13 Apr 2007 Eugene Robinson: White People Can’t Talk
In the Washington Post today, in-house columnist Eugene Robinson diminishes everything the true civil rights leaders fought for.
…For young black hip-hop artists to use such language [as “nappy-headed hos”] to demean black women is similarly deplorable — and, I would argue, even more damaging. But come on, people, don’t deceive yourselves that it’s precisely the same thing. Don’t pretend that 388 years of history — since the first shackled African slaves arrived at Jamestown — never happened. The First Amendment notwithstanding, it has always been the case that some speech has been off-limits to some people. I remember a time when black people couldn’t say “I’d like to vote, please.” Now, white people can’t say “nappy-headed hos.” You’ll survive…
For Martin Luther King, Jr., it was about equality. For Eugene Robinson, it’s about retribution. (Witness Robinson’s evident satisfaction that there’s something — he believes — white people are not permitted to do.)
Contrast Robinson’s “blacks get to say awful things about blacks but white people can’t” philosophy with Martin Luther Kingpreaching about the importance of the content of character.
Imagine if Martin Luther King’s earth-moving 1963 speech had instead have had a theme of, a la Eugene Robinson, “you’ve been mean to us for centuries; now we’re going to be mean to you for a while.”
It’s hard to believe the civil rights movement would have uplifted the nation with that call to keep our civil ethics in the gutter, isn’t it?
People of character do not call young ladies “whores.” Even black people of character. Even people who spell and pronounce it properly.
Robinson furthermore mixes his issues in ways that betray the sloppiness of his reasoning process. Black people could always say “I’d like to vote, please.” The fact that black men couldn’t vote until 137 years ago was not about free speech, but suffrage. Likewise, the fact that landless white men couldn’t vote in America until 200-151 years ago (depending on state of residence), or black or white women until a mere 87 years ago.
It’s worth noting, too, that Don Imus was penalized because his employer chose to penalize him. How many white people have high-profile broadcasting positions? How many black broadcasters today believe saying “nappy-headed hos” on the air would strengthen their negotiating position at contract time? Not very many, I bet.
Yet black and — sorry, Mr. Robinson — white people all over America have been saying “nappy-headed hos” by the thousands for a week now, yet there are no reports of anyone other than Don Imus being fired for it.
The true issue here is civility. We all ought to be civil to one another, we all were endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights, and we all ought to realize — as Eugene Robinson apparently does not — that one bad turn does not deserve another.
Addendum: I read a few other Eugene Robinson columns while having lunch.
Commenting on the story that Strom Thurmond’s first cousin twice removed “owned” Al Sharpton’s great-grandfather, Robinson writes: “Sharpton learned for the first time that his name came from Alexander Sharpton, a rich Edgefield County slave owner. Nothing unusual there — that’s the way we got our surnames, from our ancestors’ owners…”
Who is “we”? It sounds like he means Sharpton, himself, and his readers. Does he write his column thinking only of readers who are descended from American slaves? (Never mind that a substantial part of the population, including the descendants of slaves, got their surname from their husbands.)
In a column on President Bush, Robinson strikes a blow against dividing people into simple categories: “A president who reduces the near-infinite variety of humankind to ‘with us’ or ‘against us’ has mired the nation…”
The near-infinite variety of humankind came down to just two groups when you wrote that blacks can say “nappy-headed hos” and whites can’t, Mr. Robinson. “With us” or “against us,” indeed.
And on global warming: “The first half of January 2007 was so balmy in the Northeast that crocuses bloomed.”
And the middle of April is so cold they may cancel the Boston Marathon. The point?