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.