I will not make a habit of defending Gov. Rick Perry. I promise.
It would not be in either of our best interest -- certain to cause some of his supporters on the right to question further his conservative credentials, and most assuredly making my liberal friends wonder about my sanity.
For some it was bad enough that I recently commended our governor for his stance on providing a college education (at in-state tuition prices) for noncitizen children of illegal immigrants. It's one of the few things Perry and I agree on.
But the latest brouhaha surrounding suggestions of Perry's racial insensitivity forces me once again to rise to his defense.
Believe me, as a native Texan who happens to be black and whose roots go back 150 years in the Lone Star State, I know racism as well as anyone in this country. And I've never been one to shy away from denouncing those who exhibit racist attitudes or tolerate bigoted behavior. For several years, I taught a course at Texas Christian University called "Race, Gender and the Mass Media."
Combine that experience with decades of observing American politics, and perhaps no one is more qualified than I to make this pronouncement: Rick Perry is not a racist. That is, no more than any other American shaped by his/her national, regional, cultural, ethnic and religious influences.
Let's put this notion to rest immediately because, as we say in Texas, that dog won't hunt, not even on the plains of northwest Texas where Perry shared a lease on 1,000 acres.
It was what was on that parcel of land in Throckmorton County that caused the latest controversy that the governor's been forced to address. I'm not talking about the deer or the dove or whatever he hunted, but a sign that bore the name of the property.
Painted on a large rock at the entrance of the hunting grounds was a compound word that combined the n-word with head, according to a story in The Washington Post.
The newspaper account said Perry's father had leased the land in the early 1980s and the governor later became one of the lessees. It quoted the governor as saying that after he had paid a visit to the land with a friend and saw "the offensive word," he called his parents and they painted over it on their next visit to the property.
Two of Perry's opponents in the Republican presidential primary race, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney, were asked about the issue in separate interviews this week. Cain said it "shows a lack of sensitivity" for the governor to have used a place with that name for so long, and Romney called on Perry to address the matter of the "offensive" word.
Actually, the governor, his opponents and the media need to move on. There are far more important issues to deal with in this campaign, and I can assure you that the governor can be challenged on many of them.
Neither the campaign nor the American public should get mired in a futile discussion about a sign or its implications 20 or 30 years ago.
While there still needs to be a national discussion on race and its never-ending hold on our society, this hunting lease ruckus should not be the thesis on which such a dialogue is based.
Trying to determine if, when and how someone ever uttered the n-word, tolerated its usage or passively accepted its painful inferences is an unproductive exercise that gets us nowhere as a nation. Besides, if we disqualified from public office everyone who had done any of those things, I'm afraid we would have very few political candidates left.
Perry, in his own defense, points out how many minorities he's appointed to prominent positions since he's been governor, including the very able Wallace Jefferson, the first African-American chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court.
For those who've already made up their minds about the governor's racial feelings, nothing he can say or do will change their opinions, so there's no real reason to try. He should stop talking about it -- period.
If he wants to talk about race, he should pick something with real substance. Like maybe the staggering 17 percent unemployment rate among blacks. Or the educational gap in Texas between whites and ethnic minorities.
Otherwise, he should just stick with the race for the presidency.