All we talked about was Valerie Smith and we all voted against her. This hater brought a new unity to this community.
The new N-word is "No."
Last Friday, on Windward Way in the Hillcrest section of Southampton Village, the N-word -- the most toxic word in the American lexicon -- was redefined as a resounding "NO."
"No" steered the citizens from their handsome homes and down the leafy street and from similar working-class homes on scores of neighboring idyllic streets and they crowded the polling place at the culture center where the citizens, many of them black, used the most powerful loaded weapon any American citizen can wield.
They voted no -- hell NO -- to a white racist named Valerie Smith who had poisoned their neighborhood with hate.
"I've been living here 47 years and no one ever called me that N-word name," said Dorothy Pender, a home attendant who answered her doorbell on Saturday afternoon. "When a white woman moves in next door and decides to call young people on this block the N-word, you are disgusted. When you find out she's also running for Town Trustee, it's sickening. But you decide to do something about it. You make sure you vote NO to Valerie Smith."
Dorothy Pender invites you inside her lovely home, pausing to straighten a framed portrait of Rev. Martin Luther King hanging in the vestibule, a reflex gesture that symbolizes this election in microcosm as the citizens of Southampton straightened out what was wrong with this neighborhood picture after one bigot tilted Southampton off kilter.
"It felt so good to go in there and see Valerie Smith's name up there on the ballot," says Dorothy's daughter, Lolita Pender, 49. "It was good to run my finger down the list of candidates, pause near her name, and then go right by it to vote for a different candidate. That was like giving the middle finger to her, to Valerie Smith. She can call me any name she wants. The people have voted her a new name -- loser."
In a time when yet another nut with a gun shot down an American congressman on a small-town baseball field symbolizing America's pastime because he disagreed with his politics, it was refreshing that in some civilized communities in small-town America like Hillcrest, the good citizens transformed the N-word into NO by choosing the ballot over the bullet.
And won by trouncing the racist loser Valerie Smith who tallied just 49 votes.
"I got to the polls at 9:30 AM and met all kinds of friends," says Lolita Pender. "All we talked about was Valerie Smith and we all voted against her. This hater brought a new unity to this community."
Her mother, Dorothy, said, "I met old friends at the voting place at night after work and we hugged and talked about this Smith lady, and we all voted against her. Valerie Smith tried to divide us with her N-word hate but she brought us together in love."
Bessie Caviness who lives across the street from Valerie Smith said that she was one of the few black people to shake Valerie Smith's hand at an emergency community meeting in the playground at the end of Windward Way after news stories publicized her hate speech.
"People asked how I could shake her hand," says Caviness, born and raised in the segregated American south before moving north to St. Albans, Queens, then Buffalo, and finally settling in Southampton.
"I did it because it was the Christian thing to do. As Michelle Obama said, 'When they go low, we go high.' The first time I shook Valerie Smith's hand was when we met on the street on October 8th and I told her it was my birthday. She said it was her birthday, too. We shook hands and wished each other 'Happy Birthday.' Then all this evil N-word stuff came out and I was deeply offended, especially when I heard she had used it on young people. I remember what that feels like."
Bessie says she thought she had left those Jim Crow days behind in the segregated Hanes City, Florida, of the early 1960s.
"But for a sad few those hate-filled days are not behind us," she says. "So I shook her hand after she made an unconvincing apology. I decided to be the bigger person and forgive her because it's the Christian thing to do. I forgive. But I do not forget. On Friday I used that same hand I used to shake her hand to vote against Valerie Smith. I met all kinds of beautiful people at the polls who did the same. This neighborhood is more energized, united, and full of love than ever because we came together to reject one sad and lonely woman who thought hate would win. Well, it didn't."
Because good American citizens redefined the N-word into a NO.