Taking The Sensitivity Thing Too Far
Wednesday - February 15, 2006
I’ve never known readers, viewers and listeners to be so on edge about religion, race and gender writings.
Those Muhammed cartoons are old hat, the topic well covered already by others. I think doing the cartoons as a sheer provocation was an idiotic editor’s idea.
But let’s talk about what’s almost as sensitive in this country.
Talk show host John Sylvester in Madison, Wisc., drew heavy listener condemnation for referring to Secretary of State Condi Rice as “Aunt Jemima” for being so subservient to Bush policies.
Rob Blair of KTNV-TV in Las Vegas was doing a weather forecast when he said “for tomorrow, 60 degrees, Martin Luther Coon King Jr. Day, gonna see some temperatures in the mid-60s.” He was fired.
A sports talk-show host on station KNBR in San Francisco was suspended for criticizing the baseball Giants’ poor batting by its Latino stars as “brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly.” How that’s taken to be a slap at Latinos beats me.
The most sensitive writers and speakers are now unhealthily gun-shy and bland about any reference to race, religion, ethnicity or women. Even remarks meant to encourage discussion, clarify the debate or question the stereotypes are invitations to a race card accusation.
The Rev. Al Sharpton can make widely-reported remarks about “the colored folks” but I’d be dead meat if I used that term in my MidWeek column.
In a Mainland Wal-Mart, I saw a section marked Ethnic Hair Care. Ethnic hair? Does that mean Polish, Hispanic and Vietnamese hair? No, the photos on the boxes make it clear it’s stuff for black people’s hair, but the store does-n’t want to use the words black or Negro.
Be careful about your body language, too. There was a big blowup at the University of Texas over a Phi Gamma Delta Halloween party where a white student wore black paint on his face and body, an Afro wig on his head and a chain with a lock around his neck.
A black NFL coach complained that an ABC Monday Night Football promo that had a naked white actress leaping into the arms of a black football player was racist. How that is escapes me. What about a naked black actress into the arms of a white football player?
Remarks made in the heat of passion hang around to haunt.
Florida congresswoman Corrine Brown, who is black, verbally attacked a Bush administration official as racist and said America’s policies toward Haiti were being made by “a bunch of white men.” Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American affairs Roger Noriega is Mexican-American. Can an African-American call a Hispanic-American a racist?
Noriega said “as a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man.”
To which Rep. Brown replied: “You all look alike to me.”
And some reader is sure to question my use of the word “black.” It’s now more often African-American. I agree that “black” may be inaccurate because negroid people come in many shades from near white to near purple. But is a negroid person who is here by way of many generations somewhere other than Africa an African-American?
Now, about women.
Harvard president Lawrence Summer got pilloried for raising for discussion whether innate differences in sex may explain why fewer women than men succeed in careers in math and science.
But Arizona senatorial candidate Claire Sargent drew nary a complaint when she said “I think it’s about time we voted for senators with breasts. After all, we’ve been voting for boobs long enough.”
Imagine if I’d written something like that when Linda Lingle and Mazie Hirono were running!
Gloria Steinem said “a woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.”
Do you think I’d have ever dared touch that one (if I’d thought of it first)?
I’m glad we’re more sensitive. The bad old days were not our finest moments.
But there are things that need to be said, to be explored, to be shoved out in public for discussion.
It’s our loss if every writer, every speaker, every editorial cartoonist sanitizes his/her thoughts to insure that no offense can be vaguely inferred by any person or group.
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