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March 25, 2008

Getting Beyond Racism

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Recently in response to some disturbing videos of his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama urged America to have a long overdue conversation about race. An honest conversation.

I often wonder if we will ever get to that point, or indeed if such a thing as an honest conversation on race is even possible in this country? I don't see how it can be, when the truth of the matter is that we are still so conscious of skin color that we refuse to conduct the conversation in a race-neutral fashion?

Consequently, blacks are allowed to say certain things:

Obama acknowledges, with no small irony, that he benefits from his race.

If he were white, he once bluntly noted, he would simply be one of nine freshmen senators, almost certainly without a multimillion-dollar book deal and a shred of celebrity. Or would he have been elected at all?

Yet if whites say exactly the same thing, they are accused of racism:

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," Ferraro told a local California newspaper last week.

"And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept," Ferraro said.

The only difference between those two statements, really, is the skin color of the speaker. So why did Ms. Ferraro's comment create such a furor? And more importantly, why on earth has Mr. Obama mischaracterized her comment, when he freely admitted his race has conferred some political advantages?

“I don’t think that Geraldine Ferraro’s comments have any place in our politics or the Democratic Party. … I think they were divisive.”

He added: “I think that anybody who understands the history of this country knows they are patently absurd. I would expect that the same way those comments don’t have a place in my campaign, they shouldn’t have a place in Senator Clinton’s.”

But this isn't the first time Mr. Obama has condemned "divisive" remarks that would "have no place in his campaign":

"I understand MSNBC has suspended Mr. Imus. But I would also say that there's nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group. And I would hope that NBC ends up having that same attitude. ... He didn't just cross the line. He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America. The notions that as young African-American women — who I hope will be athletes — that that somehow makes them less beautiful or less important. It was a degrading comment. It's one that I'm not interested in supporting."

Oddly enough, though, Mr. Obama was interested in supporting the Reverend Wright's undeniably divisive remarks about racist white America. Moreover, he wasn't the least bit worried they might feed the worst stereotypes (about whites) his young daughters have to deal with. It's a strange paradox for a man who claims to want to unite America. And we blindly follow suit, assigning motives according to melanin content. This, for instance, is obviously racist:

The "Old Punk" post was pretty bad. I wouldn't have linked to it if I'd read it, but I didn't read it -- or, for that matter, link it. Meanwhile, I suppose I could start looking closely at the stuff Greenwald links to, but that would require me to slog through his posts

While this can't possibly be, by virtue of the speaker's skin color:

And yet the content is the same. The sentiments are the same.

And the thing is, I did read Old Punk's posts: both his original one and the response to his critics. And I watched the Chris Rock video. And the same thing struck me, as I watched, and read.

Almost any conversation about race in America is bound to be filled with comforting platitudes and if it isn't; if it starts to stray into the raw, honest territory Barack Obama says he wants us to venture into, things get uncomfortable mighty fast. Things will be said that make us cringe, on both sides of the fence. And when that happens, we need to be extremely careful about making reflexive accusations of racism.

Because we cannot ever, really, know what is in someone else's heart, merely by looking at the color of their skin. If we do presume to know that, aren't we indulging in... well, racism?

What I saw, when I watched that Chris Rock video, and when I read Old Punk's posts, was two sides of the same coin.

It didn't take a genius to see the compassion beneath the anger, in both cases. It only took a wife and mother. Anyone with an ounce of sense can see that beneath Chris Rock's profanity laced, hard-edged comedy lies an amazingly sensitive and intelligent young man. Just as pressure transforms coal into diamonds, he turns the painful ironies of life into laughter. It didn't take a genius, either, to see the pain beneath Old Punk's anger. At least for me it didn't. I saw a human being who took a chance. And at the end of the day, that is what we all are: not black or white, but human. Fallible.

When I look into the faces of American blacks, I see our shared heritage, not the things that divide us. We are family. We are inextricably connected, sometimes in surprising ways.

The other day, I was taken to task for the title of my last post. After thinking about it carefully, I still do not think it was unjust even though it was frank and no doubt made some people uncomfortable. Many things, if we are finally going to attempt to talk about matters of race, are going to make us uncomfortable. But if we are ever going to get past race, get past employing double standards, get past making knee-jerk judgments about each other, part of what we need to get past is this business of looking the other way when something is said that seems wrong.

After thinking about it, I still think that the 'typical white person' remark, in reference to Mr. Obama's grandmother, was objectively wrong. I still believe it does amount to subtle race baiting of a particularly pernicious kind, because according to the rules of the day it cannot be addressed or even responded to without exactly the response I got: "Leave him alone."

But I think that is misguided, because I was not attacking Mr. Obama, but calling out the conflict between what he had called for, and what he did. As someone who is running for President, I think his public actions and statements are fair game, so long as he is not attacked personally, and I did not do so. Furthermore, I believe that full equality demands the same standard be honestly and fairly applied, and I am (in this instance) treating Mr. Obama no differently than I would treat any other candidate. I have two problems with Mr. Obama's dismissal of his grandmother as a 'typical white person'. The first is that it conflicts with his memoirs:

He writes(pp.18-21):
. . . At a bank where she worked, Toot (his grandmother's nickname)made the acquaintance of the janitor, a tall and dignified black World War II vet she remembers only as Mr. Reed. While the two of them chatted in the hallways one day, a secretary in the office stormed up and hissed that Tood should never, ever, "call no nigger 'Mister.'" Not long afterworlds, Toot would find Mr. Reed in a corner of the building weeping quietly to himself. . . .

They (grandparents) decided Toot would keep calling Mr. Reed "Mister," . . . . Grams began to decline invitations from coworkers to go out for a beer, telling them he had to get home to keep the wife happy.

He goes on to tell a story about his 11 year old mother who played in the front yard with a young Black girl. Neighborhood Children gathered outside the picket fence shouting: "Nigger lover!" and "Dirty Yankee!" The grandmother tried to get them into the house. The grandfather went further:

Gramps was beside himself when he heard what had happened. He interrogated my mother, wrote down names. The next day he took the morning off from work to visit the school principal. He personally called the parents of some of the offending children to give them a piece of his mind.

No, his grandfather did not say that he could no more disown racist whites than disown the white community. The grandmother, he dismisses as a "typical white (racist) person" explained their attitudes thus:

Your grandfather and I just figured we should treat people decently, Bar. That's all."

My second objection to Mr. Obama's characterization of his grandmother is that, as Morgan Freeman so eloquently stated, labeling people by skin color only perpetuates the very problems he claims he is trying to get beyond:

Morgan Freeman says the concept of a month dedicated to black history is "ridiculous."

"You're going to relegate my history to a month?" the 68-year-old actor says in an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" to air Sunday "I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history."

Freeman notes there is no "white history month," and says the only way to get rid of racism is to "stop talking about it."

The actor says he believes the labels "black" and "white" are an obstacle to beating racism.

"I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man," Freeman says.

He could well have said that his grandmother reacted as 'a typical person' (i.e., we all sometimes make unconscious judgments on the basis of skin color). I think that would have been the first really honest and courageous statement Barack Obama has made about race. But he didn't do that. He was caught in the trap he accuses others of: the trap of unconscious bias. Does that make him a racist?

Of course not. I think it makes him human.

As I've said before, though I don't think the answer to racism is more talk, the only way to get past our ridiculous squeamishness about certain aspects of both the race and religion debates may well be to just bring them out into the open. There is nothing wrong with asking a candidate for public office (especially one who has invited debate on a topic) polite questions; nor is there anything wrong with discussing current events.

Where I do draw the line is at name calling. I understand the impulse that makes people want to use the word 'nigger'. One seeks, by altering our instinctive associations with that word, to lessen the pain it invokes. That is why many blacks object when whites use the term, yet utter it themselves with careless abandon. But the bottom line is that whoever uses the word, it is still an ugly name.

One day, hopefully, that is all it will be: just one of many ugly slurs with no more power to offend or hurt than any other ugly name. But why go there? Is name calling ever really acceptable behavior? Why not just object to the behavior rather than condemning the person?

In the end, the right response to racism has to be to uphold a consistently applied standard of behavior that holds true regardless of skin color. Chris Rock had it right: we don't get to congratulate ourselves for doing the right thing, whether we are white, black, yellow or brown.

We are supposed to do the right thing, every day, regardless of our skin color. That is the standard Barack Obama forgot to uphold, and one we have a right to expect from the next President of the United States.

Posted by Cassandra at March 25, 2008 05:58 AM

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It seems to me that Sen. Obama's comment about his grandmother being a typical white person is quite far off the mark. Clearly by his own words, she and his grandfather were extraordinary people, regardless of their skin color.

Rather than throwing Toots under the bus, I would love to have heard him said of her, "She was anything but typical. At a time when a mixed race child was unusual to say the least, she took me in, raised me right, loved me, nurtured me, educated me, and was proud of me." Sadly, he couldn't bring himself to say that. Perhaps it never occurred to him that it was so.

On the other hand, if those actions are commonly accepted as typical white-person behavior, well, perhaps we could hear more from him about it?

Posted by: Stoutcat at March 25, 2008 11:17 AM

It seems to me that what would be really positive, at this point, would be to hear less from our leaders about skin color and more about the right standard of behavior. That's a better way if we intend to get along despite all the incentives not to.

People can always find reasons to get angry. But when you focus less on what other people are doing (which - after all - you really can't control) and more on your own behavior, it's easier not to get needlessly bent out of shape. That's what bugs me about Wright - he spends way too much time getting mad about what other people are doing, saying and thinking. It's irrelevant and you can't change other people's behavior or attitudes from a pulpit on Sunday morning.

The world is full of decent people, some not so decent, and most are a mixed lot. I know what impression I got of his grandmother from his remarks, and then I read his own account of her and was shocked at the apparent disconnect. And maybe both are true. But that only goes to show that the truth is way too complex for easy characterizations and that he, too, isn't above making generalizations based on race.

I am inclined to think his grandmother deserved better of him. I hope I wouldn't have been so quick to do the same in his position.

Posted by: Cass at March 25, 2008 11:40 AM

I took you to task not for frankness, but the opposite: for using the term "race-baiting" where it wasn't due. If you'd been writing about Jesse Jackson, I'd not have complained. If, in other words, it was a frank and correct description, I'd have supported you.

The problem wasn't that it was frank, but that it was misplaced, as you yourself admitted at the time. Obama isn't running on being black, but trying very hard never to have to mention the fact again. He wanted to say just enough to put the matter to rest, not to base a campaign on it.

I think that tagging him as a "race-baiter" inappropriately runs right up against the prohibition against name-calling. It makes him seem like just another Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. Rev. Wright definitely is just exactly that: you can call him a race-baiter all you want. Obama really isn't.

I don't object to holding him to account for his treatment of his grandmother, which was an unjust way to speak of an elderly lady in poor health -- and doubly unjust, since it appears her life and family were devoted anti-racists.

I just want us to take care to be fair to him. He is a politician, and politicians are not usually good people. But he isn't an Al Sharpton, or even a Rev. Wright. His speech wasn't on the evils of America, as you would expect from them, but on its best qualities. This is a noteworthy fact, something we should take care to remember.

You say we are supposed to do the right thing every day, but are fallible. Fair enough. So let's recognize his faults, but also his virtues -- and give him credit for the occasions when he does do the right thing, even as we hold him accountable for what he does and says that is wrong.

Posted by: Grim at March 25, 2008 11:55 AM

Now, on the new question -- the Old Punk post -- this is what Chesterton said:

What is the matter with the pessimist? I think it can be stated by saying that he is the cosmic anti-patriot. And what is the matter with the anti-patriot? I think it can be stated, without undue bitterness, by saying that he is the candid friend. And what is the matter with the candid friend? There we strike the rock of real life and immutable human nature.

I venture to say that what is bad in the candid friend is simply that he is not candid. He is keeping something back -- his own gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things. He has a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help. This is certainly, I think, what makes a certain sort of anti-patriot irritating to healthy citizens. I do not speak (of course) of the anti-patriotism which only irritates feverish stockbrokers and gushing actresses; that is only patriotism speaking plainly. A man who says that no patriot should attack the Boer War until it is over is not worth answering intelligently; he is saying that no good son should warn his mother off a cliff until she has fallen over it. But there is an anti-patriot who honestly angers honest men, and the explanation of him is, I think, what I have suggested: he is the uncandid candid friend; the man who says, "I am sorry to say we are ruined," and is not sorry at all. And he may be said, without rhetoric, to be a traitor; for he is using that ugly knowledge which was allowed him to strengthen the army, to discourage people from joining it. Because he is allowed to be pessimistic as a military adviser he is being pessimistic as a recruiting sergeant. Just in the same way the pessimist (who is the cosmic anti-patriot) uses the freedom that life allows to her counsellors to lure away the people from her flag. Granted that he states only facts, it is still essential to know what are his emotions, what is his motive. It may be that twelve hundred men in Tottenham are down with smallpox; but we want to know whether this is stated by some great philosopher who wants to curse the gods, or only by some common clergyman who wants to help the men.

The evil of the pessimist is, then, not that he chastises gods and men, but that he does not love what he chastises -- he has not this primary and supernatural loyalty to things.

Chris Rock is supposed to have that primary, supernatural loyalty to black America. Old Punk has not. He is not a traitor (as in the case of the Englishman rooting for his nation to lose the Boer war), because there is no reason why he should be loyal; but it is the same reason why people can hear Rock say a the same thing that Old Punk said, and not bat an eye.

I've heard white men of a certain generation say what Old Punk said many, many times. If he is indeed an Old Punk -- that is, if he was a Young Punk when Punk was new -- then he's of the right age.

I don't think people recognize the mode who haven't encountered it before: for it wasn't the determined racists and segregationists who speak that way. It was the people who believed race was real -- but were prepared to get beyond it, if you'd meet them halfway. The division of blacks into "blacks willing to adopt the mores of society" and... er, those not willing to do so, was meant to be terms for a working peace. It was always the anti-segregationists who spoke this way.

The reason it sounds racist to the modern chattering class is that modern intellectuals don't believe race is real. This sounds retrograde; but in the 1970s, it was just the opposite.

Posted by: Grim at March 25, 2008 12:12 PM

I didn't say he engages in race baiting all the time, Grim.

I said that he had engaged in race baiting. Those are two entirely different things. You and I may differ on whether what I said was justified, and you are entitled to your opinion. However, in my opinion he has fairly consistently (over the past few weeks) called foul on instances of behavior on one side that he dislikes while excusing far worse behavior on the other side and then saying, "It's time for an honest discussion of race in America."

I am sorry, but in my opinion when you do something like that in a climate where one half of the populace has (by custom) been bullied into silence by constant accusations of racism, that amounts to taunting. I thought about this long and carefully before writing it.

And for the record, I didn't say you took me to task for frankness. I said you said it was unfair:

The other day, I was taken to task for the title of my last post. After thinking about it carefully, I still do not think it was unjust even though it was frank and no doubt made some people uncomfortable.

Whether you like it or not, I do have the right to disagree with you :p

I am made extremely uncomfortable by both Chris Rock and Old Punk. More so by Old Punk, because (for all the obvious reasons) his 'motives' or loyalty are more suspect. But as I pointed out, I don't know either man. And so, perhaps I should have a more open mind and not let that knee jerk too quickly.

And I didn't accuse him of being an Al Sharpton or a Rev. Wright. But he was not honest about the Rev. Wright brouhaha from the get-go and even then (as I have pointed out twice now) is employing a bit of a double standard. So I do think I'm being fair. You (again) do not agree.

But I am curious to know what exactly you think it means when someone says they want to have a real conversation about race, yet refuses to deal with the fact that he is persistently employing a double standard himself in that regard? Who is being 'fair', and why am I 'unjust' when I point that out? You are extending my use of a term in one instance of pointing out specific behavior and calling it name-calling.

I happen to think that is unfair. If that were true, one could never take issue with any behavior. As a matter of fact, by your standard, you have 'namecalled' me :p I'm an 'unfair person' because I did something you don't agree with.

Now does that strike you as reasonable?

Posted by: Cass at March 25, 2008 12:42 PM

"I just want us to take care to be fair to him.

Um....no, and why should I? Just to avoid having some other person point a finger at me and say, "You did it because he's black."? Bull.

He knew over 11 months ago that this moment with his pastor was coming. [emphasis mine]

"If Barack gets past the primary," said the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the New York Times in April of last year, "he might have to publicly distance himself from me. I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen." Pause just for a moment, if only to admire the sheer calculating self-confidence of this. Sen. Obama has long known perfectly well, in other words, that he'd one day have to put some daylight between himself and a bigmouth Farrakhan fan. But he felt he needed his South Side Chicago "base" in the meantime. So he coldly decided to double-cross that bridge when he came to it. And now we are all supposed to marvel at the silky success of the maneuver.

He knew, yet continued to seek the advice of this man, continued to use the base of voters that Wright's church (which is highly predicated upon victimism due to their skin color) gave him. No, he isn't an Al Sharpton nor Rev. Wright, they are only angry men who speak whatever is on their minds -- however wrong I may believe them to be. Obama is worse. It seems to me that he is a devout follower of the old saying, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullsh!t." He's a con man; a snake oil salesman trying to peddle his wares as a cure-all for all that ails us. He could be a green and purple trivet or a flying stuffed marmoset for all I care. I ain't buying, and I certainly have no intentions of giving him the benefit of the doubt when trying to interpret the *true* meaning and intent contained within his rhetoric.

Posted by: Sly2017 at March 25, 2008 12:58 PM

And by the way Grim, I have always found it remarkable that people assume that just because someone is white, they could look upon the tragedy (for instance) of thousands of young black men and women wasting their lives and not realizing their potential and not feel sick inside.

I don't understand how anyone (black or white) could watch Rev. Wright carrying on, or all the angry people agreeing with him that the US government created the AIDS virus to kill blacks, and not feel sick inside.

Maybe for different reasons. Maybe not.

I don't know anymore. I know that I just cried.

I remember reading to my youngest boy's 3rd grade class. Rudyard Kipling - one of my favorite authors. Great moralist and storyteller. And the kids were spellbound even though I read the unabridged version.

And the ones who were the most animated and interested (I couldn't help noticing) in his class were the black girls. They almost leapt out of their seats with delight at the good parts. They just loved Akela, and Shere Khan and Raksha the Demon. They peppered me with questions - so much so that it was hard to get though the passage.

I couldn't help wondering how much of that enthusiasm for learning would be there in 9th grade. It was shining in their eyes - clearly nature put it there. What kills it? Not nature.

That is for certain.

What I am trying to get to, Grim, is that consistent standard. You believe I have failed to live up to it.

That is (I suppose) your right to show others where I have fallen down. I have tried to demonstrate where I believe Obama isn't living up to it, because I think the principle matters greatly, not because I am vindictive.

But I suppose we will have to differ on this.

Posted by: Cass at March 25, 2008 01:02 PM

No indeed.

I said (the other day) that I wanted to take issue with your labeling of Obama's speech as race baiting. I explained why. You said it might, indeed, be unfair to him.

Now you say you think it wasn't. Fine; we could have had that argument at the time, and we can have it now.

I just want to be clear that my objection wasn't to the use of "frank talk," nor because:

"...according to the rules of the day it cannot be addressed or even responded to without exactly the response I got: 'Leave him alone.'"

I didn't say to leave him alone. I asked -- as courteously as I know how -- for you to please take special care to be fair, or even generous, while conducting the debate.

The potential for damage here is very great. By all means, let us be frank and fair. Let us not be bullied. But let us try to be generous to each other.

What Obama has done is categorically better than what the race-baiters of the country do; and it's aimed at finding terms on which all Americans can work together.

Now, it's true that he wants all Americans to work together to do several things I would prefer were left undone; and to cease doing some things I think are critically important. All that is fair game, as is the business with his grandmother, and so forth.

Just, please, be careful. Be generous. Argue with him all you want, but remember that this is one of those situations where courtesy is most important. It shows that you have that supernatural loyalty that Chesterton meant -- that love that rises from a sympathetic heart, and allows criticisms to heal rather than further wound.

Posted by: Grim at March 25, 2008 01:05 PM

Grim, I don't really know what to say.

I have already taken your point on board, and anything I say at this point will undoubtedly be something I regret. I am not a stupid person, and hardly an unsympathetic one.

People of good will can and do look at the same situation and come to different conclusions. I believe I will let it go at that.

Posted by: Cass at March 25, 2008 01:30 PM

Then so shall I.

I have no doubt of your good heart or sympathy. Otherwise, I would not even try to talk to you about these things; if I did not think you felt called to be kind, I would let you pass.

Posted by: Grim at March 25, 2008 02:18 PM

I think sometimes the instinct to be kind to one person can lead us to be unjust to another.

I am wary of attempts to solve intractable social problems by "talking about them".

I am suspicious of the value of my sympathy, though I didn't used to be, towards people who I suspect would be better served by equity. But then that's why I'm now a conservative.

I instinctively like Barack Obama a lot more than I like Geraldine Ferraro. He is easier to like. But I don't think that is right. Or fair.

All of these things cause my heart to war with my brain and mostly give me a giant headache.

Posted by: Cass at March 25, 2008 03:03 PM

It would be nice if our candidates for President talked about things that affect all of us equally, and they can actually do something about.

Like say, the National debt, or that whopping big bill due to our kids and grandkids for SS and Medicare.

Maybe it's just me but as a parent I have real worries for the future of my family, and the racial divide isn't that high on the list. I would suspect most parents feel that way, of all races.

Posted by: Allen at March 25, 2008 03:24 PM

Gramercy for the desire not to talk about these things. I have never understood the desire to have 'a national conversation about race.' I can't imagine it helping.

As for the value of your sympathy, it means something to me. I am not really thinking of Obama, or Wright; I am thinking of a friend of mine, a black officer who has poured his heart into the Obama campaign.

When Obama loses, if he loses because of this, it is going to be very hard for this friend -- and thousands like him, millions like him. It's going to be very hard, even if we are as kind and as fair as we can be.

Some people, of course, won't be fair, or kind. But it matters to me that you are, because you matter to me. What you think matters. Most of the world, I couldn't care one way or the other. If my friend should ever look here -- by whatever accident -- I don't want him to be hurt. I want him to think, "Yes, I understand. They were fair, and even kind, even just. They didn't destroy him. He did this to himself."

He never will look here, but I will; and when I do, and I think of him, I want to think, "Yes, he would understand."

Posted by: Grim at March 25, 2008 03:28 PM

Talk to comics about race, and there is a standard rule....blacks can make fun of their own race, Jews can make fun of theirs, latinos theirs,and white guys and gals can make fun of theirs. Now in the context of a bit, other races can poke fun at another. But if the comic draws a nasty stereotype, then he runs the risk of being marginalized by clubs and other comics.

That is the brilliance of Rock. He couches it in the right manner. Now, politically and culturally, the road is mined with far more IEDs. Granted, an African American of Obamas stature, charm and gravitas does benefit from his status as African American. However, Jesse Jackson would not benefit the same way. And for Geraldine Ferraro to imply (my interpretation)and presuppose he would not be in that position if he were white clearly smacks of a pernicious, yet an innocent form of racism. We will never know if this is true. But by stating that, she attempts to imply he doesn't have the personal qualities to be where he is. For her it is all or none. And in stating it the way she did, she boosts her candidates bonfides. This is cut-throat and borne in prejudicism/racism. However, I doubt seriously that Geraldine Ferraro is racist.

Obama's comments about being black imply he is able to compliment his position by virtue of his race, and it is stated from a personal position.

Reverand Wright, on the other hand, demonstrates far more racism, in that he is prejudging all whites in the same vein as segregationist whites, and leaders of an era he grew up in as a child and a young man. In fact, it could be argued quite strongly (as Cornell West does) that forms of this racism still exist today. So, although Wright's comments are based in truth and a collective feeling that injustices still exist for many black people, his portrayal of "whites" as inherently evil and a collective, is racist. I don't find it alarming when certain politicians make inherently prejudice statements and behave as if it is honest and open. The examples are far too numerous, and one need go any further than many radio talk show hosts (I'm not referring to Imus here)to hear such statements.

The comedy of Lenny Bruce dealt directly and effectively with this cultural mindset in such a manner that he made quite a bit of sense. The alarming fact about race in this nation, contrary to Lenny Bruce's position, is that we are never fortunate enough to engage in such a spirited and constructive debate because the actual structure of our society, economically and culturally often prevents that. As well, the media is doing no one any favors when all we see for an entire week is Jeremiah Wright screaming, or Geraldine Ferraro making her comments. And for arguments sake, which video was played more frequently of the two? As well, the suppositions provided by any talking head on T.V. was as absurd and disheartening as Rev. Wright, or Ms. Ferraro's comments.

Posted by: Miguel at March 25, 2008 04:34 PM

You just have to remember that "We need to have an open and honest discussion about race" is really just a code-phrase for "You all really need to just agree to whatever we say".

Posted by: Frank Black at March 25, 2008 05:07 PM

No, no, no, you just don't understand.

Mr. Obama's race gives him a distinct advantage. Except when it doesn't.

It depends.

And it's okay for him to say it, or not say it. But not when you say it or don't say it.

Because it's okay/special/different when he does it. But not you.

Got it? It's kind of a Zen thing.

Posted by: jblog at March 25, 2008 05:11 PM

I understand, Grim. I do. I worry about that all the time.

I probably worry more about people's feelings being hurt that any other single thing when I write. And then I worry about not saying what I think needs to be said, because of that. I don't know what to do about it.

There are so many people's feelings, and it becomes difficult to say anything, if that becomes the standard. But I hear you, and what you say is not unreasonable. It is just that the double standard bothers me and I think it is a thing which needs saying, uncomfortable though it is. Believe it or not, it is said with love.

I am sarcastic a lot, but often when I am sarcastic, it is because I am trying to distance myself from some strong emotion. Humor is a defense mechanism. It allows us to back off a bit from things we find painful or distressing. But you know me well enough to know I never want to hurt anyone.

And I don't disagree with you, Miguel. Not at all. I'm not sure what Ferraro meant to imply (and neither does anyone else, though they may suspect). I just know that the reaction to her remark was disproportionate. It is equally fair for her to suspect sexism in the treatment of Hillary. For the record, there are times when that thought has crossed my mind, and it's hardly an illogical thought for a female politician to have. Odd, though, that Obama isn't more sensitive to that, no?

Kind of nice for once not to be arguing, huh? :)

Posted by: Cass at March 25, 2008 05:41 PM

I read an interesting thing (sorry I can't remember where) opining that the Civil Rights movement demanded many conceptual changes from the white community but practically none from the black community. As such, here we are 40+ years later and from my perspective the sort of systemic and personal culture of racism that existed even thirty years ago in the white community is simply no more, but the perceptions of victimhood and oppression are still apparently part and parcel to the black cultural experience.

The paradigm shift among whites in America that resulted from the Civil Rights movement had to be driven from within, by the accumulation of enough whites who recognized the wrongness in the existing culture and worked to change it. I fear the only real end to the national fixation with race is when enough people in the black community decide to reject what is wrong in their community.

I was disappointed to see Sen. Obama, an influential and intelligent man fail to strike a blow against ignorance and bigotry when he had a chance and apparently just for personal political gain.

Posted by: submandave at March 25, 2008 06:11 PM

Frankly, I think America has two races of people : Black and non-Black.

It is evident to me that Asians and (most) Hispanics just don't get as worked up about race as blacks do. Asians, in fact, have a higher avg. income than whites, so racism isn't holding them back.

Now, Hispanics already outnumber blacks, and Asians are also growing as a group, comprising 11% of the population in California, and 5% of the total US population.

By 2012, the visibility of Asians and Hispanics will make it harder for the black victimology to continue. Asians and Hispanics, not whites, will effectively be the ones to tell blacks to 'get over it'.

Posted by: Tood at March 25, 2008 06:11 PM

I'd like to hear folks like Grim, who apparently think Obama's speech was the bee's knees, address the shameless opportunism of it: here's a guy who's got his ass in a political sling over his 20-year association with a foaming-at-the-mouth hatemonger, and suddenly now is the time for a serious national conversation about race?

It was a nice speech. Obama may even believe some of it. But at the end of the day it was a cheap political ploy, not an appeal to America's better nature.

Posted by: BC at March 25, 2008 06:26 PM

Cassandra, it's good to see you back. You are always willing to wrestle in an honest and intelligent way with difficult problems.

And it's also interesting to see Obama wrestle with a difficult problem--he's a gifted politician but he's coasted along so far trimming and turning coats where he needed to to get ahead.

Now he's getting a lot of scrutiny and having some trouble handling it. It gets difficult in there in a presidential campaign and he may, or may not, be up to the task. We'll see what grace he can exhibit under pressure. He's had virtually a free ride so far.

The call for a dialogue on race relations is specious--as though we've never had one before. But what the heck, he's dog paddling along in the political rapids, and we'll see if he can swim to shore.

Meantime Ms. Hillary is finding that you really
"can't make this stuff up"--when she was talking about landing under sniper fire, and old allies are taking a real political shot at her about her "misstatement"--aka a bald faced lie. Hillary's political appetite is so great that one can, metaphorically speaking, speculate she'd steal the pennies off a dead man's eyes if she thought it would get her one more vote.

The winner of this Democratic party dog fight will turn his or her guns on the USS McCain shortly after Denver, and who knows what will spill out from all of that.

Posted by: Mike Myers at March 25, 2008 07:21 PM

20 YEARS. That's One Thousand Forty Sundays. I'm supposed to believe that in 2 and a half YEARS of Sundays, Mr. Obama never heard his pastor cross the line? He never considered finding a congregation that wasn't so inflammatory? Maybe distancing himself from Rev. Wright sometime before he (Mr. Obama) became prominent on the national stage.

That shows attrocious political judgement, and that alone is enough to disqualify him from being elected President.

Posted by: XBradTC at March 25, 2008 08:55 PM

This really isn't all that difficult to understand.

Chris Rock was classifying people on the basis of their behavior. The OldPunk was classifying people on the basis of their skin color and deeply important stuff like the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, and the music they like.

That's what makes it racist.

Posted by: Jennifer at March 25, 2008 08:57 PM

I admire Thomas Sowell, Duke Ellington, Roberto Clemente, Muhammed Ali, Alexandre Dumas, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Count Basie, Tiger Woods, and Bill Cosby. There are many others but that's a sampling of the famous folks whose courage, genius, character, and achievements I would be proud if I could get anywhere in the vicinity of. The bald truth of the matter is that they're better than I am, and it doesn't arouse a flicker of racial feeling in me to acknowledge it. They have enriched and elevated my own experience of life.

Yep. Sounds pretty racist to me - it's almost as though he focuses on clothes, skin color and music to the exclusion of anything else.

Posted by: Cass at March 25, 2008 09:11 PM

Cass - oh, I see. You're suggesting that he knows as much about the kids with the baggy clothes in the beaters listening to the hip hop music as he does about famous people whose biographies/life stories/accomplishments/daily activities are in the daily news, making him feel as if he knows them.

I fail to see that as helping him, since he's still making character judgements about people he doesn't know based on nothing more than skin color, clothes, cars, and music. That's pretty much the textbook definition of racism.

Posted by: Jennifer at March 25, 2008 09:21 PM

Actually, the way I understood racism, it had more to do with judging people solely on skin color.

Clothes and music didn't really come into it, being more in the realm of behavior, doncha know? As I told my sons when they were of an age to get a job, "It's a free society. You may dress, talk, and act however you wish. However, keep in mind that you are broadcasting your intentions with regard to your attitude toward society in general and rules in particular and employers, teachers and authority figures can and will take notice. This is why men shave and wear ties to work and women wear nylons and avoid low cut attire - it ain't because we enjoy conforming, but because we understand the social compact. So by all means choose freely, but do not be surprised if you advertise yourself as a rebel or an outcast and find yourself regarded as one."

And by the way, I have to say that I don't think much of cop killer or misogynistic lyrics myself.

There is such a thing as right and wrong, and you may not agree with me Jennifer, but you're going to have a difficult time branding someone a racist for expecting exactly the same behavior from someone else that they expect from their own son or daughter. Or from themselves. Especially when the reason they made their own children do it was because they genuinely believe it's the only way to get anywhere in life.

Posted by: Cass at March 25, 2008 09:40 PM

--she took me in, raised me right, loved me, nurtured me, educated me, and was proud of me.--

Beautifully said. Why would he not express his love and gratitude foremost?

Posted by: red at March 25, 2008 09:51 PM

Uh, excuse me, but when they're focusing their disapproval solely on kids with a different skin color who don't behave exactly like the behavoir they expect from their son or daughter, it's racism. There are plenty of white kids who wear the baggy clothes, drive beaters, and listen to rap. OldPunk for some reason doesn't have a problem with them, or if he does, he's not talking about it. Those kids are only different - as far as he knows - from the ones he calls "niggers" in that they have a different skin color.

Some people believe the only way to get anywhere in life is to raise their kids in church X,Y, or Z. And yet millions of people raise their kids in church A, B, or C, or in no church at all, and raise fine kids.

I'm not branding anyone a racist. OldPunk did that for himself by building his entire apologia for his racism on the fact that some black people are different, the differences make him uncomfortable, and therefore they are bad people who are looking for an excuse to hurt him. I don't know how you can read what he said and take anything else from it. Unless, of course, you judge people in the same way, knowing nothing more about them that what they wear, what they drive, what they listen to, and what skin color they have and using that to form an opinion that they are bad people.

Posted by: Jennifer at March 25, 2008 11:12 PM

Acting like BO is just a regular guy speaking his true mind is galactically naive. When white politicians exploit every opportunity whether fair or unfair, "cause politics ain't bean bag", we shrug. When BO bobs and weaves a little we're shocked, shocked to see this particular political boxer play the game.
It's all fair. It's fair by definition, because all's fair in love, war, and politics.

Posted by: bc at March 25, 2008 11:42 PM


What do you want me to address about it? He obviously decided to make the speech b/c he couldn't avoid it. I think he would like nothing more than to never have to mention the subject again.

Which, actually, I would also like.

Nail him on opportunism if you like -- it's a fair stroke.

I do think I'd like to dissent on the conventional wisdom about how he "should have" disowned Wright. There are certainly good reasons he should have, but what there aren't are any good opportunist reasons not to do so. Given that Wright himself was prepared to understand if Obama rejected him, it's odd to me that he didn't. I think he didn't have to worry about losing Wright's support, or that of Wright's demographic. They, like Wright, would have understood what he was doing.

The fact that he didn't disown Wright speaks to a certain personal loyalty that I think may be admirable. At the same time, it points to a certain unwillingness to accept that Wright is as bad as he is. Well, we do often judge our friends and those we care about less harshly than we judge strangers who do the same things; that's human nature.

It is refreshing to see a politician NOT just throw his best friend under the bus for a momentary advantage.

By the same token, it's distressing to see him throw his grandmother under the bus for the same advantage.

So -- there's your opportunism moment. He did wrong; but he also did some things that were right. I just want to point out both sets of things.

Posted by: Grim at March 26, 2008 12:21 AM

"I think he didn't have to worry about losing Wright's support, or that of Wright's demographic."
I can't help but wonder if that is simply because he's black, or because they believe that, after attending services faithfully for 20 years, he thinks as Rev. Wright does? (Which, IMHO, is not an admirable quality for a potential leader of the United States of America, the great melting pot.) Or both?

"They, like Wright, would have understood what he was doing."
You mean like Canada was supposed to just *understand* that his "...protectionist stand [regarding NAFTA] on the [campaign] trail was 'more reflective of political maneuvering than policy.'”?

While I agree with you that we often judge our friends and loved ones less harshly for behavior we would find unacceptable in others, I also believe that once you've made the decision to run for POTUS, the most public of servants, you are no longer afforded that luxury. For good or bad, the MSM has cultivated within the general American public the belief that every aspect of a candidate's life is *fair game* and falls within their idea of the *public's right to know*. (I personally believe this to be a bad idea, btw.) However, anyone who chooses to run for office in this day and age knows this when they make that choice. Obama clearly did when he acknowleged that he would *someday* have to distance himself from Rev. Wright. Instead of simply distancing himself from the Reverend from the beginning, he chose instead to ride the popularity and position that his membership in Rev. Wright's church afforded him until he was forced to do otherwise. He is not *judging* the Reverend and his inflammatory and racist statements. He is making excuses for him in the vain (and, IMO, desperate) hope that it will all just be forgotten *soon*.

Posted by: Sly2017 at March 26, 2008 02:30 AM

OldPunk for some reason doesn't have a problem with them, or if he does, he's not talking about it.

You know, you have an amazing ability to focus like a laser beam on what you wish to, neatly ignoring any information that might contradict your preconceived theories about life :p

What is the topic here? The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a black preacher, his rants against racist whites, and Obama's invitation to America to look at Wright's "anger". This "anger" manifests itself in young men wearing prison garb (impressive, that) and listening to music that talks about killing police officers (my son happens to be one, so as you might imagine, I don't take kindly to that) and referring to black women disrespectfully as bitches and whores. Of course this is perfectly fine - in fact, they attain celebrity status and make mega bucks for maligning and degrading said young black women - but when Don Imus says the same thing, fire up the Outrage-O-Meter! And IMO, both are distasteful and wrong, wrong, wrong, but I am only allowed to say that about Imus. But I digress...

You expected, in response to this, a rant about Japanese businessmen who lust after schoolgirls with Hello Kitty lunch boxes?

A rant about the pernicious effects of Sabado Gigante on American culture?

Clearly, you need to go back and read both his posts more carefully. And by the way, if you want to argue with Old Punk about his post, I suggest you do so over there in his comments section. I didn't write it and feel no particular need to defend him - he seems quite articulate and more than capable of defending himself. His post, and the sentiments therein, were entirely incidental to my point (which is that we infer subjective intent from skin color).

FWIW, there has been quite a bit of work on skin color racism in the black community (blacks preferring lighter colored blacks and stigmatizing those with more Negroid/African features). So how messed up is that? Whites, also, appear to have their own form of this going on, as we appear to have a genetic predilection for blonds with blue eyes - something I deeply resent as a formerly luscious brunette with big brown eyes :p

What is up with that, gentlemen? Give the ladies a break!!! :) Don't be a hater!

RE: Obama. FWIW, I have never thought he should have disowned Wright. They go back for years and it seems unreasonable to me to ask a man to disown someone he clearly loves. I happen to agree with his argument that we are all flawed and it is possible that a man may do much good, but also some evil.

What I wanted from him was a more clear acknowledgment that Wright's statements were wrong. He skirted the issue, IMO, with that business about anger, when he equated Wright's anger with anger over affirmative action.

I have a problem with equating anger over unproven conspiracy theories like that business about the government inventing the AIDS virus as some sort of Final Solution. What Wright conveniently 'forgets'... err... ignores is that whites have been the victims of experiments similar to the Tuskegee incident.

Like Jennifer, he tends to "forget" anything that contradicts his pet thesis: that he is uniquely persecuted.

Posted by: Cass at March 26, 2008 05:53 AM

Since I already have taken it up with OldPunk in his comments, I'll note that, like you, he seems incapable of distinguishing between fashions and behavior. It is, I think, a willful blind spot. And if you do not feel the need to "defend" him, I have a hard time understanding why you would put up video of Chris Rock calling people "niggers" based on behavior, equating it with OldPunk calling people "niggers" based on clothing, cars, music, and skin color, and then saying "they are two sides of the same coin."

No, they are not, for the reasons already outlined which for whatever reason you believe it profits you not to acknowledge.

As for Don Imus, as soon as those rappers using disgraceful language are given shows on national networks and start spouting misogynist or racist things on-air, we can equate the two. Imus was fired because his network obviously thought it was in their best commercial interests to no longer be associated with him. That's how capitalism works. If you have a problem with that, take it up with the network. And good luck with that. Obviously you're free to say whatever you like about the rappers and your disagreement with them, but since they aren't given a platform on national TV, the two situations do not equate. You haven't been really clear about what it is exactly you would like to see done about the rappers - it occurs to me that the people who listen to their music have chosen to purchase it, as is their right, so short of censoring them I don't really know what your expectations are, but let's be clear: no one is stopping you from voicing your disapproval, as you've claimed and as, in fact, you have done while at the same time claiming you're not allowed to do it. And then you've dragged in racism practiced by blacks against other blacks based on skin color, as if that's an excuse for white people to be racist, too. It isn't. Other people commit murders and robberies sometimes; that's not an excuse for you or me or anyone else to do those things.

In short, I find both your initial comparison of Rock to OldPunk, and your subsequent attempts to justify it to be disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst. The bottom line is there is no excuse for judging people just for what they look like, which as I have pointed out, Chris Rock did not do and OldPunk did do.

Posted by: Jennifer at March 26, 2008 08:43 AM

And then you've dragged in racism practiced by blacks against other blacks based on skin color, as if that's an excuse for white people to be racist, too. It isn't.


Nice try, Jennifer. It is more difficult to address what I did say than congratulating yourself for defeating an argument I did not make, but then that's always the problem, isn't it?

Last time I checked, people who listened to Imus chose to listen to his show, too; just as corporations choose which artists they will represent on record labels and which radio and TV personalities they will sponsor. Disingenuous?

Pot, meet kettle :p

Posted by: Cass at March 26, 2008 08:54 AM

I will say this much for you - you are entertaining.

Posted by: Cass at March 26, 2008 08:54 AM

Hell, Chris Rock doesn't even get called on his racism when he does his bit on "Crackers". It's one thing when he makes a racist rant about his own race but quite another when he does so for other races. I had him pegged as a racist long ago.

Posted by: BM at March 26, 2008 08:56 AM

I probably worry more about people's feelings being hurt that any other single thing when I write.

Except maybe worrying that the openings I keep leaving (big enought to slide a jack-knifed tandem through, sideways, BTW) will somehow turn into trivet-snatching forays...

Posted by: BillT at March 26, 2008 09:06 AM

Well now durnitall Bill...

Various members of The Oink Cadre keep telling me (when I embark on one of my patented I-am-womyn-hear-me-roar rants) that men do not *have* feelings :p

Are you trying to tell me that after all this time I *do* need to worry? How uber-distressing...

Posted by: Cass at March 26, 2008 09:13 AM

No, not disingenous.

Network television operates on publicly-owned airwaves, something that cannot be said for the average black teenager's car CD player.

As for "arguments you didn't make", you might try not dragging in everything including the kitchen sink in your defense if you aren't using it to make an argument. Did you or did you not point out that there is prejudice in the black community against darker-skinned blacks? Let's make this easy: "FWIW, there has been quite a bit of work on skin color racism in the black community (blacks preferring lighter colored blacks and stigmatizing those with more Negroid/African features). So how messed up is that? " If you don't want to "argue" it as a point, why are you throwing it out there?

Interesting how you no longer choose to attempt to claim that you weren't defending what OldPunk said. Funny thing about webpages - when you put stuff on them in print, and then further down the same page try to deny you put the stuff on them, it's not very effective.

Posted by: Jennifer at March 26, 2008 09:18 AM

Personally, I prefer brunettes. Also redheads, if it's the sort of reddish brown. But my wife has long raven locks, which are delightful to the eye. :)

Posted by: Grim at March 26, 2008 09:24 AM

I don't know, BM. I realize that different people's mileage can vary, but I am leary of assigning that term unless I have a fair amount of personal knowledge about a person. Willing to concede that you have the right to disagree with me, of course (as does Jennifer). But I just think we're way too twitchy on that score these days.

People have a lot of subjective likes and dislikes. They get annoyed with each other. And a lot of our annoyances and the areas in which we rub up against each other, IMO, have much more to do with culture than skin color. So is it really racism that animates the friction?

I don't think so, necessarily. A lot of whites, for instance, are very irritated by popular thug (or gangsta) culture and find it alien and repugnant. But so do many blacks. Is that racism? I don't think so. My own son (my oldest) came home wearing his pants down around his a** cheeks in HS and listening to hip-hop. My reaction was simple - pull up your trousers, son, or you're not leaving my house.

Period. And if he'd been a girl he wouldn't have left my house in a similar state of undress. Machts nichts.

On the hip-hop, I listened to what he was listening to. Much of it actually has a very positive message, and he still listens to it to this day. And he's a cop! He routinely tortures new recruits with it on patrol :p It's kind of a joke in his department.

I even have some on my iPod. But I wouldn't let him listen to anything with violent or misogynistic lyrics - that is gutter trash. But then he wasn't allowed to listen to white rockers who spout that garbage either. You don't bathe in a sewer - why allow filth into your brain?

So to me it is not race, but culture that is the issue. Some of the most brilliant contemporary intellectuals of the day happen to be black. If you are a true racist, your innate bias would prevent you from recognizing their genius (Old Punk, anyone?). But Jennifer discounts this because she wants to believe what she wants to believe.

You go, grrrrlllll :p As Chris Rock says, keep it real.

Posted by: Cass at March 26, 2008 09:25 AM

Well Grim, I happen to be partial to brown eyes and dark hair too :p But both my sons married blondes with blue eyes! I still love them, though :)

I'm obviously an evolutionary throwback. That, or I am just attracted to guys who remind me of my Dad, who has black hair and brown eyes. But I dated a variety of guys too. I think personality matters too.

I have to admit though, when I finally really looked at my husband, I fell hard and I imagine his looks had a lot to do with that.

Posted by: Cass at March 26, 2008 09:32 AM


Why do you say that Chris Rock objects to "behavior," but the other objection is to "clothing, cars, and music"? The objection is, as I read it, is not to the music -- but to blaring the music so loud others have to hear it (i.e., to a behavior). It is not to the clothes or the cars, but to the attitude they are intended to project -- which, given that the clothes and the cars were chosen with just that attitude in mind, is likewise a behavior.

It's all behavior, in fact. Every one of these things (except skin color, with is equally real for both Rock and Punk) is a choice being made, and acted out in the public sphere where others will have to see and hear and deal with it. What, precisely, is the distinction you're trying to make?

Posted by: Grim at March 26, 2008 10:01 AM

If you can watch the Chris Rock video and not be able to see the difference between what he is complaining about (firing guns in movie theaters, stealing from the neighbors, claiming taking care of your kids as something you deserve a pat on the back for) and what OldPunk is complaining about, you are beyond my - or anyone else's - help. Clothing is not behavoir. Neither is the car you drive. Playing music loud is - you have a point there. But how you jump from "playing music loud" to "playing music loud just to piss me off" is a mystery. Kids play music loud to attract attention, it's true...but is it likely that they're doing it to attract attention from crotchety old white men or from, you know, teenage girls? If you were ever a teenager, you should know the answer to that question. And playing music loud, while it may irritate you, is not criminal behavior, nor is it a valid excuse to run around calling anyone a "nigger".

Posted by: Jennifer at March 26, 2008 10:57 AM

So, if I can't see it just your way right off, you can't help me? Nor can anyone else?

Clothing is not behavior, it's cloth. But choosing a piece of clothing and wearing it -- that is, in fact, behavior. In this case, it's a behavior designed to create certain effects: to show group identification, for example; which in turn, is designed to define an "in group" and, therefore, an "out group."

That's not troubling in and of itself. But now you're playing music too -- very loud music, so that everyone has to notice you. That's behavior.

Now, you're saying, "Well, what if they just want girls to notice them?" Doubtless they do want that! It is not, however, sufficient to say, "I have one good reason to be doing this thing; so therefore, I may ignore any negative effects on other people." I may not fund my education (noble as that is) by robbing banks; or even by nonviolent theft. I may be doing the thieving for a perfectly good and understandable reason, but it still also has bad effects for which I am rightly held accountable.

So, yes, they want attention from teenage girls. They cannot, however, use that as an excuse for why they should be able to ignore the feelings of everyone else in the public square. This is a behavior that is not courteous, and to which a man might rightly object.

They are, in other words, not just creating an "out group" -- they are using the music to claim the public space for themselves, though it is meant to be for all. They are acting discourteously and disrespectfully to their fellow citizens, though they would presumably like to be treated respectfully and courteously themselves.

Now, you might reasonably say, "Why not just go up and ask them to turn off the music, or wear headphones?" And why not? It's just what I would do myself.

On the other hand, this particular subculture has chosen to define itself with prison-oriented clothing; it has chosen to use music filled with obscenity and violence; and the musicians themselves make a point of their attraction to violence and aggressive behavior.

Now, "Old Punk" -- assuming he really is an old punk -- probably remembers firsthand what it was like to belong to a subculture like that, as a young man, with that first, full rush of testosterone in you, and friends to give you courage against the lone outsider who challenged you. So my sympathy is limited.

That said, I don't think he's wrong on the facts. And I don't think you're right to say that this is "not" behavior on their part. It is indeed behavior, very specifically chosen.

Posted by: Grim at March 26, 2008 11:39 AM

Jennifer, do you have a reading comprehension problem, or is it just that you came here from Sadly No (which often seems to exhibit the same selective reading habits)?

Let me break it down for you:

Where I do draw the line is at name calling. [Ed. note: "drawing a line", as in a line between right and wrong. Get it?]

I understand the impulse that makes people want to use the word 'nigger'. One seeks, by altering our instinctive associations with that word, to lessen the pain it invokes. That is why many blacks object when whites use the term, yet utter it themselves with careless abandon. [Ed. note: One can understand a thing without approving of it.]

But the bottom line is that whoever uses the word, it is still an ugly name. [Ed. note: can you begin to sense the disapproval? It will be made more plain for you in a moment, Jennifer. Though if past behavior is any indicator of future performance, you will ignore that, too.]

One day, hopefully, that is all it will be: just one of many ugly slurs with no more power to offend or hurt than any other ugly name. But why go there? Is name calling ever really acceptable behavior? [Ed. note: this is called a rhetorical question. The answer, in case you're wondering, is "no".]

Why not just object to the behavior rather than condemning the person?

Is the light bulb going on yet?

Good God. And by the way, ignoring entire swathes of a rather long post so you can claim that it boils down to some oversimplified version you then wish to dismiss because you are not paying attention to any parts that conflict with your argument (as you have done here) is unconvincing.

I'm not going to keep going round and round with you. This is a nonsensical conversation because you are not addressing his entire post.

Nor mine.

Posted by: Cass at March 26, 2008 11:51 AM

That's all fine and good; let's just pretend that you never said Chris Rock's objections to objectional behavoir are the other side of the same coin that allows OldPunk to feel justified in calling kids who wear clothing, drive cars, and listen to music he does not like "niggers". And any of your readers who are similarly dishonest can pretend you didn't say it, either, regardless of the fact that it appears on the page above in black and white.

As for the going round and round, I'm with you. Just as there is no profit in arguing with a drunk, there's no profit in pointing out to someone their egregious statements when they are so deeply invested in shifting the terms of the argument, as you clearly have attempted to do in every single response.

I suggest you and all of your illiterate readers alert Merriam-Webster that the definition of "behavoir" now includes inanimate objects. I'm sure they'll get right on making a correction.

Posted by: Jennifer at March 26, 2008 12:22 PM

I have rarely in my 51 years encountered someone as willfully blind as Jennifer RE: the "fashion" vs."behavior" argument.

As much as I didn't want to admit it in the 60s & 70s, I DID dress a certain way and wear my hair a certain way to make a statement about myself. I wasn't a drugged-out hippie, but I looked like one. By choice.

And I WAS shocked - naively, as it turns out - when people took the statement I was making about myself at face value.

Cass caught all of this in spades (no, Jennifer, that is a time-honored cliche to do with playing cards & has absolutely nothing to do with my inherent racism) in her March 25, 2008 09:40 PM post. The behavior vs. fashion argument, even if it was agreed to disagree, should have hit a brick wall right there.

Posted by: Occasional Troller at March 26, 2008 12:28 PM

Furthermore, if we are truly to have our "long overdue conversation about race" and our starting point excludes what some people actually think about the topic (e.g., Old Punk, Shelby Steele, Chris Rock, Rev. Wright & scared old white ladies), it's going to be a pretty eff-ing short conversation. Like it always is. Because we always start with those same exclusionary parameters.

Posted by: Occasional Troller at March 26, 2008 12:39 PM

See also: definition of mental illness.

Posted by: Occasional Troller at March 26, 2008 12:40 PM

Jennifer must be the only person in the known universe who has ever seen a coin where both sides are exactly the same.

Also, see Jennifer: even when someone came right out and said name calling is wrong, they said it was right. Oh, and black is white and day is night. But only when she says it is. Otherwise, it isn't.

Posted by: Keep on Spinnin' at March 26, 2008 12:49 PM



"Clothing is not behavior, it's cloth. But choosing a piece of clothing and wearing it -- that is, in fact, behavior."


"I suggest you and all of your illiterate readers alert Merriam-Webster that the definition of "behavoir" now includes inanimate objects.


"Jennifer, do you have a reading comprehension problem, or is it just that you came here from Sadly No (which often seems to exhibit the same selective reading habits)?"

It is a sad day when I have to admit that Cassandra was right (this once!). :)

Posted by: Grim at March 26, 2008 12:56 PM

"Just as there is no profit in arguing with a drunk..."

I have to disagree here. I have profitted aplenty by arguing with a drunk. Everytime I tell him that, no, I bought the last round (even though he has for the last several rounds), now it's his turn; everytime we use my car and I *argue* that I need gas because, no we didn't stop at that last gas station to get gas, we stopped so he could puke again, which then leads to me reminding him that I already told him my gas guage is always stuck on *Full*....
See? Plenty of profit.

Posted by: Snarkammando at March 26, 2008 01:10 PM

...I have to admit that Cassandra was right ..."


Posted by: Snarkammando at March 26, 2008 01:17 PM


Thank you. Excellent, EXCELLENT piece, free of the defensive, angry "why can't you negros just stop bugging us" attitude. I was taken aback (and mildly amused) by OldPunks post because:

A. He assumes that young black hip-hop kids dress in certain ways and drive certain cars specifically to annoy him and other crotchety old white guys.

B. His exceptionalism. Saying you are just sick and tired of black people in general EXCEPT a few does not make you less of an ass. You are still an ass that likes a few black people.

C. Condemning us all for the actions of some: Yes, we do have poor people in this country that exhibit a disturbing mixture of entitlement and self destructiveness that flummoxes even the most ardent and ernest social worker. And many of those poor people are black. But that is not all black people. But we all get branded with that. Which is WHY Chris Rock's routine is so popular with us. We KNOW when we see a black person behaving badly, that we will all pay for it that behavior. White people dont have to worry about that so much.

I am glad you explained (a white person, and a fairly conservative one needed to finally say it) that black people saying nigger is indeed an attempt to neutralize the word and "own" it. It is not an invitation for white people to call us that. OldPunk's explaination of who he thinks are niggers and should be called niggers is far different than the sort of "term of endearment" use of it bandied about in the hip-hop community (I say hip hop community because most black people do NOT throw that word around...but a certain segment does).

When Chris Rock or even Dave Chappelle mocks certain bad behaviors of black people, it is funny. When white people do it, it is hurtful. It is the same thing with Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, or Billy Crystal: They can mock, make fun of, and criticize Jews through humor and it is hysterical. But when a non-Jew does the same? Hysterical? Not so much.

I am glad Old Punk said what he said. Tell the truth and shame the devil, right? Now we can examine and discuss why we see each other the way we do. Then we can move forward. We dont have to scream and rant and try to make people feel terrible for being white/black. Nor do we have to tap dance around things so that white/black people wont think we are mean. Let's just say what we want to say, but be open to the other person's response.

This is the first response from a "right leaning" blogger that really, really said something important, eloquent, and outstanding about this whole thing. For a while I was like, hmmmm we are SO not ready to talk about this. But now I am thinking we just might surprise ourselves.

Thanks again.

Posted by: Lisa at March 26, 2008 01:49 PM

"He could well have said that his grandmother reacted as 'a typical person' (i.e., we all sometimes make unconscious judgments on the basis of skin color). I think that would have been the first really honest and courageous statement Barack Obama has made about race. But he didn't do that. He was caught in the trap he accuses others of: the trap of unconscious bias. Does that make him a racist?

Of course not. I think it makes him human."

Exactly. But I did not interpret him as accusing "other's of racism". I think he indicted us collectively - perhaps including himself. He did not say we were all a bunch of David Dukes and H.Rap Browns running around shooting at each other. Just that we had some things we needed to air out. He is a real 'we' kinda liberal. Which is why I kinda dig him.

He is no Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, proposing to be the gatekeeper of all racial discussions. He sort of symbolically removed the race issue from the old guard of so called "black spokespeople" and handed it back to the entire nation, where it belongs.

Posted by: Lisa at March 26, 2008 01:58 PM

He is no Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, proposing to be the gatekeeper of all racial discussions. He sort of symbolically removed the race issue from the old guard of so called "black spokespeople" and handed it back to the entire nation, where it belongs.

I completely agree with you there, Lisa. Well said.

I completely agree that Obama is no Sharpton. I do admire the way he has kept his cool throughout this - I think it's an admirable model for future discussions. What is so cool to me is that we ARE discussing this at all. We are not rioting in the streets and we are not shooting each other.

I remember the riots of the 60s and 70s. We have made some progress. It is never as fast or as much as we wish, but it is real and we see it in our childrens' eyes.

I can't wait to see what the world will be like for my little grandson. And yours.

Posted by: Cass at March 26, 2008 02:15 PM

Indeed, Cassandra. I am very optimistic.


Posted by: Lisa at March 26, 2008 07:59 PM

turn on the video

Posted by: harry brown at March 26, 2008 10:11 PM

I remember the riots of the 60s and 70s. We have made some progress.

If only the progress that the people who once rioted, are now middle age and are using their money and political influence to make things go their way when they once tried to use violence to do the same things.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at March 27, 2008 05:30 PM

Obama is simply another byproduct of the corrupt Chicago-Democrat political machine. Whatever "good" people thinks he is doing is due to his skill at rhetoric and motivating others to do his work for him.

That might be useful had the Democrat party been full of self-achievers that Obama could motivate, but that's not the case. Republicans are made up of surgeons, pediatricians, businessmen, and even in one case a pest exterminator. Democrats are made up primarily of lawyers. And the only way you can motivate lawyers is to give them more wealth and power. Which is not, in the long term, a good thing for America.

America has always owned the race issue. Obama never had it to give away.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at March 27, 2008 05:35 PM