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Saturday, May 8, 2021
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Freedom To Offend

By JoEllen Collins

JoEllen Collins—a longtime resident of the Wood River Valley—is a teacher, writer, fabric artist, choir member and unabashedly proud grandma known as “Bibi Jo.”

Last week I was walking with my dogs in Ketchum and feeling glad to be home in the Wood River Valley. It was a sunny, quiet afternoon following the closing of the mountain and the relative absence of “even-pandemic” crowds.

After a peaceful sit in the small park near the fire department we were heading to the market when I noticed a fast-moving truck turning the corner. Two huge flags waved from opposite sides of the rear end. I cannot adequately communicate my dismay at the flags’ message because the use of the ‘F word’ is not my choice, and it is offensive to many, despite the reality that one is pummeled with its overuse in movies and other segments of our society.

As with many words, the ‘F word’ has at different times in history become more common. I understand this, and I also try to be open-minded about the realities of our culture. However, this usage was meant to offend. And it did shock me and a few of the people walking around the town square.

The first flag had very large letters that stated (with my edit) “F_ _ _  BIDEN.“ Underneath, in smaller letters, was “AND F_ _ _ YOU TOO IF YOU VOTED FOR HIM.” The second was blue and white striped and, I learned later, represents Blue Lives Matter, a reflection of anger at the treatment of police in this tumultuous time. (Of course, the lives of police matter, deeply, but in my opinion the assertion is problematic in this context, where it is intended to stand in opposition to Black Lives Matter).

Immediately I had mixed reactions, reinforced as the driver repeatedly circled around the same route. First, I was angry that my peaceful day had been interrupted by this hostile drive-through. I felt compelled to take a photo of the flags and license plate, although I don’t intend to do anything with them. My second reaction was to fear the intentions of the driver. The third was to remind myself that I am against censorship and that there is nothing illegal about this nonetheless ugly behavior.

Deep down, however, as one who has always studied language, I am sickened by this example of the perversion of our cherished right to express ourselves. This problem has deepened in a radically divided time, even as many attempt to foster discourse that is more civil, humane and anti-racist. I may be naïve to think that most people I know are trying to be verbally and emotionally sensitive in ways our history has not honored. It’s a toughie.

The driver of that truck got what he wanted: my attention and my dismay at acknowledging that I am a citizen of a country that seems not to be achieving better communication and relationships between us, especially from those politically apart. Today I mourn even more the lack of respect and humanity evident in America. I fear for my young friends growing up in the midst of this lack of common decency.

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