Well, actually, I was yesterday years old when I shared the news out of Orange County where the local Democratic party has dusted off calls to change the name of the John Wayne Airport. Apparently, the Duke held some pretty racist views – something I’d never knew until yesterday.
As a general rule we try to stay away from political opinions on this site, although we will report the news and that sometimes dips into politics (obviously). In almost all cases we keep our politics to ourselves and attempt to simply report the facts.
However, the news about the Duke yesterday was a gut punch for me. Heartbroken is too strong of a word, but it’s heading in the right direction. And confused about where to go now.
I’ve been a John Wayne fan for years with fond memories of watching his movies with my dad and grandfather. It’s hard not to like his movies where he cuts a striking and heroic image. He’s not an exceptionally gifted actor, but many of his movies are good fun – and exactly the kind of thing that young boys can get excited about. Horses, guns, cowboys, etc. John Wayne movies were a significant part of my boyhood.
I guess I always thought that because his movies generally showed him in a mostly good light that he must have been a good person too. But, when you read the 70’s Playboy interview where Wayne expressed some extremely hateful, ignorant and yes, racist views, we were stunned.
Apparently, this is somewhat old news, but for some reason it never crossed my radar. Here’s some excerpts from the interview where his views came to light:
“PLAYBOY: What kind of films do you consider perverted?
WAYNE: Oh, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy—that kind of thing. Wouldn’t you say that the wonderful love of those two men in Midnight Cowboy, a story about two fags, qualifies? But don’t get me wrong. As far as a man and a woman is concerned, I’m awfully happy there’s a thing called sex. It’s an extra something God gave us. I see no reason why it shouldn’t be in pictures. Healthy, lusty sex is wonderful.”
PLAYBOY: Angela Davis claims that those who would revoke her teaching credentials on ideological grounds are actually discriminating against her because she’s black. Do you think there’s any truth in that?
WAYNE: With a lot of blacks, there’s quite a bit of resentment along with their dissent, and possibly rightfully so. But we can’t all of a sudden get down on our knees and turn everything over to the leadership of the blacks. I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.
PLAYBOY: Are you equipped to judge which blacks are irresponsible and which of their leaders inexperienced?
WAYNE: It’s not my judgment. The academic community has developed certain tests that determine whether the blacks are sufficiently equipped scholastically. But some blacks have tried to force the issue and enter college when they haven’t passed the tests and don’t have the requisite background.
PLAYBOY: How do they get that background?
WAYNE: By going to school. I don’t know why people insist that blacks have been forbidden their right to go to school. They were allowed in public schools wherever I’ve been. Even if they don’t have the proper credentials for college, there are courses to help them become eligible. But if they aren’t academically ready for that step, I don’t think they should be allowed in. Otherwise, the academic society is brought down to the lowest common denominator.
WAYNE: What good would it do to register anybody in a class of higher algebra or calculus if they haven’t learned to count? There has to be a standard. I don’t feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves. Now, I’m not condoning slavery. It’s just a fact of life, like the kid who gets infantile paralysis and has to wear braces so he can’t play football with the rest of us. I will say this, though: I think any black who can compete with a white today can get a better break than a white man. I wish they’d tell me where in the world they have it better than right here in America.
PLAYBOY: Many militant blacks would argue that they have it better almost anywhere else. Even in Hollywood, they feel that the color barrier is still up for many kinds of jobs. Do you limit the number of blacks you use in your pictures?
WAYNE: Oh, Christ no. I’ve directed two pictures and I gave the blacks their proper position. I had a black slave in The Alamo, and I had a correct number of blacks in The Green Berets. If it’s supposed to be a black character, naturally I use a black actor. But I don’t go so far as hunting for positions for them. I think the Hollywood studios are carrying their tokenism a little too far. There’s no doubt that 10 percent of the population is black, or colored, or whatever they want to call themselves; they certainly aren’t Caucasian. Anyway, I suppose there should be the same percentage of the colored race in films as in society. But it can’t always be that way. There isn’t necessarily going to be 10 percent of the grips or sound men who are black, because more than likely, 10 percent haven’t trained themselves for that type of work.
These comments are astonishing. That’s the wrong word. They are disgusting.
To be clear: John Wayne’s comments in the interview are abhorrent. Regardless of your political or religious views, his comments are wrong, hateful, ignorant, homophobic, and yes, racist. Sure, he has his right to free speech and as a former active duty Marine, an American and a patriot, I will defend his right (or anyone’s) to say exercise free speech (regardless of whether I agree with it or am disgusted by it). And yes, I am disgusted by his comments.
But, now what?
Should we change the name of the John Wayne airport? Should we ban his movies? Should we remove any/all homages to the Duke? I am not qualified to answer that question, but I do think it’s a fair question to ask. Especially in light of the conversation America is having with itself right now.
As a general rule, I think naming airports, building, etc, after people is dumb anyway.
All people are flawed. All people. Since the dawn of time.
All people are capable of change and redemption. Many people DO change. Many people don’t change. Many people hold terrible beliefs. Many people change their beliefs. Many people do bad and good things over the course of their life. Good people can do bad things. Bad people can do good things. All of that is essentially humans being humans and the messy mess that is.
Should we deify people is maybe the right question. Or at least a start.
If we, as a society, agree that doing or saying bad or offensive things disqualifies that person for public homage of any sort, then it seems nearly impossible to name anything after anyone. It’s likely that person has done something that will offend someone else. Or was a bad person at one point. Or made regretful comments.
The Duke’s comments were more than simply regretful. They speak to a deeper seeded view he very clearly held towards non-White people. Again, now what? Where do we go? Should we deify him anymore? At all? Just a little, but not too much? With an asterisk? Do we purge him from the history books? Does having an airport named after you count as deification? Do we stop at public homages, but not his movies? Do we do nothing? Where does the line get drawn? These are hard questions.
The short answer is I don’t know for sure. In fact, all I am left with is more questions than answers and a sickening disappointment in knowing a childhood hero held some disgusting opinions. And I think changing the airport’s name is a fair place to start.
How about you? Leave us a comment below and share your opinion.
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