Friday, November 04, 2011

Accusations of bigotry should not be handled with kid gloves

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Anti-racism: People of different skin color holding hands

One must never forget that egalitarians and Leftists are as prone to failures of logic and reason as anyone else (though I will note that contrary to our ideological opponents, we don’t seem keen on turning them into rallying calls), and in my opinion, this is made particularly evident when it comes to matters of social (in)justice and (in)equality. For instance, one notion I’ve been hearing recently amongst the Left (including from some* for whom I have nothing but utmost respect) is that whenever someone of a minority group makes a complaint that something is bigoted (be it a sexist comment, a racist action, a homophobic individual, etc.), the accuser must immediately, almost reflexively, be viewed as a correct and the accused is always and unquestionably in the wrong. Basically, if you’re accused of being racist/sexist/homophobic/etc., then you just are, period, whether you know it or not, no further explanation required.

I’m sorry, but that is just stupid. It is shallow and lazy thinking, as if people were trying to abdicate any need for deep consideration of potentially complex matters and simply appeal to the sensibilities of offended folks in an attempt to be as politically correct and unoffensive as possible. This doesn’t work when persecution-crying Christians do it, and nor should it when anyone else tries to pull the same trick.

The simple truth is that the majority – traditionally comprised of White males (usually Christian, relatively affluent, etc.) – does not hold a patent on stupidity, and minority groups have no more immunity from general offense than do any others. All people are liable to make bogus claims (be they of oppression or anything else). The fact that a complainant is Black, or Latino, or a woman, or gay, or <anything else> does not grant them immunity from being wrong, nor from being criticized for it. Same as with ad hominems, claims – whether of bigotry or anything else – need to be evaluated based on their own merits and the available facts, not on the traits of their presenters.

Another aspect of this is that individuals within minority groups don’t speak for everyone else. What one lesbian Asian Taoist finds offensive may not be the same for all lesbians, Asians and Taoists. Again, everyone is fully capable of being full of shit, and their physical, psychological and spiritual attributes should not be used as a basis for arguing that if they personally take offense to something, then their sentiments should be protected above those of anyone else.

To use just one blatant example, the NAACP claimed in June 2010 that a Hallmark graduation card that included the term “black holes” in its astronomical sense was “very demeaning to African American women”. Is it really insensitive and wrong to declare that the NAACP was totally off their rocker, at the very least? Or should Hallmark truly apologize to the NAACP (and Black people at large) and retract their card, just because some people read something into it that very clearly isn’t there to begin with?

Of course, a quick pointer I must make: I am not saying that any accusations of bigotry must absolutely be debated; I am not encouraging people to deny any claim of offense they think is wrong and to be a prick about it. Obviously, the reasonable approach to take depends entirely on context (who’s doing the accusing, who’s being accused, what of, etc.). Arguably, when someone is accused of anything in a manner they believe is unfair or unwarranted, most of the time they should simply ignore it and walk away, or maybe offer a quick “sorry” as a modicum of restitution. Tact is always key, here.

But one shouldn’t simply let false accusations (especially of their person) slide just because countering it, no matter how politely, might hurt the accuser’s feelings. Accuracy and honesty must always be treated much more importantly than the sensibilities of the easily offended.

Anyway, I don’t really have much more to say about this that wouldn’t amount to repeating myself in increasingly tangential ways, so I’ll just cap it off with an appropriate (if only partially related) clip from a recent Daily Show episode where Jon Stewart was accused – wrongly (and quite stupidly) – of being racist against Herman Cain by none other than Donald “the Blacks” Trump:

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My transcript: (click the [+/-] to expand/collapse →) []

Jon Stewart notes how he’s been picking at Herman Cain frequently over the last few days and shows an excerpt from the previous night wherein he mocked Cain for saying that Cain has never had to settle any sexual harassment claims – other than the ones recently brought to light – with a clearly farcical impression (not of Herman Cain): “Have you ever kidnapped a baby? Well, other than the Lindbergh boy, no.” Stewart then reveals that Donald Trump attacked him over that bit, calling it a “very, very racist rant” for his “imitation”.

Stewart rejoins: 1) That was not his Herman Cain impression, and 2) that accent paled in comparison to other over-the-top imitations in the same bit; he shows footage of him mocking Cain over his pizza business (Italian-American voice: “You want sausage on your pie?”) and then mocking Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) over his “Niggerhead” scandal (as Perry: “I just wanna get in there and just f[bleep] that granite!”). Stewart then does a couple more silly impressions.

He says that being criticized is an “occupational hazard” of “being a dick for a living”, but Trump’s attack especially hurts given Stewart’s “respect” for his sophistication (“Did you know he eats pizza with a fork?”). He adds that Trump was uniquely suited to accuse Stewart of being racist and plays a recording of Trump appearing on talk radio in April: “I have a great relationship with the Blacks.

Stewart then rounds on Ann Coulter for making distinctions among “the Blacks”: Cue Coulter on Fox News, saying that “our [conservative] Blacks are so much better than their [liberal] Blacks” for overcoming numerous obstacles (which liberal Blacks supposedly don’t also encounter?). Quips Stewart: “Even I’m offended by that – and I’m a racist.”

[cuts to panel with Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac and John Oliver caricaturing conservatives for saying their minority groups are better than liberals’ minority groups; skipped for brevity]

In the end, my message is simply this: Don’t let your viewpoint on a matter be swayed simply by who is doing the accusing. Irrationality and falsehoods shouldn’t be excused or caved to simply because the person spewing it belongs to a minority group. If an accusation of racism (or anything else) is made, examine it and the context around it; if it has no bearing on reality, it can – and should – be dismissed as flatly and unequivocally as any other nonsense. Feelings should never come before truth.

Edit (11/09/11 1:59 PM) – Changed the post title to the proper phrasing. (h/t ttch)

* Just to be clear: I’m referring to one particular sentiment in that linked post, not all of it, which I largely agree with.