The All-Star Rodeo Challenge came to Madison, WI last weekend, and the farmer took me and my kids. I was not thrilled about going, but I try to be open-minded when it comes to stuff that is new to me that I am not ever wishing I will get a chance to experience.

I asked the farmer if rodeos are bad for the animals.

He said, “City people probably think so. But most farmers don’t.”

He told me that if I really hated it, we could leave.

I really hated it before there were any animals. Before there were animals there was the flag, rising above the dirt ring, and the announcer saying everyone should sing the Star Spangled Banner to honor “the flag that protects our troops, and our churches and our great country.”

I looked over at the farmer for churches, and before I could roll my eyes, the announcer said, “Everyone please rise in the name of Jesus and sing the Star Spangled Banner.”

I told my kids to stay seated.

The farmer stayed seated out of solidarity even though he hates standing out. It was a great moment of compromise for us.

We watched the rodeo. There was a clown. The kids did not quite know what was going on and they wanted to know why the cowboys had weird clothes. But then Ronald McDonald came out — right into the bull ring. The kids recognized him immediately, and then they realized the clown was not a cowboy; with Ronald McDonald present, the world seemed to fall into place.

Then out came the animals.

In between cowboys falling violently to the ground, the announcer would say jokes like, “My girlfriend says she wants to get married. I told her I hope she finds someone nice.”

The theme of the evening, in general, was “real men get thrown off bulls and treat women like crap.”

Until the women came out. They were acrobats on fast running horses. Sort of like the clowns, only dressed like Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. The most special time, I think, was when two girls did tricks on one horse. The girls did not share a horse because the tricks are more difficult that way, it was more like the girls shared a horse to make you think they’d be available for a threesome after the show.

Luckily, this was lost on my sons. And the farmer acknowledged that this was not a family values kind of thing.

Okay. So we stayed. And then, the clown started talking about doctors. He said there are 120,000 doctors in the US and there are 70,000 accidental deaths a year. And there are 80 million gun owners in the US, and there are 12,000 accidental deaths a year. Then he shouted out, “So doctors are more dangerous than guns! So Washington, keep your hands off our guns and our health care!”

I looked at the kids. They were concentrating on their popcorn.

Then, out of nowhere, the clown brought out a wig, that had dreadlocks, and he put on a Rastafarian hat, and he started pretending that he was Barack Obama. He said, “I feel so presidential.” And he made jokes about whether Obama is a US citizen.

Why am I telling you this?

First of all, it made me feel lonely. I have heard the doctor/gun owner argument before, but not in a stadium, in Madison, WI, which is one of the most left-leaning cities in the country. And I know there is racism in this country. But I can’t believe that not a single person in that stadium yelled out anything after a racist joke. I would expect, actually, that people would boo and hiss and throw things into the ring. But no one said a word.

I felt lonely that I live in a city where this could happen. I wish I could find a place where I feel like I fit in. I think I find it, and then I don’t. And really, how could I even think that I’d fit in at a rodeo? But I kind of thought the place would be full of people like me and the farmer. Now I think I don’t even know what that means.

Another reason the rodeo makes me sad is that McDonald’s sponsors it. My ticket stub says “All-Star Rodeo Challenge. Pre-show: McDonald’s Cowboys 4 Kids”. Somehow the whole thing is more upsetting because it’s sanctioned by McDonald’s. And they know better.

My company, Brazen Careerist, just launched a company section in our social network. The reason we did that is because according to Cone, 50% of generation Y communicate with companies through social media. And Jeremy Owyang, from Forrester Research reports that, “In approximately two years social networks will be more powerful than corporate web sites. Brands will serve community interests and grow based on community advocacy.”

Today, young people see corporate brands as an extension of their identity. This is why Facebook has been so successful with corporate fan pages — young people want to express themselves by linking themselves to corporate brands they like.

And, people who manage their careers well end up paying more attention to a company’s reputation for caring about people and community than what any given job description is. After all, a job description can change the day you walk in the door, but how a company participates in the world around it is not likely to change quickly.

Okay. So. I confess to being relatively close to the McDonald’s brand. I didn’t use to be. I never ate at McDonald’s in my life until I moved to Madison. But in Madison, it’s a long, cold winter, and McDonald’s has great indoor playgrounds, all over the Madison area. And each is different and fun in it’s own way. So we tour them all winter.

Also, now that I understand the beef industry a little better, I understand that McDonald’s single-handedly cornered the beef industry, yes, but also listened to consumer outcry over animal conditions, and meat quality, and improved both (by hiring Temple Grandin.)

So I like McDonald’s. But today, I can tell you that if I had a job at McDonald’s, I’d be lonely. Because they sponsored an event that teaches kids prejudice and hate and racism. And if companies want to attract good employees, they need to be good corporate citizens. Those are the type of companies we want to work for.

One of the most important changes in work life is that we do not define our career by working for one company—we change jobs too frequently. Today, we define ourselves by the integrity with which we manage our career. That requires working with companies we respect. The integrity of individual companies matters more today than it used to—it affects the bottom line for those companies on both the consumer side and the employee side. We watch corporate brands closely, to see how we will use them to extend our own brand.

Finally, since it’s Martin Luther King Day, and since Psychology Today just published a study that says people feel better if they do an act of activism, I have a proposal:

We should each twitter today:

@McDonalds Racism is not okay and neither is hate. Please stop your support of the All-Star Rodeo. http://bit.ly/4AiXT1

UPDATE! Here’s a response from McDonald’s:

Hi Penelope,

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. This appears to be a local pre-show program in support of a local Ronald McDonald House Charities fundraiser. Rest assured, McDonald’s does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We are currently looking into this matter.

Jessica Thompson

Manager, U.S. Communications

McDonald’s USA

428 replies
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  1. Margarita
    Margarita says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post and what it stood for. I’m not much of a protester of anything, but racism is nothing to be laughed at. I tweeted. I hope someone out there gets your message.

  2. Marcus Eklund
    Marcus Eklund says:

    Your blog is always a good read.

    I am against racism and i have tweeted.
    Hope more will do and show McDonalds that it is wrong to support it.

    • ann
      ann says:

      It’s very clear that this person did not rise for the national anthem even before the announcer even referenced Jesus.

      Re-read this: “…and the announcer saying everyone should sing the Star Spangled Banner to honor "the flag that protects our troops, and our churches and our great country."

      I looked over at the farmer for churches, and BEFORE I COULD ROLL MY EYES, the announcer said…”

      Typical self-important liberal elitist looking down her nose at everyone else.

      • Brian
        Brian says:

        Liberal elitist? What would that say about you, then? Please enlighten us as to what the “Star Spangled Banner” has to do with churches.

      • Caitlin @ Roaming Tales
        Caitlin @ Roaming Tales says:

        The mention of “churches” was enough for her. But she didn’t tell her kids to stay seated until “Jesus” was also brought into the picture. The family is Jewish, I can well understand why she didn’t want to partake in a version of anthem singing that is framed in Christianity. If you have a problem with that, well then, you have a problem.

      • Dree
        Dree says:

        Not really convinced that the flag does protect our troops.

        I can see a fair bit to quibble with there, even if you love this country and our flag.

      • The anticonservative pesticide
        The anticonservative pesticide says:

        republican fa.g detected. U mad?

        Also I bet you didn’t serve in the armed forces, you lousy entitled armchair activist. No right to talk about patriotism when all you’ve done is masturbate to a fukin song.

        Oh and if she’s a liberal elite, you must be a conservative peasant amirite?

      • Joe
        Joe says:

        “Rise in the name of Jesus” is actually quite PC in that it covers 3 major religions…Jesus was a 1) Jewish person who was, to the 2) Christians the Son of God and to the 3) Muslims a prophet. You’ve got the world’s 3 major religions covered!

      • Retired Syd
        Retired Syd says:

        I would be highly offended to rise in the name of Jesus for the national anthem. I am not Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. But guess what, I am actually an American.

        Imagine that, Joe!

      • Rachel
        Rachel says:

        “Rise in the name of Jesus” is NOT PC/Muslim/Jewish.

        John 14:13 says “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my [Jesus] name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”.

        So saying something “in the name” of Jesus is NOT multi-faith.

        It seems to me that some of the later comments are right, and that they probably said “In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. Now please rise….ect”. But BEING A JEW she would have NO REASON to know the difference.

        I think the bottom line is that the event was sexist and racist, and she felt excluded religiously as well.

    • Eva Lyford
      Eva Lyford says:

      Alfred – kind of hard for a Jewish person to rise in the name of Jesus, isn’t it? And if you can’t draw the line at acting on the principles expressed in the first amendment, where do you draw it?

    • Brian
      Brian says:

      The “anthem” is just a song. It is representative of what America is about, but is not, in itself, what America is about. Get it? I wish more people cared about freedom and equality, liberty and justice, than flags and anthems.

      • Mike
        Mike says:

        The Flag and the Anthem are clear symbols of freedom, equality, liberty and justice. When you honor the flag and the anthem you’re honoring the founding principles of our country.

      • Brian
        Brian says:

        They are merely symbols, not the embodiment of those ideals. Someone who truly cared about those, would not dream of requiring anyone to perform a ritual in front a flag, or sing a particular song. They would understand that all people have the freedom to choose, of their own free will, to celebrate and support those ideals in ways of their choosing.

        As far as Jesus being a Jew, we can hardly be certain that there even was a Jesus Christ as written about in the Bible.

      • steveg
        steveg says:

        When they wrapped churches and Jesus and religion around the flag, they lost focus on what the flag is, what it represents and what it means to different people.

        I would not have stood up either when it’s presented that way.

    • Dave Trowbridge
      Dave Trowbridge says:

      Good for you, Penelope. I tweeted as requested.

      To be invited to sing The Star Spangled Banner “in the name of Jesus” is simply blasphemous.

      As a Quaker, I never stand for the national anthem, which is simply bad militaristic poetry set to unsingable music. (Nor will I play it when my community band performs it.)

      • Mrs. Micah
        Mrs. Micah says:

        Yep, there are entire sections of the church who read what Jesus actually said and would consider singing the national anthem (especially a militaristic one) in Jesus’ name to be a horrible blasphemy. Just like putting “Jesus codes” on rifles meant to kill people.

        But Jesus as written in the Bible isn’t really the sort that most nations and leaders can endorse.

        • Lola
          Lola says:

          Actually, there was no such “raise in the name of Jesus” thing. It was also something taking out of context.

    • Dree
      Dree says:

      @Alfred, I appreciate you having the guts to dispute Penelope’s point and link to your blog. Even if I disagree entirely. Kind of a rare thing around here.

  3. Simon Hay
    Simon Hay says:

    Racism is never okay. It has a vibration that is passed from parent to child. As my father and his can be an alcoholic so can I. If we don’t curb racism now it will evolve into a bigger beast. Children can be born pre-programmed to hate. Take notice of the Palestine conflict. Everything is connected and everyone is responsible. With intent and will we can stop this now. A few can make a difference. I tweeted.

  4. john
    john says:

    ummm… clown. racist clown. please stop the racist clown. I guess when we have to try that hard to find an example, we have actually come a long way. Maybe you could tie this into your hatred of Gretchen?

    • Brian
      Brian says:

      This comment is a fine example of “missing the boat.” It is exactly because the racism is demonstrated by a clown, something that kids pay attention to, that makes it more nefarious.

    • Carol G
      Carol G says:

      Correction. Racist clown as ringleader in a stadium full of people doing a minstrel show in Madison, Wisconsin. Guess what. We are not going backward. We are going forward. Sounds like you are living in a comfortable place where you don’t have to contemplate racism. Must be working to your favor. Take your complacency back to your white friends and whatever gated community of the mind it came from.

  5. Mascha
    Mascha says:

    Thank you for posting this. It confirms what we already know about many of the Americans who don’t live in the big cities, even though they are literate and have access to all information through the internet. In Europe we never got why they voted for George W. Bush. In polls leading up to the last elections 96% said they would’ve voted for Obama if they could have.
    Unfortunately, racism, fascism, religious suprematism, and feelings of ‘Apartheid’ are flaring up again in Europe. This time not just coming from white caucasians but rather from all groups and especially immigrants with different religious views.
    Religion might be the more serious problem here, religion combined with discrimination of women (all religions, there are still very orthodox christians and jews who tell girls and women they have fewer rights than boys and men and put it in practice in their communities).
    Religion intertwined with politics being the most dangerous to democracy.
    What the world needs is overall democracy based on perpetual equal rights for people from both sexes.

    • Kristina
      Kristina says:

      Oops. I think I was typing while you posted but you said it better than I did anyway. I guess it all comes down to so much more than what’s on the surface. But I disagree that there is a “more serious problem.” I think all of the problems addressed in this post should make our blood boil just the same (and also ones that weren’t included). It’s what will make us stronger in fighting these issues.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      “It confirms what we already know about many of the Americans who don’t live in the big cities, even though they are literate and have access to all information through the internet. In Europe we never got why they voted for George W. Bush. In polls leading up to the last elections 96% said they would’ve voted for Obama if they could have.”

      Your comments about European discrimination are pertinent and important. Unfortunately, you lose me immediately with your first statements. What do “we” know about “many of the Americans who don’t live in the big cities.” Who is “we”? Do you know how many Americans you are talking about? Thank goodness we are “literate” and have “access to all information.” Otherwise, you (a collective “you”) could just educate us and give us technology and all would be better…except apparently not. I am sure from your vantage point in Europe you don’t understand the reasons why some Americans do what we do. This is natural and should be common sense.

      • Mascha
        Mascha says:

        Melissa, thank you for your reply. I have lived in different parts of Europe and in North America, and forgot for a while there that in my previous emails, tweets and comments in P’s blog I mentioned that I’m originally European ( I feel more American even most of the time :-) )
        Then again, a lot of Americans are too, mainly the ones described in Penelope’s post. From what I’ve seen what happens to European immigrants – in the US, Canada, Australia, NZ – is that they cling to old values and social patterns that they were used to and have trouble modernizing them, as if evolving would estrange them too much from their past or roots. Meanwhile, everything in the countries they have left behind, changes. They don’t follow those changes. The same goes for North African immigrants in Western Europe by the way. Sometimes this goes on for decades, sometimes centuries.

        So yes, I’ve lived in the US long enough to feel American and to understand why you do what you do. And Ive learned to look at Europeans from a different perspective too.
        There are also many different types of Americans and luckily most of them (at least the ones in the right geographical places) wanted the change that Obama when elected could bring. Or at least better than his opponent. Even though he is also part of that difficult and unfair election system that you Americans can’t seem to get rid of.

        A lot of people say they base their choices on their religious truths/views/beliefs, but who’s views are they anyway? And are they really choices or are we not raised to develop our own opnion? Clearly not the young men and women brought up in Wisconsin. Bringing in Ronald MacDonald for propaganda consisting of racism, violence, sexism and religious politicism is in the same category as Hamas using Mickey Mouse to educate young Palestinians, just maybe a little more subtle.

  6. Kristina
    Kristina says:

    Hey Penelope –
    Thanks for this post. I know this lonely feeling way too well and I’m so thankful for people like you who don’t stay quiet. I can also see how something this interesting would be hard not to write about anyway. Today I feel like it’s more about ignorance than racism. People who are racist are usually ignorant in so many other aspects. Like the fact that they put religion agendas into the mix and the way the girls were dressed and that they had to share a horse. The Obama jokes were hurtful and they are getting so old. I’m not shocked that nobody said anything, they never do. But maybe we need to call people out on the not so obvious offensive behavior also. And also, maybe people like you, and me, and everyone else who finds this kind of ignorance disgusting and depressing need to be in these places. The people seem stuck in their own little world.

  7. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    YOur experiences sum up a perfect American mid-west redneck stereotype. One that is not helping America – as a country – make more friends overseas.
    As an Aussie, I am glad that we do not have many of the things you mention. The national anthem is not played everywhere as a matter of course.
    The flag is not everywhere.
    We do not have a ‘pledge’ that children are taught to recite, we do not state allegiance to the flag or that our nation is one ‘under God’.
    The separation of state and church is much more strictly enforced.
    And there is no gun debate because there is no right to bear arms. Owning a gun is only for the smallest minority who qualify under a strict set of rules. I don’t think people can carry a concealed weapon for any reason.
    Of course, it’s not wise to generalise.
    And racism is everywhere – certainly in Australia as much as anywhere.
    Congratulations for standing up (or sitting down) as you did. A saying I try to live by in moments such as these is – “all is takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” (or something along those lines).
    I believe it’s worth a little social discomfort to speak up when something as appalling as racism is happening right before your eyes – and I try to act whenever I can.
    So well done. And a great call to action. And don’t forget to always ask – is there something more I can do?

    • Quatrefoil
      Quatrefoil says:

      I’m another Australian, and I’m completely with you, Cathy. If I’d been at the rodeo I’d have been horrified, and I think the protest to McDonald’s is a good call. I think that writing to them and to the organisers of the rodeo and explaining the circumstances for the protest would also be appropriate.

      I’m concerned about the kind of nationalism that says it’s not ok to choose not to stand for a national anthem for whatever reason (and I wouldn’t have stood under those circumstances even though I’m a Christian). I’m not a huge fan of rodeos, but to my mind it’s appalling that such an event was politicised in the way Penelope describes. We’ve seen what the kind of rampant nationalism that doesn’t allow for dissent does – all too evident in Nazi Germany.

      • Anthony
        Anthony says:

        If you don’t like America why don’t you move? People undervalue how awesome this country is. I don’t care if you are Jewish – you should stand for the anthem. It’s called respect. If America wasn’t so awesome everyone in Europe would be speaking German and Penelope wouldn’t be Jewish.

      • Becka
        Becka says:

        @Anthony: You clearly missed that Cathy and Quatrefoil are both Australian…as well as missing the point that extreme nationalism was one CAUSE of WWII and not the solution.

      • Brian
        Brian says:

        Nice work, Anthony. Playing the whole ‘if you don’t think America is perfect, then get the hell on’ card. That is a failure on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin.

      • econopete
        econopete says:

        Anthony, just because I disagree with my brother doesn’t mean I want to disown him.

        Also, America has done and continues to do some heinous things. It’s important to recognize that. We denied many Jews the right to immigrate prior to and during World War II, including Anne Frank and her family. In that sense, I think it’s fair to say we contributed to the Holocaust. Yes, we are a great country, but tawdry displays of nationalism that exclude its own citizens because of their religious beliefs diminish it.

      • Caitlin @ Roaming Tales
        Caitlin @ Roaming Tales says:

        Agree with Cathy and Quatrefoil here. The Australia I grew up in was not overtly nationalistic – we had a quite pride in who we were but it was never jingoism. Sadly I feel that’s been changing since the Sydney Olympics in 2000. I see young, mostly white Australians draping themselves in the flag and at the same time (possibly coincidentally, possibly not) a rise in racial violence, and it makes me worry.

      • Caitlin @ Roaming Tales
        Caitlin @ Roaming Tales says:

        @Anthony You can’t be serious! Penelope is American born and bred. She is a citizen and it is her constitutional right AND DUTY to stand up against injustice and try to make her country better. If you don’t like her expressing her democratic rights and freedoms, perhaps YOU should move? (Though where, I don’t know – other countries do have immigration policies too, you know).

        @Becka Despite Anthony’s comment nesting below Cathy and Quatrefoil, I’m pretty sure it was addressed to Penelope (because of the Jewish reference).

  8. Carol G
    Carol G says:

    I am very upset by your story. I am sorry this happened to you and thank you for writing about this.
    I changed the tweet to:
    @McDonalds McDonald’s is sponsoring a touring racist performance called All-Star Rodeo. Try “All Star _Racist_ Rodeo”. http://bit.ly/4AiXT1

    My grown son has a white mom, a black dad. I think I learned how to tune out a lot. Survival. The racism stories my son has… I think I need a T-shirt that reads, “You have mistaken me for a white person”.

    You were in a situation where a racist got the stage and dared you all to defy him – to get out of the complacent white pack and confront the ringleader. I would have felt much better if the rodeo crowd had gotten pissed off. We can not be sheep. What’s the next challenge? Wear your white pride arm bands sponsored by name-that-corporation and get a free soda?

  9. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    oh man. if i had been there, i would have thrown a real fit – shout hiss boo talk to management and anything thing else i could come up with.

    wish i had been. but i live in france now for the very reasons you get fed up w Madison (france far from perfect when it comes to racism, but thats another story). i grew up in dallas. married a black guy. you know the story.

    i see that humans are flawed, and that there are often as many frustrations living in a “progressive” place as a reactionary one. and ive come to think that its about taking a stand and making your point (intelligently, with math that adds up) wherever you need to, like you did with this post.

    still, i too dream of a place where critical thinkers outnumber the clowns. not sure it exists, but if i find it, will let you know.

  10. Isao
    Isao says:

    Being an Asian who never stepped out of the “comfort zone” – NY, LA, so on – your findings makes me stunned. When it comes to “tradition” – even if it has only several decade’s history – we all behave irrationally in the eyes of foreigners. My home country has the habit of whale hunting, and most people there still react emotionally when dissed by other countries. (It is not much about loving eating them – it is only an exotic cuisine, even in Japan – but more about getting upset by flatly being denied of one’s own culture by outsiders.) About this McDonald incident, I would like to know WHY…

  11. elemjay
    elemjay says:

    Why boo at a rodeo when you can eviscerate them online to a much much wider audience? Great piece….

  12. neko
    neko says:

    In the late 80’s when I went to school at Madison, students built mock shanties on the Capitol grounds in solidarity with the South African people and as protest against the SA government’s Apartheid policies.

    In 2010, your experience sounds creepily similar to the disturbingly appalling (Texas?) rodeo scenes in “Borat.”

    I’m speechless ….

  13. Kate
    Kate says:

    I tweeted not just because of the horrible Barack Obama skit, but also because of the sanctioned degradation of women and religious diversity. And to do so under the guise of national pride? with corporate sponsors? Bleh. Thanks for saying out loud that something is not right. (If the Farmer and your boys step away from the fries for a moment, they might realize how proud of you they should be – and not just for scoring some free McD’s food)

  14. we're all responsible
    we're all responsible says:

    “But I can't believe that not a single person in that stadium yelled out anything after a racist joke.”

    Well, Penelope, did you yell out and object to the racist joke? Wouldn’t that have been a good teaching moment for your children? Maybe everyone else in the audience was as lonely and uncomfortable as you. Maybe they were afraid to speak up… you know, because no one else was speaking up.

  15. sarah
    sarah says:

    thank you for posting this. i think it takes someone who is paying attention to hear the context in many of our “cultural” events. maybe they’re paying attention because they don’t “fit in” or “get it,” but maybe they’re paying attention because someone has to remind us all of the absolute richness we find in diversity. living in the bible belt and hearing the subtextual racism, sexism, and religious prejudice built in and commonly accepted is difficult, — but it also provides the opportunity to remind others that even looking the same does not mean feeling or thinking the same.

  16. Brad
    Brad says:

    “But I kind of thought the place would be full of people like me and the farmer.” Whoa, that was dumb. Rodeos and monster truck rallies are the capitol of redneck nation. The disturbing thing is that the farmer thought it was a good idea.

  17. Alexis Grant
    Alexis Grant says:

    Hey Penelope,

    I get your point here. I understand your issues with this rodeo. But sometimes we have to overlook pieces of other cultures that we don’t like or understand just to experience those other worlds. As long as you’ve explained to your kids what bothers you about this event, it might be beneficial (and fun) for them to learn what other people do on the weekend, the difference between a cow and a steer (which this Yankee didn’t know until I went to a rodeo — but then, you live on a farm), and that there are other sports in this country besides baseball and football. It’s almost like going to a foreign country without ever leaving your city! Except a lot of other countries don’t enjoy the diversity of cultures that we have here. So try thinking of it as a learning experience, an observation of your fellow Americans. Take the parts you like, and leave the rest.

    • Nisha
      Nisha says:

      “But sometimes we have to overlook pieces of other cultures that we don’t like or understand just to experience those other worlds.”

      Are you really saying people should overlook racism if they don’t like it? Instead of trying to take action to do something about it? What an inane comment.

  18. neko
    neko says:

    “Please rise in the name of Jesus & sing the Star Spangled Banner.”

    (The more I re-read this post, the more appalling it gets.)

    Wow.

  19. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Agree with commenter “Me” above: I don’t see the racism in the Obama skit you described. Just check out the definition of racist, or racism.

    FWIW, I’m Latina, with black ancestors.

      • Melissa
        Melissa says:

        Uh? Disturbed?
        I guess if I were your definition of “White”, or Asian, or whatever, my comment would have made me…what? A racist? :-)

  20. Dave
    Dave says:

    Long time lurker…first time commenter ;)

    Last rodeo for the farmer I think. One of your best posts ever. Disturbing but not surprising; although I am surprised that this happened in Madison. Madison is a great, very progressive city. Hope this goes national as many of your posts do.

    Unfortunately though, this behavior is not surprising. Yesterday I got an email forwarded on to me by my sister that had a picture of the Obama’s pledging allegiance with their left hands over their RIGHT breast and the requisite comments that they don’t know their left from right etc. Obviously the photo was doctored, but no one either cared or took the time to find that out before forwarding it on to 15 other people.

    I wasn’t going to respond back, but your post lead me to respond. We each have to stand up and say this behavior is not acceptable. Sorry for the long comment!

  21. Dave
    Dave says:

    One other thing…

    Some comments have referred to the big city vs little city mindset. Madison is not a little city and is progressive. Believe me, if this is happening in Madison, it is worse in other cities – large and small. If this rodeo were in LA, there is no doubt in my mind the activity would be the same because it represents the mindset of the attendees (most anyway).

  22. Amy
    Amy says:

    First, as a native Madisonian, I can tell you that Madison scarcely lives up to its radical reputation. Racism simmers and often boils. If you’re not seeing it, you’re trying not to. I’m guessing, though, there were more people in the audience sitting in shocked, disgusted silence, just like you.

    Second, call it my own classism, but I’d guess most people attending a rodeo would be of the rural persuasion, and if urban, likely fans of the WWE and monster truck rallies. Step out of Madison even a little, and Wisconsin is a pretty conservative (i.e., white Republican Christian) place.

    OK, so I’m an elitist snob, just as the the radio announcer was a racist Bible-thumper.

    Do you think McDonald’s knows what this announcer is saying at the rodeo? I doubt it. McDonald’s might have no interest in sanctioning a tent show like that one. Let them know.

  23. J McK
    J McK says:

    I’m still trying to figure out how one would sing the national anthem in Jesus’ name… and I’m a Christian.

    If it makes you feel any better about Madison, the stadium was probably not filled with an accurate cross-section of the city as much as it was filled with people from outside the city.

    And I think there are quite a few corporations that need to hear your message that my generation will chose not only their careers, but also where they spend their money based on how much a company cares about people and the environment.

  24. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    Does anyone know the definition of “minstrel show”?

    Thanks for this post. I think part of the issue of racism in this country is that people get caught up in the minutiae of definitions and other qualifications. We too often forget the raw emotional power such acts have over people. No matter if it is racism or bigotry or whatever. I think this post taps into that emotional aspect.

  25. Ariella
    Ariella says:

    I also live in Madison and I am as surprised as you are when this apparently left-leaning city shows its racist, classist tendencies. And it’s hugely disappointing because I want so much for Madison to be an example for the rest of the country.

    Of course, my own biased opinion is that the people who attend a rodeo-type gathering (in general) are conservatives who live outside of Madison. That does not mean that it’s OK for them to accept a racist attitude; it only means that Madisonians likely do not subscribe to that same attitude.

  26. mordicai
    mordicai says:

    You know, the thing is: to the people who were there besides you, it probably WAS a Family Values show. They said Jesus, they had “correct” politics; that is the “Real America” that Fox News talks about. Distressing, isn’t it?

  27. Susan
    Susan says:

    When I moved to NYC from Georgia 9 years ago, I asked why we didn’t have Martin Luther King Day off. I had never gone to school or work on that day before. My co-workers told me “You guys just feel bad down there for being racist and are trying to make it up to them.” and would tell a string of racist jokes. This was in midtown Manhattan, and many of my then co-workers grew up in the city.

    That made me feel very lonely. When I pointed out that there were many people still living who were active in the Civil Rights movement, they just rolled their eyes.

    So I went to work. And I felt sad. And I told my bosses I felt it was inappropriate to support that kind of behavior. And they said nothing.

    You said no one said a word during the racist jokes. Why didn’t you boo or hiss? You were one of them sitting there and doing nothing.

    • Mascha
      Mascha says:

      Schools in NYC have a day (or even 2 or 3) off for MLK day. Not everybody can take a day off from work though. Depends on the line of work (police, hospital, fire brigade?). Besides, there are many more holidays and memorial days. We can’t possibly all have a day off. You could take a personal day if it means that much to you not to be working on this day.

  28. Rose Jeudi
    Rose Jeudi says:

    I moved to Dallas from NYC a couple of years ago and before moving here I would have been offended by many of the events that you experienced at the rodeo. But after almost 4 years of living in the south, I’ve realized that someone can be a staunch conservative without being racist. Obama is a public figure despised by most conservatives and they have the right to vent their frustration. Lord knows the liberals did plenty of that during W’s 8 years.

  29. Wisconsin girl
    Wisconsin girl says:

    I was at a rodeo where they stood for the confederate flag, I was shocked and remained seated…..then left.

  30. KarenM
    KarenM says:

    So what part of this demonstrated racism? Seriously, because the individual did a skit about President Obama? (someone I I believe in by the way)
    Seriously? and what is more interesting, is how come nooone called this out.. is this because we are all trying to be cool in observing MLK Day?

    Look, freedom of speech is alive and well in America.. Thank God, because it allows for individuals like Penelope, to be able to write this kinda stuff, and get away with it..

    So curious, it is okay to insinuate that people are rednecks, women haters, and blame McDonalds and a whole town on the action of one individual who took the liberty of expressing his freedom of choice.. Puhleeze

    And as someone mentioned earlier, where do you draw the line penelope? it is okay to slam christians, and claim your freedom of speech, but ..

    FYI – I am a biracial female.. Not white, Not black, not Hispanic.. Biracial — but in this fine country am deemed as minority.. because of my small percent of minority, and my appearance – by the Government.. Don’t you think that should be something better worth discussing.. how this wonderful country is pretty much the only country in the world that is hung up on titles of race? maybe if THEY got rid of that.. the oh, and it was a black man who stole or raped that woman.. if we got rid of subjective labels, maybe them society may come more accepting..

    Another 5 Mins of my life wasted

    • Mascha
      Mascha says:

      Seriously? Time wasted on YOUR freedom of speech? Your choice to comment. Seriously? The ‘only wonderful country that is hung up on titles of race’?

  31. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    This is a thought-provoking post. I am glad to see that you have called attention to what happened and encouraged your followers to tweet. I hope that McD’s responds responsibly.

    Regarding the comments that have been posted, it is discouraging to hear all of the:
    “It’s not really Madison, folks…really! It’s those from the outskirts, we swear!” comments. Selling the “country folk” down the river while smiling and ignoring the fact that Ms. Trunk did nothing. Very transparent and I’m afraid not many will buy it.

    As well as the:
    “Rednecks attend these events. Rednecks are lesser people” comments. All of these comments ignore the fact that Ms. Trunk (who I assume you do not think is a redneck) was there.

    How is stereotyping (based on income/class, religion, and social activities) and using the word “redneck” any better than the clown incident described by Ms. Trunk?

  32. Green
    Green says:

    Done.
    I would have felt the same way you did. Though I might have left after the Jesus reference. Because there are so few of them done these days, hand-written letters get a lot more attention than they did in the pre-email days. I say you write a letter, both to the rodeo and to McD’s.

  33. Carol G
    Carol G says:

    I don’t even want to remember this kind of thing, but I feel compelled when I read these oh-it’s-just-rednecks comments. I was at a well-appointed suburban party when I heard a 6-figure-earning economist for a Fortune 500 company here in Madison call people on Park St “coons”.
    Sorry. Nothing is easy. It’s going to take a lot of continued tweets and confrontations. Stand up against racism.

  34. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    I live in the Midwest, not Wisconsin, but there are rodeos here. I actually really enjoy going to bull-riding. They aren’t all like the one you were at. I’ve never heard of one pushing religion like that, and I’ve never heard the announcer or rodeo clown tell Obama jokes. I think that’s horrible!

    At the last bull ride I went to, there was a girl competing, and I believe she placed. Far from the experience you had.

    I’m glad you’re raising awareness of this, just pointing out, it was THAT rodeo that was horrible, not ALL rodeos.

  35. Troy Gilbert
    Troy Gilbert says:

    How does this demonstrate racism? It may not demonstrate racism by definition, but it does demonstrate what people commonly refer to as racism, which as pointed out, may be more accurately called bigotry. But I think we all know what we mean, so let’s not be pedantic.

    A (white) rodeo clown throwing on a Rastafarian costume in order to imitate the president is definitely making a joke of race and racial stereotypes. In case you haven’t noticed, our president has the opposite of dreadlocks; and is protestant Christian, not Rastafarian. So, the Rastafarian get-up is just a modern variation on blackface, just as insulting, just as despicable.

    And for those that say you should stand for the anthem because it’s a symbol of freedom: you’re doing it wrong. Feeling societal pressure, an assumed obligation, to salute your nation’s flag and anthem is the opposite of freedom. Refusing to the honor freedom’s symbol is in fact honoring freedom itself. Why worship the symbol when you can worship what it represents directly? ;-)

  36. C.J.
    C.J. says:

    Penelope, your feelings on racism and equality do not stem from your own established beliefs. Those feelings were placed in you by the same God that you reject.

  37. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Thanks, everyone, for all the enthusiasm on twitter!

    Also, maybe someone could talk here about racism. What that means. I think there is a lot I could learn about what is racist, what is racism, and what is just a bad joke. I see there’s a difference. I’m not sure where it is.

    Penelope

    • M
      M says:

      This is racist because it equates our president to rastafarians based on the color of his skin rather than his actual tie to the rasta culture. It is funny to mock W. about being a cowboy, because it’s actually a part of who he is. It would not be funny for black culture to mock Clinton for being a cowboy because that would be assuming that all white people are the same. It would have been funny and not racist to mock Obama by not wearing a shirt and being cut and slightly in love with himself because that is who he is as a person. It is not funny to mock him as a rastafarian, because those are attributes that are being attributed to him based on his race rather than who is actually is.

    • Jess
      Jess says:

      There’s a really good racism 101 breakdown on John Scalzi’s blog, writtern and moderated by Mary Anne Mohanraj. The discussion arose in the SF community, but it talks broadly about what racism is and isn’t, with lots of discussion, argument, questions. I actually think people who enjoy this blog will probably dig Scalzi, too. Also, pretty much anything Ta-Nehisi Coates at the The Atlantic writes about race in the US.

      http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/03/12/mary-ann-mohanraj-gets-you-up-to-speed-part-i/

  38. KarenM
    KarenM says:

    putting on a rasta wig demonstrates racism? really? So all individuals putting on these type of costumes at Halloween are Racists as well? really?

    Was it the Comments that the individual said? Did they Actually point fingers at a particular Race? Did they Degrade a particular race

    God help us when we in America decide that contrary expressions of speech should be considered racist, or discriminatory..

    Personally this article to me is more offensive, as it appears to present and paint a disillusioned view of small town America, with a broad paint brush, in such a way that would heighten her career.

    As a person of color, this does indeed irritate the heck out of me, and yes, it even offends me. Let’s not play down what REALLY is discrimination in America – the stuff that hurts people in REALITY

    Like the Huge Disproportionate number of minorities who are NOT getting jobs based upon the color of their skin

    Or the fact that Women shall not be seeing equal wage in our lifetime, nor the lifetime of our grand kids, based upon the current numbers — this by the way was something that Ms Trunk even denies exists.. discrimination against women in the workplace..

    Please Get real.. THIS isn’t discrimination.. This is someone trying to make chocolate out of cafe au lait.

  39. LTF
    LTF says:

    I agree that this is racism and it is scary. However, what can you expect from people in a small farming community? They have never gotten behind the civil rights era and have brains that are stuck in the 1940s. FYI: I have relatives who are farmers and they send me Christmas cards saying that they talk to Jesus and ask for his blessings, blah, blah, blah. But they are also the type of people who the media can so easily brain wash. (They feel so patriotic when their leaders lie and tell them B.S. such as Iraq was behind 9/11.)

    • Jeffrey
      Jeffrey says:

      So racism is bad, but mocking someone for living in a “small farming community” and being religious is okay?

      This is exactly the kind of blindly self-righteous attitude that’s -really- hindering our progress as a society.

      • Kristina
        Kristina says:

        I agree, it is not okay. But I also think that it is okay to talk about it in a setting like this so we can be corrected. Keeping these ideas and stereotypes inside doesn’t do us any good either. We should be talking instead of being fearful to say something wrong. But with that said, we should also be open to knowledge and that some of the beliefs we have learned are not always right. I am learning from this.

    • SL
      SL says:

      Get a life you radical lunatic. People from farming communities are ignorant and the government was behind 9/11 right? How I would love to hear your theories on the JFK assassination and moon landing…

    • SL
      SL says:

      Get a life lady. Not only are your views unfounded and biased, but you sound like a rambling lunatic. Get a hobby…

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