Remember a couple weeks back when Barack, Michelle and their media entourage flew to New York City one Saturday night for dinner and a show? Imagine what would have happened if the following week David Letterman did a “Top Ten” list of the worst moments of their trip and said this:
“Number 2 – Finding out that the restaurant didn’t serve fried chicken and watermelon“
Not only would Letterman be retired right now, but so would the writers and producers of his show and the head of CBS would be offering profuse apologies to the Obamas. There would be protests, advertising boycotts, and denunciations of Letterman from the leaders of both parties. You can be sure Keith Olbermann would be ranting “How dare you sir!” and he wouldn’t be blaming the Obama’s for political opportunism. People would be outraged, and rightly so.
Not that long ago racism was socially acceptable and racial discrimination was legal. Academics prepared scholarly treatises asserting the superiority of the white race. Many (white) people believed that it was the “white man’s burden” to exercise control over the “lesser” races for their own benefit.
Senator Robert Byrd of West Virgina is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan. That was in 1942. He is now third in line of succession to the Presidency. Former senator and Supreme Court justice Hugo Black is another prominent figure who once belonged to the Klan.
At it’s peak in the 1920’s the Klan had millions of members from all levels of society:
Indiana’s Klansmen represented a wide cross section of society: they were not disproportionately urban or rural, nor were they significantly more or less likely than other members of society to be from the working class, middle class, or professional ranks.
Once upon a time the Klan had major political influence in the South and Midwest. Nowadays the Klan is a fringe group that is viewed with disgust by the vast majority of the nation.
Back in the Jim Crow era thousands of black men were lynched in this country, primarily in the South. These horrible events were not secret, they were treated as social events. Not only were the perpetrators well known but people posed for pictures under the hanging bodies.
That was then, this is now and things have changed dramatically for the better. Racism isn’t gone, but it has been driven underground. Just ask George “Macaca” Allen or Michael Richards what using a racial epithet can do to your career.
It wasn’t just changes in the law that made racism taboo. We as a society formed a consensus that racism was unacceptable. Open displays of racism are shunned and racists are treated as pariahs. As we saw last year even false accusations of racism can have a powerful effect.
But it’s still permissible to call a woman governor “slutty,” at least as long as you pretend you were just joking. That’s not right.
It’s not enough to refuse to participate in the sexism and misogyny, we need to speak up and make them socially unacceptable. No longer can we stand silent while others laugh. Men and women both need to condemn it. Every time. The same thing applies to homobigotry. We need to persuade people that it isn’t “just a joke” anymore.
Progressives and late-night comedians have criticized and made fun of black conservatives like Alan Keyes, J. C. Watts, Clarence Thomas and Michael Steele without using racial epithets or stereotypes. I’m pretty sure we can criticize and make fun of women politicians without using misogyny or sexism.
This is not a panacea that will cure all of society’s ills. I can’t “connect the dots” and prove that making sexism, misogyny and homobigotry socially unacceptable will do anything to reduce sexual assault or gender violence. But it damn sure couldn’t hurt.
I have a final thought for our trollish lurkers – it doesn’t matter what anyone else does. We are supposed to be better than the other side. We should set our own standards, not follow theirs. It also doesn’t matter what happened in the past. Hugo Black went on to vote with the majority in Shelley v. Kramer and Brown v. Board of Education and he wrote the majority opinion in Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education.
I learned the error of my ways. What’s your excuse?