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September 06, 2005

A Subtle Kind Of Bigotry

It's a delicate subject, and i try not to write much about it. A white person always runs the risk of being called a racist, no matter what they say. Usually it happens when white people say that charges of racism are exagerrated or without merit. In the case of this post, i should be safe, because i plan to be the one making the charges.

i've noticed a special kind of subtle bigotry, very cleverly disguised. The folks who exhibit this new bigotry probably don't even realize their bias, and they'd probably deny it vehemently. The purveyors of the new bigotry that i'm talking about are mostly in the media and the academy.

A more obvious example that has gotten play recently is the infamous looting/finding controversy that arose from the troubles in New Orleans.

[T]wo news service photographs . . . showed persons wading through chest-deep water in the New Orleans area with supplies taken from grocery stores. Many viewers noticed the seeming disparity of the darker-skinned subject's being described in the accompanying caption as 'looting a grocery store,' while the lighter-skinned subjects were described as 'finding bread and soda from a local grocery store.'
Unlike many on my side of the political spectrum, i find the AFP's description of the "lighter-skinned" subjects as "finders," rather than "looters" to be pretty indefensible. Yes, i know there were two different news agencies involved. But the choice of words was a conscious decision, and the photographer's rationalizations ring sort of hollow, at least to my ears.

kwest.jpgStill, i've noticed another type of more subtle bigotry lately. It's the condescending "some of my best friends are black" kind of bigotry that Time magazine showed, when they called Kanye West the "smartest man in pop music," and put him on the cover of their magazine.

Besides trying to show how hip they were, Time magazine's editors were also asking for approval with their backhanded compliment. Translated, what they meant to say was: "Look how non-racist we are. See, we think a black man can be smart too." Never mind that they picked a complete moron for their cover, as we saw last Friday. (And i'm making a totally non-partisan, objective observation. If articulation counts for anything, as the anti-Bush crowd continually tells us, Kanye is as dumb as a stump.)

A more obvious example to me is the way people in the media and academia so often refer to Martin Luther King, Jr. as Dr. King. When was the last time you heard a white guy with a Ph.D. referred to as Doctor so-and-so. You never hear anyone say Dr. Woodrow Wilson, for instance, and he was president of Princeton. Or how about Dr. Einstein? Or even Dr. Gingrich?

But you always hear people say "Doctor" King, which sounds so condescending. First of all there should be no question about MLK's intellect (and save your plagiarism comments for someone else. Just read "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" if you want proof.) But just like with Time Magazine and Kanye West, it's another way of saying "See, we think black people can be smart too."

It's not a question of respect. It's patronizing. MLK may have earned the right to have been called by his title, but i've yet to meet the Ph.D. who likes being called "doctor" outside of a formal lecture auditorium. In fact, King's friends called him Mike. i liked it better when the media called him Reverend, but of course now that's taboo because it implies that he might have believed in God.

But that's another kind of bigotry for another post.

Posted by annika, Sep. 6, 2005 | TrackBack (1)
Rubric: annikapunditry


I am an American bigot. Not against any person of pallor or color, or even ethnic background. It is against the "takers" who prey on those who produce and work for what they have.

Posted by: NOTR on Sep. 6, 2005

Excellent point: being patronizing is damned racist. Outside the KKK, or that Black Muslim Preacher of Hate who's name I can't recall right now, there's hardly anyone more racist than a patronizing white liberal - unless it's a black liberal racistly accusing political conservatives of being racist.

The media's patronization constantly shows up in what they ignore in black newsmakers - such as when I watched Al Sharpton call Republicans racists during a Democratic Presidential debate, and John Kerry stood behind Shapton with a silly grin and clapped for Sharpton's blatantly racist comment. If you're a black media darling, you can be the village idiot and they will patronizingly ignore it. You can be a corrupt corporate blackmailer(Jesse Jackson) who hugs America's enemies, and the media will patronizingly never call you a spotlight chasing fool. I believe it's actual racism. I believe the media is figuratively patting the simple pickaninnies on their heads - as in: 'Who can expect such simple people to be held to adult standards of conduct?' It's insulting, and I feel certain many black people are insulted by it also.

I must point out that I don't think your examples are the best. Snopes reports this quote from the AFP reporter who snapped the photo of the couple who "found" food(quoting from memory): "A convenience store was flooded, and it's inventory was floating in the street. I saw the couple, and assumed they had found the items floating before picking them up."

Second: I think, maybe, in the 1960's, many people were proud to say "Dr. Martin Luther King". It was a different time and a different nation. I seem to recall hearing many people say "Dr. Martin Luther King" with quite a bit of pride in their voices. Maybe the "Dr." part of the title was a partial source of that pride. Just a thought. I'd like to hear more on this from someone who remembers that time.

Posted by: gcotharn on Sep. 6, 2005

You mean "The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan"?

Racist? Nah.

Check the dictionary; his picture is next to the word "bigot".

Posted by: shelly on Sep. 7, 2005

When I was about twelve and just beginning to develop some political awareness, I somehow became aware of the stereotype that conservatives are racists and liberals tend to be paragons of egalitarian tolerance. (At the time, I'd probably have used "Democrats" instead of "liberals," and "Republicans" instead of "conservatives.")

This bothered me a little. I knew my dad was a strong Republican, but I also knew he was no racist. I wondered why he'd want to support such people, so I asked him about it. That was my introduction to the concept of "the soft bigotry of low expectations," which I think largely explains the phenomena you mention, and many that you don't. ("A black man with a Ph.D.? Wow! Be sure to call him 'doctor.' A black man who seems really smart [to us]? Astounding! Let's do a cover feature on him! Affirmative action? How else are the poor, benighted, helpless blacks going to compete with white folks?")

Of course there are conservatives and libertarians who are genuinely racist, and there are liberals who genuinely believe that affirmative action is a moral imperative as a sort of penance for the evils of slavery and as a tool for eliminating racism. But in general, over the years I've come to believe that "the soft bigotry of low expectations" is something a great many liberals are guilty of, and that the philosophy that every person should be allowed to stand on their own feet, and succeed or fail without meddling from government, is about as egalitarian an idea as there is.

Posted by: Matt on Sep. 7, 2005

I will go a little farther Matt, I am a libertarian but I believe Affirmative Action was necessary for a period of time. Not because I believe blacks are incapable but this country needed to "jump start" many blacks into the middle class in the sixties and seventies. The bad think about affirmative action was that it should have had a time limit.
Now you have many black people who, I think, due to liberalism actually doubt their own ability to "make it" without government help. That is the sad legacy of soft bigotry.

Posted by: Kyle N on Sep. 7, 2005

"Smartest man in pop music"......hmmmmm, isn't that like being the best hockey player in Ecuador?

Posted by: Pursuit on Sep. 7, 2005

Captain of the Jamaican Olympic Bobsled Team.

Come to think of it, he's pretty smart; gets a free trip to the Olymics and all the fun at the Village.

Strike my comment;this guy IS smart.

Posted by: shelly on Sep. 7, 2005


Regarding the looting, we apparently haven't been told the whole story. (Imagine that.)


Posted by: Mark on Sep. 7, 2005

Joseph Heller observed in Catch 22 that we all have concentric circles of loyalty that expand outwardly from ourselves to our family, friends, community, etc... Part of the human condition is that we all love ourselves above others. Call it whatever you like. It wasn't until we tried to legislate equality, that the race-baters came to the fore, and the black man was driven from his home by the do-gooder welfare state, and the pop culture hung the face of pimp on him. Now "Art" follows the culture as teens take on the trappings of the characature, and every woman is a "ho".

At least the end of Western Civilization is interesting.

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 7, 2005

Thanks for taking up my slack, Mark. I got that link via e-mail yesterday and was planning to post it here, because it ties in nicely with Annie's subject. But I got busy, one thing led to another, and that was it.

Posted by: Matt on Sep. 7, 2005

My pleasure Matt. :)

Posted by: Mark on Sep. 7, 2005

With regard to the picture of the "white" people shown in the picture in question, the "finders" as opposed to the "looters", there was a write up by the photographer. He said that HE labeled the folks as "finders" because they were among a large group of people, both black and white, in an area where groceries had literally floated out of a nearby store. The people found the food floating on the water as they walked thru the area. They did not enter a store, did not break any windows, they just scooped some food out of the water as it floated by.

Posted by: mbecker908 on Sep. 7, 2005

I did think of a white PhD who used the term "Dr." - Dr. Henry Kissinger.

I am unfamiliar with the black pastorate, so I don't know how many black preachers with PhD's referred to themselves as "Dr." I'm trying to think of a white pastor with a PhD, but I can't think of one - wait, I just remembered Dr. Gene Scott. So the "doctor" thing may be occupational, and have nothing to do with race. Further study is required.

Posted by: Ontario Emperor on Sep. 7, 2005

I recall an interview with Ice-T conducted by a white, female, British journalist. On the topic of the rampant misogyny of his lyrics, she said something to him along the lines of "I think you're much too smart to be this sexist".

Then he proved her wrong by pimp-slappin' her for patronising him (well, at least that's how I wish he had responded).

Posted by: kennteoh on Sep. 7, 2005

Great post incidentally - such laboured reference to positive attributes only betrays the fact that the writer/speaker expected them to be absent.

"Smart" also constitutes such slight praise that it insults. Being praised as the "smartest" rapper is akin to receiving plaudits for being "the most competent" instrumentalist around.

Posted by: kennteoh on Sep. 7, 2005

Laura Ingraham was playing cuts from Elijah whats-his-face of the Congressional Black Caucus yesterday, and bumped out with the theme from the old Monkees TV show. You know, "Heh heh, we're the Monkees... " lmfao

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 8, 2005

Actually, a fair number of Ph.D.s like to be called Dr. off campus. I don't usually use it, but my wife will sometimes use it when she gives someone my name. If you read Slate, there was a "Dear Prudence" column about this a few months ago.

But just to show you I'm even-handed, there is some question about whether King really earned his title.

Personal to Casca: It wasn't the welfare state that drove the black man from his home. It was the slave traders.

Posted by: Pericles on Sep. 9, 2005

Personal to Pericles:
The slave traders were a fortunate happening for the generations which came after slavery ended. My evidence is that we never saw a large - or even a medium - migration of U.S. citizens moving to Africa.

Given this, I find your slave trader reference to be disingenious.

Posted by: gcotharn on Sep. 9, 2005

In regards to this asshole Kanye West; I personally do not agree with a lot of what our president does and/or says, but I certainly think that it was beyond bad taste for this alleged entertainer to use the platform of aid and assistance to those devastated by this hurricane to spout this offensive, disrespectful diatribe against our president during this incredibly sad time. Plain and simple.....Kanye West is an asshole!

Posted by: Walter Alderete on Sep. 10, 2005

There may be some truth in what you say, but the lack of a migration back doesn't prove it. The children of slaves would have been going back to a continent where they didn't fit any more, in terms of language, culture, religion, etc. Where would they have lived---with tribes that their ancestors had been taken from generations earlier. African-Americans I talked to who have gone back to Africa have said that they are definitely regarded as Americans there, not as Africans.

Anyway, I was only responding to Casca's innane point about blacks having been deprived of their homes by welfare. Whatever negative consequences welfare may have had for the black community, and I know about the Moynihan Report, it didn't rob anyone of their homes. Given that s/he finds humor in the juxtaposition of a black face and the word "monkey," I think we know where Casca is coming from. I've heard conservatives complain that liberals are too quick to call them racists, and that may be true, but when the shoe really DOES fit...

Posted by: Pericles on Sep. 11, 2005