.
The roughly 400-word missive whines that the white Christians who built this country will never be able to out-vote “these people” — the villains cited in the paragraph beginning the column. For this reason, it will require “zealots” engaging in “massive displays of civil disobedience” to restore victimized Caucasians to their God-given place atop the American hierarchy. The author undoubtedly sees himself as a law-and-order conservative in spite of his calls for zealotry and acts like those of Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol building.
So who was the author? According to an investigation by www.snopes.com, it wasn’t Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, even though the screed is identified as a speech delivered in Jacksonville, Fla. by Graham, an evangelist and missionary. Snopes, however, could find no such speech delivered anywhere at any time by Graham. (Snopes describes itself as “the internet’s go-to source for discerning what is true and what is total nonsense.”) Graham’s name may have been attached in an attempt to give the rant the imprimatur of authority.
Snopes doesn’t identify an author but it does trace the screed’s origins to 2012, when it emerged following the election of Barack Obama as president. The 2021 version lazily substitutes Joe Biden’s name for Obama’s.
By doing so, the rant’s social media updaters essentially acknowledge that none of the predictions about what would happen under Obama came true. The American Dream can’t be there for Biden to destroy if Obama didn’t destroy it as forecast. The miracle is that the Dream lives on after the last four years.
Getting back to Norman Rockwell, he is certainly renowned for his patriotic works and illustrations of a bucolic America from another era. These art works, however, didn’t come with a “whites only” sign attached. They were meant for everyone, and some prominently included African-Africans.
Those shipping this rant around the Internet are ignoring — or are maybe unaware of — the Rockwell paintings that addressed American racism head on.
The haunting “Murder in Mississippi” features a young white man holding a kneeling and grieving young black man while the body of another young white man is sprawled on the ground before them. The 1965 painting commemorates the murders a year earlier of three civil rights activists.
“The Problem We All Live With” depicts a six-year-old African-American girl, Ruby Bridges, being escorted into her school by federal marshals as part of the effort to desegregate New Orleans’ schools in 1960. A six-letter racial slur is scrawled on the wall behind her. This Rockwell painting became an icon of the civil rights movement. There are other examples, all from Rockwell’s America.
The rant cited here, and others like it, won’t go away. They will continue to poison social media with their racism, self-pity, hypocrisy, disdain for democracy, calls for violence and general ignorance.
But Norman Rockwell should be left out of them. It is impossible to imagine, given his life and his life’s work, that he would want to be associated with such un-American bile.