News

DARK

"I am not a racist," Nancy Burnett pleads over the phone.
She doesn't see what the big deal is or why other Cottonwood residents are up in arms over her statements. But Nancy Burnett is getting used to being at the center of the fire storm in this community 100 miles north of Phoenix.

Burnett is the leader of the Verde Valley Chapter of the American Family Association, a national organization which promotes "family values." She led the charge to clear 2 Live Crew records from stores in Cottonwood.

Her call to action led to criminal charges being filed against Bret Arnett, owner of Jesse's Books, Music and Video. Arnett was charged August 31 with two counts of public display of sexually explicit material and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor after an AFA member's fifteen-year-old son bought the 2 Live Crew's album As Nasty as They Wanna Be at Arnett's store.

The issue then splitting the town was censorship versus children buying pornography. That was until an AFA newsletter written by Burnett hit the streets.

In the newsletter, she makes the issues clear--black and white.
She writes: "Issue: Bret Arnett is such a nice guy.
"Answer: A crime is a crime, committed by a nice, white, clean businessman, or a rude, black, dirty migrant. If nice is the issue, then we are all in trouble. Many a rape has been committed by `nice' guys."

Was she calling forth bigots to join the fight?
"Yeah, right," Burnett says. "If you believe that, you believe pigs whistle. All I did was use the opposite. Bret's nice. That's the problem we had with him. I like Bret." Burnett says her job rooting out evil is difficult, and Arnett reminded her of her son. "It's easier to go after a dirty, you know, hair's all a mess and the guy doesn't look good," she explains. "I said, `Look at Bret. He's white, he's clean, he's working.' But, you've got to look beyond it."

What she doesn't explain is why she used a racial slur to get her point across. "It's the opposite of white," she says. "I said `black.' It doesn't mean anything. Some of my best friends are black and some of the people I wouldn't invite home for dinner are white. It doesn't make any difference whether they are white or black or purple." White, good? Black, bad?

"I don't even think they know they are being racists," says Doug Van Gausig, a store owner siding with Arnett. "It's exactly like Evan Mecham. They are his people. The fact, that they correlate blacks with dirty, rude migrants is just the way they see the natural order of things."

Others who don't agree with Burnett say she is not a racist.
"Nancy Burnett has had a really bad rap and not really deservedly so," says Herb Trubitz, owner of Mount Hope natural food store. "She's helped tons of young kids. But, she's a religious-type fundamentalist. It's her approach that hurts. She means well.

"It was a poor choice of words. Sometimes she goes full tilt and doesn't think things out. It's easy for people to attack her because it obviously looks like a racist statement. She's not a racist any more than the average person here. She may be off-base, but she's not the evil person that people are portraying her."

Trubitz knows Burnett's insensitivity firsthand. He's heard her insult his Jewish heritage and religion. "You don't walk with God," she once told him.

Trubitz jokes about it: "It's true. I don't walk with God. Boy, I'd love to walk with God. That would be something, wouldn't it?" He chuckles. "She may be insensitive, but I'm not offended by it. I know her. She has been more tolerant in the past, but she gets involved in something and she gets very intense. She believes she's doing God's work. She gets carried away."

Burnett, a 58-year-old grandmother and former Flagstaff narcotics officer, says that 2 Live Crew's rap music is affecting children. She says the country is dying morally. Hearing youngsters use the word "fuck" as an adjective, verb and noun, she is taken aback. Reading about the high number of molestations in her own town, she is shocked.

Burnett blames the music for desensitizing youngsters to sex, but she refuses to apologize for what many in the community say is teaching racism to those same children she wants to save. Burnett says the whole controversy is a trumped-up charge from people wanting to save porn.

"They were looking for something," Burnett explains. "If you look hard enough, you'll find something in anything. You know, not to give you a religious trip, but they did it to Jesus. They'll do it to anybody."

Arnett, whose case goes to court November 12, doesn't view himself as Pontius Pilate. He sees his business threatened--and the possibility of a jail term--over a racially motivated issue. "She had said the same thing to me over the phone," Arnett says. "She said she was in a way biased because she didn't want to put pressure on us because we were like her kids. But if we had been `dirty, rude black migrants,' it would be different."

Arnett sees a culture clash: white parents fearfully watching their kids get drawn into the black cultural experience--rap music.

"For the black people to communicate, it's like Spanish to us," Arnett says. "To them it's no big deal, it's how you speak. They're trying to remove that culture from the shelves of a record store. They're afraid of black culture. They're trying to remove anything with a four-letter word. When you get down to it, it's just a word, like the word `what' or `how.' Instead, it's `fuck' or `shit'--it's just a word."

Arnett is married, with a seven-year-old daughter, and sees himself in the same boat as some of the complaining parents.

"I think at seven years old she's a little young for that, but if she was in high school and she was curious about 2 Live Crew, I would rather us sit down and listen to it. So, if she has any questions, she'd ask us rather than snickering around with her friends."

Even with all the fireworks, Nancy Burnett can't understand why anyone should be offended by the name calling. After all, she says, she's German and Hitler was a German and a lot of bad things have been said about Germans.

"I've been the first one to say, `hardheaded, stubborn Germans.' It's true that's the way Germans are. We're just hardheaded, hardworking. You don't see me screaming and hollering. Good grief."

"A crime is a crime, committed by a nice, white clean businessman, or a rude, black, dirty migrant."

"I don't even think they know they are being racists."

"She's not a racist anymore than the average person here.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
J. W. Casserly