The owners of a motel in Lake Andes say they plan to change a sign that has prompted accusations of racism against President Barack Obama.
They don’t apologize, however, and say their political sign along U.S. Highway 281 is simply misspelled and misunderstood.
Larry and Mary Sndyer own and operate the Circle H Motel. They recently placed a message on a reader board sign that reads, “Vote American, Don’t Renig,” on one side and “Build this Obama, $16 trillion, Don’t renig.”
Some feel the word “renig” is intentionally misspelled — the correct spelling is “renege” — to slur the president, who is black. The wording on the sign closely matches that of a controversial national campaign, which includes bumper stickers and T-shirts that read “Don’t Re-Nig in 2012.”
The Daily Republic received complaints about the sign and the Circle H Motel Facebook page is filled with comments about the sign.
“I had no intention of trying to be racist,” said Mary Snyder, who put the sign outside the business. “It’s just ridiculous. It’s a political sign, my opinion. They think I’m slandering, uh, n*****s. That’s not it.”
Snyder said she didn’t know about the controversial national campaign. She said she intended the sign to say “Don’t Renege,” which means not to go back on a promise, undertaking or contract.
A former Lake Andes resident isn’t convinced.
“I believe the sign was placed to be racist,” Kymm Gresset wrote in an email to The Daily Republic. “If Mary was smart enough to know what ‘renege’ meant … she would’ve been sensitive enough to know that ‘renig’ is seen as a racist term that has been used frequently by ignorant people in their view of our current president.”
Gresset, a 2000 graduate of Andes Central High School who now lives in Denver, wrote a letter to the editor regarding the sign.
“In my utopia, I tend to believe my hometown is full of respectfully opinionated persons residing in a beautiful state with much to offer people willing to give it a try,” she wrote. “However, I was appalled to see a Facebook post recently showing a sign that read, ‘Build this, Obama, $16 trillion, Don’t Renig’ … Is bigotry the kind of image we project as a town? Words do hurt and words do matter.”
Gresset said opinions can be otherwise — and respectfully — expressed without being demeaning. Many who commented on the Circle H Motel Facebook page agree. Comments range from sadness to anger.
“Sad to hear of your sign,” reads one comment. “There’s a fine line between free speech and deeply hurting others through mean-spirited racial slurs.”
Lake Andes Mayor Dan Park has heard from many people about the sign, the majority of whom are offended by the language. He said the city can’t force the Snyders to take down the sign because there is no ordinance to do so, and it would be a violation of the First Amendment.
Park has no plans of talking to the Snyders about the sign, either. He said he hopes they may change it after receiving enough comments. He doesn’t believe the Snyders meant the sign to be hurtful, but he said it may be perceived that way by some.
“The city of Lake Andes does not condone the use of offensive language,” Park said in a brief interview with The Daily Republic. “And I hope this does not reflect on the whole community as it is only the view of one or two individuals.”
Snyder said she has gotten numerous calls complaining about the sign, but the callers were so upset she didn’t bother trying to explain the sign to them.
“They just wanted me to put a log on the fire to get things burning hotter,” she said.
When asked whether she recognizes why some are taking the sign as a racial slur, Snyder said she can see the connection, but said it was not intended to be racist and she has no plans to take it down. She only plans to change the spelling.
“I’m not going to apologize. I’m not going to take the sign down. It’s freedom of speech and it’s my opinion on a political statement,” she said.
Rather, she maintains she misspelled the word and plans to change the sign to say, “Don’t Renege.”
“I’m not picking on race,” she said. “It’s just ridiculous when people have to go out of their way to try to make something racist.”
Gresset doubts the misspelled word was placed on the sign out of ignorance.
“The way the sign read, ‘Vote American, don’t Renig’ makes no sense if you replaced that with ‘renege.’ … Feel the way you feel, but there’s no need to be demeaning to get it across,” she wrote in an email. “Our town and state has enough issues without anyone making us look like bigots by placing a sign like that up on the highway.”
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