Saturday, April 12, 2008

Billy Yow's contribution to race relations

Guilford County has many wonderful things going for it; however, the poisonous state of local race relations is not one of those things. Several local politicians seem to thrive on putting a stick in the racial hornet's nest and stirring things up.

The following banner from the re-election web-site of Guilford County's District 5 Commissioner, Billy Yow, is a great case in point.

Yow, if you don't know or couldn't guess, is the person with the very concerned look, who is shown in color on the left. Who or what concerns him? Well, the banner shows that it's the Democrats on the commission, most especially one of the black commissioners, Skip Alston who is depicted in the background on the right.

Yow uses the standard visual tricks of a negative campaign ad. He's removed the color from his antagonists' photos to show them in black and white. The shot of Alston is tightly framed by the "Yow" lettering and the border to make it appear closely cropped. Alston is photographed at a slightly downward angle and is tight-lipped and glaring over his glasses. All of which combine to make Alston look especially sinister.

There's another strongly implied message in the visual and that is that Yow is keeping Alston in his place. Yow is clearly in the foreground, in front of the text. Alston is in the back, behind the text. Also, because we naturally read from left to right, Yow is at the beginning, while Alston is at the end. The choice of yellow even gives a sort of schoolbus framing to the picture.

The text of the page reinforces the antagonistic message. It doesn't mention any demonstrable accomplishments. Instead, Yow "demands accountability" (presumably from Alston and the other no-account Democrats), "ask(s) the hard questions," "is always willing to take on the challenge," and "isn't afraid of a good fight."

While some might think this is over-reading, Yow freely admits that the ad targets Alston. When questioned about the lay-out of the ad, he told the N&R Scoop that "When you look you see Skip (Alston) sitting over there. And without me, you see, he's a loose cannon." The Scoop reported, "Yow added that voters in his district should vote for him at least to keep Alston under control." So, there's no question about the intent of the ad.

People are generally turned off by negative advertising, and the citizens of Guilford County are especially turned off by the endless racial bickering. They deserve a commissioner who can offer them something positive. Maybe Billy Yow can grow into that positive role; if he can't, he deserves to be retired.


Anonymous said...

Just what we need, another whinning Liberal, you need to stick with ecomonics and leave politics to much smarter people.

Tony Wilkins said...

Just wondering, and this question is based on your analogy above:
Billy is looking across the banner at three Democrats on the current board. Why do you choose the one black commissioner and dream up some scheme behind the banner?
Sounds like Dave Ribar is contributing to race relations, not Billy Yow.
You would have us think Billy had some Karl Rove working on his campaign.
I agree with anon, stick to economics.

Brenda Bowers said...

Mr. Ribar, You suggest that Billy Yow retire from politics but you say nothing about Melvin "Skip" Alston retiring when he and his two cohorts continue to use the race card on every occasion where the vote does not go their way. I too dislike the racial bickering that goes on, but I have yet to see Billy Yow start the fray and I have watched just about every meeting on channel 13 for the past 4 years.

If you are going to comment on the racism in Greensboro politics you should make an effort to be even handed in your criticism. I won't jump on you as the others have, but really Sir this is blatant bias on your part. BB

Dave Ribar said...


You mean "leave politics to much smarter people" who avoid comma splices and can spell "economics" and "whining" :)


Before I ever commented on this, you wrote, "To me it looks like Billy is keeping a watchful eye out on Skip and Skip’s mad about it." So, somehow you also came to the conclusion that Alston was being featured (maybe because Alston's face is the only one that's not obscured?). And Yow himself said, "When you look you see Skip (Alston) sitting over there. And without me, you see, he’s a loose cannon." Now you're changing your stories. The mock piety would be an easier sell if you had gone with that angle from the start.


If you re-read the last paragraph, you'll see that the retirement suggestion was conditional. The first suggestion (and preferred outcome) was that Yow grow into a more positive role. It was only if he couldn't do that that I suggested that the residents of Guilford County make the retirement decision for him.

Does your follow-on criticism apply to this letter, which was also rather one-sided?

Spag said...

You didn't answer the question about the white commissioners.

You are reading way too much into this picture in terms of making it about race, but I guess I should expect no less. Making matters about race and pitting one group against another over stupid arguments like this is right out of the liberal playbook.

Also, Skip is up for re-election too. Should he be retired for all the race baiting he has done?

Dave Ribar said...


Yow could have said that you see Democrats sitting there and that this was about keeping the Democrats under control, but he directed his remarks at Alston. So you have it straight from the candidate.

Along the same lines, Tony could have said that to him, Yow was keeping a watchful eye on the Democrats, but he too directed his remarks at Alston.

It must be a further coincidence that on Tony's site, those two well-known liberals, Cara Michele and Chuck Atkinson, also mention Alston but no other Democrats.

And yes, Alston has played the race card repeatedly and has singled out Yow on numerous occasions.

Billy The Blogging Poet said...

Just so you know, as one who knows them both here's a little insight: When Skip needs a new well drilled he calls Yow to drill it for him. And when Yow wants to play golf he calls Skip to play with.

You don't spend thousands of dollars with a man you hate nor do you freely spend your days golfing with him either.

Both of these men are friends and business associates who play the race card to the hilt and laugh all the way to the bank.

For both men the race card keeps them in office and both are happy to play the game.

Dave Ribar said...


Thanks, I had heard this.

As you indicate in your last paragraph, it actually makes things much worse as it reveals an incredible amount of cynicism by both of them. Guilford County deserves better in Districts 5 & 8.

Bubba said...

I think it's time that ran for office, instead of "running" other things, Dave.

It would be interesting to see if you have more talent for politics than you have for being a pundit.

Dave Ribar said...


Surely you're familiar with the saying... Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. And those who can't teach, blog :)

Tony Wilkins said...

Professor Ribar,
In your sentence quoted below, you failed to recognize that you had a restrictive appositive. Such a grammar moment requires a comma after "Skip Alston." (Or if you meant for that to be a nonrestrictive appositive, you should have omitted the comma that precedes Skip's name.)
"Well, the banner shows that it's the Democrats on the commission, most especially one of the black commissioners, Skip Alston who is depicted in the background on the right."

On another note, though you were quoting directly from the N&R, you should have corrected the sentence that read as follows:
“And Yow himself said, ‘When you look you see Skip (Alston) sitting over there. And without me, you see, he’s a loose cannon.’"
If you didn't notice, the subordinate clause that began with "When" needs a comma after that introductory clause.

With these two items noted, please don't self-righteously become Mr. Grammar Check to the blog world.

Maria Barton said...

Dear Blogger who runs this site,

My roommate in college was an Economics major. One day he, quite perturbed, came home and said “Awful Arthur’s has $2 Guinness pints tonight and I’m buying.”

“What’s the occasion, other than $2 pint night AND, also, $0.25 oysters on the half-shell?”, I asked.

To that he responded: “don’t be surprised if I get kicked out of the program BY MY OWN ADVISOR.”

“Why? What did you do?”, I replied.

Turned out, my boy was taking some graduate course about economics and happened to blurt out in class: “Hey, if you know so much about money and how to make it, then why are you a professor? Isn’t that like a ‘non sequitur’?”.

You’ve probably heard that one before, Professor; nevertheless, I bid you to explain that building at the intersection of February One & Elm. It's not "racist" to say that project’s just not fiscally sound. Give Skip my regards on that one, please.

maria, -ae, f.

Dave Ribar said...


You're right that the sentence is missing a comma.

My guess is that you are referring to my response to Anon's comment (as I usually don't comment on other people's spelling or grammar for the exact reason you pointed out). However, an unconventionally spelled post telling me to "leave politics to much smarter people" was too much to resist.


People choose professions for lots of reasons. Pay is certainly one, but flexible hours, the ability to do what you want, fantastic travel, and the opportunity to work with students (even smart alecs like your roomate) are others. And actually the pay isn't that bad.

Our Department had an assistant professor position open this year, and we drew several hundred applicants. So, there must be something attractive about the job.

With respect to the Civil Rights Museum fiasco, you are absolutely right that Alston and some others need to leave the board. The project is horribly managed (though not as badly managed as say Iraq, the federal budget, HUD, or the Hurricane Katrina response).

Bubba said...

"Those who can't, teach. And those who can't teach, blog :)"

Is it a coincidence that you do both?

Dave Ribar said...


Thanks. I'm always looking for the next opportunity, too.