Monday, March 12, 2007

On Avenue Q

The dictionary definition of a racist is as follows:
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

I don’t know any people who fit that definition. That does not mean I don’t know of any because I know of many. Louise Day Hicks, who tried to prevent busing in Boston, Southern Governors who tried to keep schools segregated or prevent voting, the religious lunatic who assassinated Gandhi and the bigot who shot Martin Luther King. So when I say I don’t know anyone, I mean I would never associate or even argue with anyone I thought was a racist. I certainly do not see that person when I look in the mirror.

Forgetting the dictionary, and who we know, who or what do you have to do to be considered a racist. I think it’s all about hate, and hate is a terrible emotion and at one time or another we have all felt that we hated our parents, or friends or teachers or an idea. But we didn’t think of ourselves as racists—we were merely angry about something they did or said or believed. A racist has usually been taught to hate from a very early age and unless they have an experience that negates the teaching they will probably continue to believe that their race or religion is superior to the target of hate.

When I was at USA Networks we designed an award winning campaign called ‘Erase the Hate’, the purpose of which was to promote respect for individual differences. We were all proud to be part of something that could make a positive impact. But what exactly are individual differences? For our campaign we focused on race, religion, gender, age, culture, and disabilities. These are all things that we don’t have much choice about. We didn’t talk about things like weight, hair color, not bathing, smoking, taste in clothing, political persuasion, or being a vegetarian, because these were all things about which people made their own life choices. But lately, if you object in any way to these items, you are considered to be prejudiced or intolerant. Tolerance is a word that belongs right up there with bigot. I think it is arrogant and condescending to say we are tolerant of another person’s beliefs. It implies that what we believe is better or right, but we’ll let you have your own little beliefs and we won’t object to them—at least not publicly.
There’s a show on Broadway called Avenue Q. It’s a great show and totally politically incorrect. It makes you laugh from beginning to end and a good portion of the time you are laughing at yourself. There’s one song that is especially germane to this blob called, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” There are a few verses that, although I don’t agree some of the sentiment, I find appropriate to what we have become as a society --very quick to label or accuse people of being racists based on limited information. They are as follows:

“Ethnic jokes might be uncouth,
But you laugh because
They're based on truth.
Don't take them as
Personal attacks.
Everyone enjoys them -
So relax!”


It goes on...

“Doesn't mean we go
Around committing hate crimes.”


And then...

“The Jews have all
The money
And the whites have all
The power.
And I'm always in taxi-cab
With driver who no shower!”


I wrote something a few days ago that apparently offended a few of our readers. I was trying to be funny and clever, and even David says it didn’t work. But who I am and what I have done in my life is much more telling than two sentences in a blob. And it does push my buttons (and I find it equally offensive), to have people who because of a word or a phrase pretend to be, (as we say in our house), ‘TVOMO” (the voice of moral outrage), when they have to attack rather than discuss an issue as important as this. We’re just sayin...Iris

7 comments:

Walt said...

Hey, I know Peshawar!

Iris and David said...

Walt, you rode with him too. What a coincidence

Anonymous said...

I never attacked you or David, I merely wrote that I was deeply offended, I did not call either one of you racists or bigots, I never would. My point was that the remarks made were incredibly cruel and I also wrote in the comment that was erased that I did not think it was your intention to hurt anyone, I am sure you meant it in a funny way but sometimes we all need to think before we speak or write.Thank you for the edit...

Jane said...

I just want to tell you how much your comment about the word tolerance touched me. I have always felt there was something not quite right about how that word is used, but you really clarified it. Thank you.

Walter Briggs said...

When you think about it..ALL of us..at 'some' point in our history, have either said something or committed an act that rubbed others the wrong way. I am glad to see we can get past this scurmish and move on. Evidently, one's funny is another's slam. As for myself, I've lost count of the numerous times I've inserted both feet....

Marla said...

Iris, I love your (and David's!)blog and appreciate your honesty and complexity. You are absolutely someone whom I have always admired.

Regarding the topic of racism - it is something that is a central focus in my Master's program. For great writings on the topic, read the works of Robert Jensen. Very thought provoking. His book, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege, causes a lot of soul searching; a good thing that’s not always easy but necessary. I’ve given it to family members as gifts! http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/articles.html

Thanks again for your blog, keep your head up.

Anonymous said...

Forgetting the dictionary, and who we know, who or what do you have to do to be considered a racist. I think it’s all about hate...

It's nice that you think that. But the truth is, that's not all there is to racism. The distinction you make between assassins and "non-racists" is a false dichotomy. It is entirely possible for you to participate in a campaign called "Erase the Hate" and still possess unexamined beliefs that are racist. In fact, given this post, I rate the chances very likely.

But who I am and what I have done in my life is much more telling than two sentences in a blob.

According to the original commenter, no one called you a racist or bigot or indicted your entire life from the moment of conception to the present instant - so why are you having a hernia about it? If anyone's blowing this out of proportion, it's you.

And it does push my buttons (and I find it equally offensive), to have people who because of a word or a phrase pretend to be, (as we say in our house), ‘TVOMO” (the voice of moral outrage), when they have to attack rather than discuss an issue as important as this.

Newsflash: Being called on racism is NOT just as "offensive" as being the target of racism. That's one of the most delusional comments I've ever read. I think you need to take a second look in the mirror if that's what you believe.

You're not being "attacked." You're being criticized. Rightfully so. And far from a willingness to "discuss the issue," all I see from you is a determined effort to silence and dismiss dissent and play the victim.

You messed up. Own up to it. Enough with the apologism. Better luck next time.