7. Policy versus perception and reality
Our scrutiny of the official aspects of the Roundup revealed that it was not intended by its founders and promoters to be a racist event, let alone a Klan rally. Nevertheless, certain racist acts did occur at various Roundups, which likely fueled widely-shared perceptions that the Roundup was intended to be, and was in fact, a racist event. We sought, therefore, to examine this chasm between the intentions of the Roundup organizers and attendees and the perceptions of those who did not participate in the Roundup.
One issue on which interviewees expressed widely-divergent perspectives was the significance of the racist incidents that occurred over a number of Roundups. Attendees and organizers tended to emphasize the relatively small number of racially tinged events and equally small number of participants in such events over the history of the Roundup. They also pointed to Rightmyer's action to chastise any known perpetrators and his repeated exhortations to the assembled Good O' Boys to refrain from such conduct. Roundup critics tended to emphasize the recent and repeated nature of such incidents and the obvious failure to eradicate completely any vestiges of racially offensive conduct.
Despite a very intensive and thorough search for evidence of specific racist conduct at the various Roundups, the only allegations of such conduct in the first nine years of the Roundups involved an individual pulling out a racially insensitive statue for a short time until he was instructed by Rightmyer to put it away, an unspecified comment of a "racist nature" by a single individual, and another individual playing racist music in his car. In 1989, we found insufficient evidence to verify any claims except some person playing a racist song and substantial evidence to reject many of the allegations. In three of the sixteen years of the Roundup -- 1990, 1992, and 1995 -- we found substantial, credible evidence of open, blatantly racist conduct by some Roundup attendees. For 1991 and 1994, evidence exists of possible isolated racial conduct by one or two persons but was insufficient on which to base a conclusion. For 1993 the primary person found to have committed racist acts was Richard Hayward, now a principal accuser of racism at the Roundup.
Of the approximately seventy skits in the Redneck of the Year contest, we only found evidence of two premised on racist content. Other instances of racism involved few participants and isolated parts of the campground, and were of short duration. Roundup organizers condemned such conduct soon after becoming aware of it. In 1993, Roundup leaders also articulated an official policy prohibiting racism at the Roundup. As a proportion of the total participants and activities at the Roundup, the blatantly racist conduct was small.
On the other hand, despite Rightmyer's speeches, the conduct did not cease completely and tended to erupt periodically. Furthermore, although significant evidence of blatantly racist conduct by attendees did not surface for 1989, 1991, 1993, or 1994, Roundup organizers may have created an atmosphere in which racism was tolerated as long as the conduct was perceived by them as not too egregious. Thus, the playing of racist music in individual campsites, the repetition of racial jokes or the use of racial slurs, and the sale of T-shirts that were offensive to some, continued unchecked. Some interviewees suggested that racist conduct
would not have occurred unless the perpetrators believed it was acceptable, a view that supported the interviewees' inference of a racially hostile environment.
Furthermore, while Rightmyer and others reportedly acted swiftly when made aware of blatantly racist conduct, their actions were clearly inadequate to the task. As Rightmyer himself realized, merely tearing down the 1990 sign did not forestall the performance of the KKK skit a day or two later. And speeches to the assembled crowd in other years, exhorting them to avoid racist language or behavior in their skits, too often fell on deaf ears.
We attribute this gulf between official policy and actual experience to a number of factors. First, Rightmyer and the Roundup leaders failed to establish and communicate clearly a policy of intolerance for racism after they first became aware of the presence of racist incidents. Unlike a number of rules such as no fighting or no fireworks, which were prominently displayed on the invitation each registrant received, no rule prohibiting racist conduct was similarly published except in 1993, when it was displayed at the campground along with the other clearly established rules. Every attendee questioned about Roundup rules recalled the ban on fighting. No one, however, cited a ban on racist conduct as a "rule," although many recalled Rightmyer giving speeches about the subject. Obviously, the creation and publication of such a rule would have openly acknowledged the existence of a continuing problem with racism at the Roundup, something that neither Rightmyer nor other leaders of the Roundup were prepared to admit except in 1993.
Second, there was a failure to establish clear and appropriate punishment for racist activities. Whereas it was universally understood that fighting would result in immediate ejection from the campground, even serious displays of racism at worst merited only a strong lecture. On no occasion was anyone ejected from the campground for his racist conduct.
Each time Rightmyer confronted persons for racist conduct, he perceived that his actions were sufficient both to stop the particular conduct and to send the message to others that such conduct was unacceptable. It is clear, however, that his perceptions were not shared by others.
If Rightmyer had placed a policy against racist conduct on the same plane as the rule against fighting, the quantity and quality of racist incidents would likely have been dramatically reduced. When aggressive, proactive campaigns against racism took place, racist incidents were muted. In 1991, Rightmyer held a meeting at the beginning of the Roundup and instructed the MOB members to get the word out that racist conduct was prohibited. That year we received three allegations of possible racist conduct: a sign posted and removed before this meeting took place; an incident involving an unidentified person suggesting late one night that cars be "checked for niggers" reported by a witness who had some credibility problems; and the sale of police T-shirts that many persons we interviewed did not interpret to be racist. Similarly, in 1993, when a rule banning racist conduct was posted at the entrance to the campground and each guest was required to read it, only Richard Hayward attempted to defy it, and he was unsuccessful. Finally, the ready availability and indiscriminate consumption of alcohol certainly played a role in the incidents of racism. Each interviewee involved in blatantly racist conduct said he was extremely intoxicated at the time. In addition, the description of persons responsible for other acts, such as "checking cars" or using racial slurs on stage, included a mention that the person was extremely intoxicated. This is no excuse. Plainly, the intake of even great quantities of alcohol is incapable of creating racist attitudes in a person who has no such views when sober; instead, it merely served to reduce inhibitions about expressing racist views.
There was and continues to be a wide range of views as to whether the Roundup tolerated racist conduct. A central factor accounting for such differing points of view was disagreement over whether particular conduct was in fact racist. A number of persons, particularly those from the South, did not perceive the display of Confederate flags by individuals to be sending a message of racism while others considered such displays to be inherently racist. Some persons did not perceive the Buckwheat T-shirt as racist; others, particularly those who had awareness of the portrayal of blacks by this television character, did. Most of those interviewed, particularly in law enforcement, did not perceive the Boyz on the Hood T-shirts as racist, but others disagreed. The overwhelming majority of persons did not perceive the O.J. T-shirts to be racist, but not everyone agreed. Whether or not one shares these perceptions or finds them reasonable or unreasonable, even if the participants
did not perceive such conduct to be racist, their failure to take action against such conduct is evidence of insensitivity with respect to matters of race.
In addition, non-participants tended to assume that when racist conduct occurred, everyone who attended that Roundup would have been aware of such conduct. This assumption is not borne out by the evidence. Indeed, our investigation found that because much of the racist conduct was short-lived and confined to a discrete portion of the main campground, many attendees were unaware of such conduct. Among persons who camped outside the main campground, did not stay overnight at the campground at all, or did not watch the Saturday night performances, the number of persons aware of particular racist incidents was even lower. Furthermore, many particular acts of racism were dealt with individually and never reported to any Roundup leaders, even Rightmyer.
While the evidence demonstrated that the Roundup was not initially intended to be a racist event, and by all accounts was not one originally, the evidence also demonstrated dramatic changes in the character of the Roundup over its sixteen-year history. Thus in later years, a racially hostile environment was allowed to develop. We found no evidence that this was caused by a shift in explicit policy. Rather it appears to have been the lack of an adequate response to racist conduct when it arose. This is not an excuse. Whether the result of intentional racism or the failure to take a sufficiently aggressive stance against it, the result is the same: a law enforcement event that African Americans did not feel welcome to attend.
Although some of the perceptions of the Roundup's critics do not appear to be based on actual experiences at the Roundup, it should have been obvious to the Roundup organizers that merely espousing a policy and taking minimal action to enforce that policy was not enough, particularly when the misconduct resurfaced in dramatic fashion in 1992. Furthermore, the responsibility for taking action fell to more than just Rightmyer. In the early years, all responsibility rested on Rightmyer's shoulders. However, once Rightmyer created additional leadership positions, started spending significantly less time at the campsite (including staying at motels instead of the campground), and transferred significant portions of the responsibilities for the day-to-day management of the Roundup, those who took on the mantle of leadership also assumed some of the responsibility for making sure that inappropriate conduct was eradicated. Rightmyer, at least in one year, instructed the MOB and REX members to report any racist conduct to him. It is apparent, however, that on a number of occasions in recent years, no such reporting took place. Consequently, Rightmyer was not made aware of the full extent of the racist conduct taking place at the Roundup, thus contributing to, but not excusing, the failure to take stronger action.
Once it became apparent that the minimalist approach used by Rightmyer and others was inadequate to solve the recurring problem, further action was required. Had they wished to fully eradicate racist behavior, the Roundup organizers could have taken four specific actions: 1) imposed a clear rule prohibiting racist conduct and listed it in the invitations and posted it at the campground alongside the other rules; 2) identified and expelled any participants in blatant racial conduct wherever possible; 3) policed for such conduct as vigilantly as they policed other violations of Roundup rules, such as for missing armbands; and 4) placed greater controls over alcohol consumption. [ / Rightmyer claimed that there was nothing that could be done about controlling the quantity of alcohol consumed by the attendees. We disagree. Cutting off guests who overindulged by removing their wristbands, issuing daily tokens for beer consumption that limited how much beer an individual could get from the beer truck, or even eliminating the beer truck as a staple of the Roundup would have been other alternatives. ]