Did Bob Costas really refer to a black European Olympics medalist as an “African-American?” What kind of mindless politically correct stupidity is that?
And while we're on the subject, if an “African-American” who is actually from the United States wins a medal, how do the Olympics officials decide which African country gets to share the credit for that medal? Just wondering.
Still more ... if an African-American wins a gold medal, what national anthem do they play? Have they created some kind of medley?
One of the funniest things I remember was hearing someone referring to a person from Africa as an “African-American African.” It certainly does seem that, when exposed to global culture, the American PC-ese seems to range from misguided to offensive. The same people who cry the loudest over discrimination over ethnic origin are also the same people who make sure we can't look past ethnic origin, thereby making all people equal.
Somewhere, we seem to have swallowed whole the lie that what someone else says about us has to be true. If someone calls you ugly, are you ugly? If someone calls you mean, are you mean? If things worked like that, I'd just pay someone to call me a 6-foot, 3-inch Harrison Ford look-a-like!
Now, I'm not ignoring our country's trouble past when it comes to true equality, but I'm also not convinced that affirmative action and political correctness have gotten us any closer to that equality. To suggest that someone be color-blind is ridiculous; on the other hand, differences are not generally liabilities. This infatuation with words, though, is a trickier thing. Freedom of speech is important, as evidenced by its being enshrined as Article 1 in the Bill of Rights, yet political correctness is the complete opposite of this. If jerks are not allowed to say jerky things, how do you know who the jerks are? I'm certainly not advocating being personally offensive to another individual; there are standards of decorum, manners, and courtesy for that. (See “jerk” in the prior sentence.) Hate speech, political speech, religious speech - it's all speech, and it gives the hearer an idea of what is in the speakers' heart.
And then - if a violation of the PC speech codes occurs, we get the calls for an apology. This, too, violates the principles of free speech; how “free” is speech that is demanded? If the offended party were to simply register their offense, then if the offending party cared that they had been offensive, they could choose to offer an apology. When was the last time you heard a demanded apology that was worth the time it took to listen to it? “I'm sorry IF you got offended by what I said” - that's not an apology for saying the words, it's an apology for the offense! It's almost like we're still in grade school. “Now, say you're sorry, Timmy…”
I also worry about generations reared with this viewpoint; if we're not tough enough to withstand words that we don't like, how in the world are we going to face down real evil? I believe there is a better way to handle that. If the words bother you, determine why they bother you; are they offensive words, do they point out your shortcomings, etc. Once you determine the source of the offense, you will know if you are dealing with a “the truth hurts” scenario, a “this person is a jerk” scenario, or a “that was unfair / inaccurate” scenario. You can then ignore the speech, change your ways, or register your offense, and move on. It's a much more productive way to deal with words that tried to hurt you.
I'll wrap up with this; if you regularly hear “racist dog-whistles” coming from your opponents, your opponents likely aren't the problem.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Daniel J. Summers
This year, the usual combined weekend of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday followed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday is not combined, as the third Monday of January precedes the third Sunday by 6 days. Plus, this year provided lots of content on both topics, so the usual combined column will be split.
Sadly, racial issues were front and center during the past year. In May, the residents of New Orleans, Louisiana re-elected Ray Nagin, the governor during Hurricane Katrina. Like Dr. King, he had a dream too. His was nowhere near as admirable, though; he wanted New Orleans rebuilt as a “Chocolate City”. Although he apologized for that comment, regular readers will know what I think about apologies (and non-regulars can learn here). Comments such as this only serve to deepen racial divides, not contribute to Dr. King's vision of a nation where race is not even a concern.
In May, the “Day Without Immigrants” attempted to paint those who are opposed to illegal immigration as racists, rather than fans of enforcing our existing laws. I've written about this recently (see the 2006 Year in Review: The Ridiculous), so I won't expound on this too much here. These folks are attempting to equate their plight with those of blacks, using the same language. However, the truth of their situation is that they are here illegally, and as such have no standing to demand rights and treatment of American citizens. There is a way for non-Americans to become Americans, and cutting in line in front of those who are observing the law is not that way.
Come November, Michael Richards went off on a racial rant during a stand-up comedy show. This was followed by, you guessed it, apology after apology upon apology, with a side helping of apology. And again, these ring hollow with me. Richards' racism shows what can happen in today's environment of focusing on race and stereotypes - even a successful actor such as he can still harbor these feelings. Like Nagin's apology, his apology does not erase the window into the soul that his words provided. The words themselves are not the problem; the attitude behind them are. (Let me be clear - I'm not against apologizing to someone if you personally hurt them. Not all apologies are as useless as the two I've described above.)
Wrapping up earlier this month, the Duke rape case carried immense racial undertones. Many people were quick to believe the story, especially since the accuser was a poor black woman, and the people she was accusing were rich, privileged white men. Now, it turns out that the plentiful DNA evidence collected from the accuser exonerates the lacrosse players. When this story broke, several people suggested it was a ploy by the District Attorney Mike Nifong, who was up for re-election, to pander to the black voters in Durham, North Carolina. Even now, the accuser's family are still buying into the hype. The accuser's cousin was interviewed on CNN a few nights ago, and here's part of what she said, with the highlighting added by me… (In the transcript of the entire show, do a search for “UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE” to find the beginning of this interview.)
It's unfortunate that it's turned into race. But it's always been there. It sensationalizes the story. You know, it's got class and it's got race in it. And I think from day one, a lot of people felt that these were privileged young white boys, who felt like they could treat these young women, strippers or not - I think they had the mentality that they were superior to these young women. And I think that's unfortunate. And I think that that's just the world we live in.
Read the part I highlighted - even though these guys have been found guilty of nothing, they're still privileged white boys who were superior to the others! And that's just “the world we live in.” Incredible! I do agree with her conclusion, though - it is truly unfortunate.
But, these prove that racism is still a problem, right? I'm not so sure. Sure, there are still racists of every color, and there always will be; that's one of the pitfalls of a free society. But, people do not have to be hyper-sensitive over racial issues, either - that is a conscious choice, although our current society has some pretty strong conditioning towards that sensitivity.
Let me wrap up by sharing my personal observations, based on data from Census 2000. I'm white, and I've lived as a minority for the past 9 years in Montgomery, Alabama. This city is 50% black, 47% white. (Subtract “Hispanic origin” from White - they're counted both places.) For the next 4 years, I'll be living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city that is 40% Hispanic, 32% white, 3% black. In Montgomery, I've rarely felt unwelcome. When we go out to parks or the mall, nearly everyone I meet is friendly, no matter their skin color. We'll talk about our families, or crazy things our kids do. Sometimes, we'll even discuss contentious things, like the war in Iraq. Depeche Mode said it more than 20 years ago - people are people.
The only exception to this was in some stores and restaurants. Usually, this was just unfriendly service - and, this can't all be blamed on racial differences, as I've had woeful service from all races. The most offensive time (to me) was the store where two black customers in line behind me were checked out before me. In these cases, though, did I call my local city commissioner, or the media? Nope - I just kept my feet and dollars away from those establishments. That's the way a free society works - you're free to be a jerk, and I'm free to not give you my money.
I'm looking forward to Albuquerque. I'm not there yet, so I can't say this for certain, but I'm pretty sure that most folks out there are friendly as well. As we go around the parks, malls, restaurants, and churches of that city, we will meet Americans just like us - folks who want a safe nation, clean streets, and the best for their children. Apart from some loudmouths, Dr. King's dream is being realized every day; hopefully, common sense will begin to prevail among all the races, and the “racial offense” industry will begin to wither. If the money spent on trying to make people apologize or comply with some minutia of the law was instead spent on positive things, this nation would be much better off.
(To read previous years' columns, select the “Race” category from the sidebar.)
Here recently, there has been a spate of apologies. Now, I believe in owning up for your actions when you are wrong, and I am training my children to do the same. But these mass apologies to which I'm referring are nothing more than meaningless “I feel your pain” drivel.
First up is the recent Senate apology for not outlawing lynching. For starters, there is no one in the Senate today who was around then and didn't “outlaw” lynching at the Federal level. Besides, lynching was already illegal, under assault and murder laws - whether backwoods Southern police departments prosecuted offenders is not the domain of the Senate (legislative branch - law enforcement is a task of the executive branch). The only thing this resolution does is bring up, yet again, the terrible part of Southern history that is lynching. It reminds some Americans, now in their eighties and nineties, of a time that they've worked hard to overcome and forget. With the Senate still dragging their feet on judicial confirmations, wasting their time on this meaningless document seems ludicrous. One pundit has an interesting take on it (although his view of whether it was “good” or not differs from mine) - he says that this resolution forced Senators to make a political choice. (I'm proud to say that one my senators, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), as well as Richard Shelby (R-AL) and both Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) and John Cornyn (R-TX) did not put their names on this.)
Next up is Richard Durbin's comments regarding the military, and his subsequent statement that he termed an "apology." He has used the patented “if then” apology technique - if what I said offended you, then I'm sorry. It's hard to say when this came into vogue - he's certainly not the first to try to pass something like that off as an apology. He said what he said, and offered us a window into his soul, his beliefs. If he doesn't have the spine to stick up for his conviction, well… that probably makes him like 70%+ of the elected officials in Washington, I suppose. ScrappleFace had a great parody on Sen. Durbin's apology - the “first draft” is a lot closer to an apology than what he actually said!
This apologizing can really get inane and picky - a candidate for office in New York has now apologized because, in describing her civil rights work in the 1960's, referred to a police vehicle as a "paddy wagon." This is absolutely ridiculous. I'm glad our Founding Fathers didn't have such thin skin as their progeny has now developed - they would have demanded an apology from Britain, and while they were standing there with their hands on their hips, the British would have killed them all.
Mass apologies, and apologies over trifling little issues, are meaningless. The only good thing they do is make it easy to tell who is more concerned with feelings than with accomplishment. As we go through life, things happen that either offend us, hurt us, or make us mad. When faced with these circumstances, we have two choices; we can either allow it to keep us down, and focus on our own feelings, or we can use it as motivation to make our lives better. The rugged men who founded our country chose the latter, and so do I. What will you choose?