“I’m 86 years old.
“I’m a white racist.
“And I’m proud of it.”
That’s how the caller introduces, declares, and describes herself — in an old-school Philly accent that sounds like it’s been marinating in vinegar for the better part of a century.
A surprising declaration, even in times like ours.
And a most unwelcome reminder that attitudes once seemingly destined for history’s dustbin are very much alive and thriving.
“This f—g thing about taking the statues down. It doesn’t revise history. It’s still history!”
“They were slaves. Big deal! They should have sent them back to Africa after the Civil War.”
Were we to have a conversation — the caller spewed f-bombs and hung up when I called her back — I would have pointed out that her last statement itself attempted a rather dramatic bit of historical revisionism.
Since when was slavery no big deal?
I replayed her voicemail Monday in light of former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank M. Nucera Jr.’s arraignment on federal hate-crime and assault charges.
A criminal complaint filed by the FBI alleges that Nucera has “a significant history of making racist comments concerning African Americans.” Among them, an observation that blacks “are like ISIS, they have no value.”
As my colleagues Jan Hefler, Melanie Burney, and Avalon Zoppo have reported, the longtime suburban top cop — who also served as his township’s administrator — abruptly resigned after becoming the target of an investigation stemming from the 2016 arrest of an 18-year-old African American man at a Route 206 motel.
The suspect already had been pepper-sprayed and cuffed when the chief arrived on the scene and “slammed his [the suspect’s] head into a door jamb,” according to an affidavit filed by a township police officer who witnessed the incident.
Nucera’s arraignment in Camden last Wednesday took some in the Burlington County township by surprise; representatives of local civil rights organizations said they had not gotten complaints about the 60-year-old former chief. He’s free on $500,000 bail.
But the allegations that a South Jersey law enforcement official would be so disdainful of black people that he assigned K-9 units to certain high school athletic events as an intimidation tactic made me think of my elderly caller’s venomous voicemail.
“It’s a fact that these n—s are n—s.
“That’s all there is to it.
My caller stated her proudly racist delusion that a particular branch of the human family is fundamentally and utterly inferior to one’s own (better?) branch with such swaggering finality that it made me wish I could unhear it.
So I suppose I do live in a bubble.
Which my octogenarian racist temporarily broke.
In this bubble, inhabited primarily by the community of the progressive and the well-intentioned with whom I coexist most comfortably, the voices of angry white people like my caller are almost entirely absent.
My blue-collar, Irish Catholic parents didn’t raise me to hate other people. This hardly makes me naive about or immune to racism. But it does help explain my disbelief upon hearing that the racial animus of a former South Jersey police chief is, in 2017, so profound that he allegedly displayed K-9 units in an echo of the Selma, Ala., of the mid-1960s.
My bubble also may explain why I was so startled by a potty-mouthed old lady who’s “proud” to be a hater and called me up to complain about … pretty much everything.
“Do we have an understanding of where hatred comes from in human beings? I wish there were a simple answer,” says Helen Kirschbaum, director of the Esther Raab Holocaust Museum and Goodwin Education Center of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Cherry Hill.
“I think it comes from a lack of education, and a lack of empathy for others,” Kirschbaum says, adding, “It’s an excuse to say that ‘somebody else’ is to blame for my problems.”
The Raab and Godwin programs “are not only trying to educate, but to get people to look at their own feelings, and not just follow the people around them,” says Kirschbaum.
“The more people look at the consequences hatred can bring, the more hopeful we can be that this will change.”
Considering my caller’s closing thoughts, I hope so, too.
“I’m tired of all this f—g nonsense that you people put in the paper.
“I’m tired of it. Cut it out!
“And leave the world the way it is, you f—g a—hole.”
Sorry, ma’am, I’ll keep writing.
You may not want to read it.
But perhaps your grandchildren will.