Saturday, April 07, 2007


Tolerance Tales

While on the subject of stereotyping:

1) Zev Chafetz has a non-PC take on former NBA player Micheal Ray Richardson's recent statements about Jews:
Asked about his contract negotiations, Richardson said he didn't expect problems because "I've got big-time lawyers. Big-time Jew lawyers."

Alarmed, the reporters warned Richardson that his words could be considered insulting because they fit the stereotype of Jews as crafty and shrewd.

Richardson didn't even blink. "Are you kidding me?" he demanded. "They've got the best security system in the world. Have you ever been to an airport in Tel Aviv? They're real crafty. Listen, they are hated all over the world, so they've got to be crafty. They got a lot of power in this world, you know what I mean? Which I think is great. I don't think there's nothing wrong with it. If you look in most professional sports, they're run by Jewish people. If you look at a lot of most successful corporations and stuff, more businesses, they're run by Jewish [sic]. It's not a knock, but they are some crafty people."

For these observations, Richardson was suspended by the Patroons, forbidden by team owner Ben Fernandez to even attend practice. Predictably, Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, praised this punishment and demanded an apology...

Excuse me, but Richardson didn't say anything offensive...In fact, Jews, as a people, are smart, in my experience. And they're proud of it (especially the dumb ones). Wake up a Jew in the middle of the night and he can rattle off the Jewish Nobel Prize winners in alphabetical order. Believe me, I've been a Jew for 59 years, and I know what I'm talking about.

What other hurtful things did Richardson supposedly say? That Israel has the best airport security in the world? This is both true and something Israel itself brags about. That Jews are hated and need to protect themselves? That's the founding premise of the Anti-Defamation League itself.

Sure, Richardson exaggerates when he says that Jews own most sports teams. As far as I can tell, Jews (about 1% of the population) only own about half the teams in the NBA (and a pretty fair proportion in baseball and football too). So what?

As to the observation that Jews run a lot of successful businesses, no kidding. Jews are very likely the most economically successful ethnic group in the U.S. What's the matter with that?
Oh, and one more thing: What about the Beastie Boys, Jewish rappers, who said of a new "girlie" that "she's crafty --she's just my type"?

Seriously, it's a great column that speaks to the conundrum of how and whether one can speak of group "positive" stereotypes. Everything Richardson said was stereotypical of Jews -- good lawyers, "crafty", wise in business -- but as Chafets says, there is no hint of malice in Richardson's words. On the contrary, they are laudatory. And, given Richardson's history of "creative" language use such as "the ship be sinking" (speaking of his Knicks team's crumbling playoff chances), should be taken at face value.

The problem, of course, is that members of embattled or ostracized groups often anticipate the other side of the coin in such images. Thus, if someone says that blacks excel at sports and physical pursuits, the feared unspoken flip side is -- "but otherwise they're dumb, violent or sexually promiscuous."

So, the flip side of Jews being "crafty" or "business-wise" is "devious" and "underhanded." But, as Chafets suggests, can't we read the words in the context of what is suggested in the heart of the speaker -- not what is perceived in the mind of the listener?

2) Meanwhile, morning talk-jock Don Imus eats some well-deserved crow for his comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. On Wednesday, he and sidekick Bernard McGurk called the women, "nappy-headed ho's" while their opponents, the Tennessee Lady Vols (who won) were "cute." As it happens, Rutgers is a virtually all-black team, while Tennessee is more racially mixed. McGurk called the game a contest between the "Jigaboos and the Wannabes." After dismissing the criticism Thursday, Imus finally apologized on Friday.

In the interest of clarity, it should be noted that the "J. vs. W." line was -- as McGurk correctly noted -- lifted from Spike Lee (though -- contrary to what Imus' other sidekick, Charles McCord, stated -- from School Daze, not Do The Right Thing). That, of course, was in the context of a movie where Lee explored intra-racial sensibility set at an all black college.

Regardless, the apology was a day late and a dollar short. First, his comment was, not just racist, but unnecessarily thuggish. Like their male college counterparts, the Rutgers players aren't professionals. They're not making huge amounts of money playing a sport. They are student athletes, who, unlike their male counterparts won't make the multi-millions if/when they go professional. None of the players said or did anything to deserve that sort of verbal abuse. On the contrary, as a #4 seed, they defeated a #1 (Duke, the top overall seed in the women's tournament), #2 and #3 seed to make it to the championship game. They were a great example of good sportsmanship -- and a good sports story (whether one is a fan of women's college basketball or not). And he calls them "nappyheaded 'hos." Given his platform, he should be suspended.

Given the amount of money he brings in to radio station WFAN and cable's MSNBC, he won't be.

3) Newt Gingrich responds to the uproar of his "ghetto" comments by sharing his views on the importance of English in cultural assimilation and success in the U.S.:

Still, it's important that we not allow passion to rule the debate. Too often, sincere expressions of support for English as our unifying language are interpreted as a lack of support for welcoming and respecting new Americans. For example, those who support "English-first" are often mistakenly portrayed as supporters of "English-only." English-first supporters believe that English should be the official language of the government but that other languages are fine in communities and commerce. In contrast, English-only advocates want to outlaw all languages other than English.

Clearly, these two positions are very different. Promoting English-first is not — and should not be — disrespectful of other languages. In fact, supporting English instruction for immigrants demonstrates our confidence in their ability to pursue happiness here and contribute to their families, communities and new country.

As a part of any comprehensive immigration reform, we should renew our commitment to making sure that all new immigrants have the opportunity to learn English. In public schools, children should have intensive English instruction rather than bilingual classes. For adults, we can adopt something similar to a program Israel has for its new immigrants. There, every new resident is entitled to 500 hours of intensive Hebrew language instruction paid for by the government. And along with intensive English language instruction, they could receive U.S. history and civics training.

Equally important, we must abolish federal rules requiring that government documents — including ballots — be printed in multiple languages. These multilingual documents discourage immigrants from learning English as rapidly as possible, limiting their ability to engage in a truly common political culture. Rather than expanding opportunities for new Americans, these mandates help limit them.
Exactly right and a far more approprate response than his silly Espagnol YouTube performance.

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