Rob Bliss, holds a Black Lives Matter sign in Harrison, Arkansas. Bliss posted a video of the reactions he received to the sign.(Photo: Rob Bliss)
Rob Bliss stood outside a Walmart Supercenter in Harrison, Arkansas - dubbed "America's Most Racist Town" - and held a sign for everyone to see.
The words on the sign? "Black Lives Matter."
Needless to say, it caused quite a stir.
Bliss, a 31-year-old white man from Los Angeles, endured abarrage of hate speech during his project, which is now a viral rage on social media.He went to Harrison shortly after Independence Day and recorded the reactions of townsfolk, condensed days of vitriol down to just over two minutes,and let it fly on YouTube.
The video, which has been viewed more than 920,000 times on Bliss page, is a bleak bombardment of hate.One person warns Bliss not to be around after dark. Anothercalled him a derogatory term for Jewish people. A few brought up the fact he was white and asked why he was holding the sign at all. Most looked like they were on their way to or from shopping, driving typical trucks, SUVs and compact cars, launching salvos of venom.
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A lone man rolled down his window while driving by Blissand said, About 10 minutes I'm going to be back. You better be (expletive) gone. Bliss said he feared the man was going to get a gun.
Bliss, no stranger to viral video famewith videos like "10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,"said videos like his help the conversation around the Black Lives Matter movement.
Protests against racial inequality and police brutality have continued across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the knee of a former Minneapolis officer.
I think people assume that real racism doesnt really exist anymore, Bliss said. That its more like, its institutional or its implicit or its subconscious, when really, one of the reasons why I like this video is you can see this is very real. This is very present and its very visceral. Its like Level 1 racism and were still at this level in many places around the country.
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Bliss videofeatures a near-constant torrent of insults, threats and racial epithets directed at Bliss. The end features a solitary upbeat moment, in which a person gives Bliss a note saying, "Don't give up hope."
There were others who were kind, Bliss said. Some people offered Gatorade to help him beat the brutal heat and others gave the occasional thumbs up.
Bliss said most of the video was shot at theWalmart Supercenter. At one point in the video, Walmart employees confronted Bliss and asked him to leave.
As a company committed to racial equity, we stand in solidarity with the Black community, and are appalled some chose to express themselves in such a hurtful way, Walmart said in statement to USA TODAY in response to the video.
Still, Bliss was asked to leave the premises because we have a policy prohibiting solicitation and demonstrations on Walmart property for both individuals and organizations, the company added.
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Its important we come together during these difficult times and display kindness and understanding while respecting our differences, Walmart said in a statement. Respect for the individual is a core value at Walmart, and we will continue to demonstrate that principle in how we operate our business.
Bliss said hes received threats of legal action from people who dont want their faces in the video.
Leadership in Harrison responded to the video on Tuesday. In a joint statement, Boone County Judge Robert Hathaway, city Mayor Jerry Jackson and Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Bob Largent said, The video does not represent Boone County nor the City of Harrison.
While we cannot excuse the reprehensible behavior and words of individuals recorded in the video, we know for certain that they do not reflect the views of the majority of the good people of our communities, the group said.
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They added, It is obvious there is still work to be done in our area and across the nation. We must constantly strive to do better, and we pledge our continued efforts in that regard.
Harrison was recently featured in the Boston Globe after Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched to the Harrison town square in June. The protest, despite the presence of armed counter-protesters, was largely peaceful, the Globe reported. A single armed Black man led a march consisting mostly of white people, and police held back and quieted counter-protesters, according to the Globe.
Harrison is a town of just over 13,000 and is more than 95 percent white, according to U.S. Census data. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports the city is the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan. In 2019, the SPLC tracked 15 hate groups in Arkansas -- five were in Harrison.
Shedding some of the towns racist reputation can start with getting rid of a billboard, Bliss said. The still image for the video is Bliss holding his sign in front of a billboard for White Pride Radio.
If thats not Harrison, Arkansas, then they as a city, as a town, need to take it down, he said. Go get a cherry picker, a ladder, whatever you need to do. If thats not you, then take that down and support each other in doing that. If it remains up, the whole town is complicit in allowing that to remain.
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