Shots are being fired at "The Duke." A longtime debate has recently resurfaced in Southern California because an airport name has been deemed racist.
John Wayne, who died almost 40 decades ago, is at the center of social-media uproar that followed the recent resurfacing of a 1971 Playboy interview in which Wayne made comments many consider racist and homophobic.
John Wayne Airport is in Orange County. That's where Wayne lived for most of his adult life.
The airport, previously named Orange County Airport, has been the subject of debate in the past, but the new calls to change the name come from Wayne's remarks from an old interview, made at age 63, in which he claims to support “white supremacy” until "irresponsible" black people became more educated. He also thought Native Americans were “selfishly” trying to keep their land. Then, as encore, he used some gay slurs to describe movies that were popular the time of the interview.
Considering the nature of these comments you can't be surprised that Southern Californians are mad at the airport name.
So now Californians are petitioning to rename the airport and it wouldn't surprise us if they succeed.
Columnist Michael Hiltzik argued last week that perhaps Wayne represents a bygone era.
“Orange County today is such an economically and ethnically diverse community that it’s hard to justify asking any member of that community to board planes at an airport named after an outspoken racist and homophobe, with his strutting statue occupying a central niche in front of the concourse,” Hiltzik wrote in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece.
“That should be evident from the results of November’s election, in which voters turfed out the county’s last remaining GOP members of Congress — some of whom had embraced Donald Trump in a fruitless effort to save their careers--and elected an all-Democratic congressional delegation,” Hiltzik wrote.
But Wayne’s defenders say it’s unfair to judge the actor on comments from nearly 50 years ago when he is no longer alive to respond to the criticism.
“Removing his name from Orange County’s airport now only validates what many Americans are coming to believe: You can’t say anything anymore, darn it, without being discovered and punished by the mob,” Madeline Fry wrote in the Washington Examiner.
Others suggested removing the name of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt from a New York City roadway, as well as from other monuments and buildings, over FDR's comments about Jews. Still others have said that Wayne was expressing the prevalent views of the time in which he did the interview.
“Wayne was a few weeks shy of his 64th birthday when the interview appeared in print,” Hiltzik wrote. “It was 1971, so the civil rights revolution had been going on for years; Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated three years before. Wayne wasn’t expressing the tenor of the times — he was reacting to the advances being won by African Americans through demonstrations and legislation."
Fry suggested finding where to get the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars it would take to rebrand the facility “Orange County Airport."
"But for goodness sake," she adds, "not yet."