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Oct 21, 2010

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Travis Greene

Did you read William Saletan's piece at Slate comparing this to Shirley Sherrod's firing?

Dan Anderson-Little

Mike,

Here is a place where I disagree with you. While I think NPR didn't handle the actual firing very well, I think they were well within their rights to fire Williams. On a network that works 24/7 to stigmatize Muslims, Williams said that getting on an airplane he is suspicious of people who self-identify as Muslims--forgetting that no one in traditional Muslim garb has ever tried to crash an airplane into a building. Try this mental exercise: what if a White commentator said (didn't think, but said on a national broadcast), that when he or she sees an African American male with gold capped teeth and gold chains that he or she starts to worry that he or she might get mugged. And then didn't add, I know that is completely irrational on my part.

Here is one of the blogs that I read that has shaped my thinking on this: http://www.theatlantic.com/ta-nehisi-coates/. Coates is a fine writer and brings great nuance to his arguments.

One thing you wrote in your post that always gets under my skin is "NPR's behavior is PC run amok". I think that dismissing anything as being "PC" is a cheap way to score points but that it doesn't actually mean anything--or perhaps better put can mean anything--it is so often used as a way not to actually deal with what was said. Does PC mean calling fat people horizontally gifted? Or idiots developmentally disabled? Is it dark-skinned people asking to be called "African American" instead of Negro (or some other moniker not of their choosing)? Is it wondering why women get so upset when people refer to them as "girls"? Or is accusing someone of toeing some liberal line of thinking and thought? At different times it has meant all of those things.

The problem with the term is that it can be used to mean any of those things, and in my experience it is usually used to signify that what was said is intellectually hollow. Are you suggesting that NPR is captive to a liberal mindset on race? That they are trying to be nice (or fair? or what?) on the issue of religion? I find the term similar to "traditional family values"--it's a signifier, not an argument (at least much of the time). I think there are probably more precise and less inflammatory ways to discuss your displeasure about NPR. Sorry for the sermon--it's just that that term has always bugged me.

As always thanks for your blog and the vast number of topics that you cover.

Dan

Michael W. Kruse

Dan, first off, I think Williams comments taken in context with the whole piece demonstrate that he was not justifying his knee-jerk reactions. I'll say again that I think the issue is less what your unguarded feelings are and more about what you do with them.

This was a live energetic exchange, not an article or a prepared presentation where the author has the opportunity to precisely chose every word and carefully build an argument. The statements were clumsy but the intent is there.

But compare this with other personal comments NPR people like Nina Totenberg and others have made in recent years where it was crystal clear they had malice and animus. At the most, Williams is guilty of poorly stating his case.

As to PC, yes, it is appropriate to call people out for derogatory language and statements. But what constitutes such actions isn't always clear. My brother's family is mixed ethnicity. My sister-in-law, nephew, and niece are Mexican-American. I have a great-nephew and niece who are Mex-American and black ... not African-American ... because they don't like the term. I go to PCUSA events and I'm to say "Latino" but many of neighbors (surnames like Morales, Garcia, Lopez, etc.) refer to themselves as Hispanic. When I've asked about lingo a couple of times, I get "Eh. Whatever."

So my point is that it is important to consider how to articulate ideas and feelings respectfully. That is the appropriate role of PC language. But the negative side is to use PC language in ways to intimidate, bully, and demonize someone for for using language that the attacker has elevated to mortal sin but many others do not regard as having a high degree of inappropriateness. It is used to shut down dialog and demean and marginalize rather than to find clarity.

Reasonable people can disagree over where the line is but I do think hyper-PC outrage is as often a cynical political tactic as it is an attempt to bring justice. IMO, William's did not cross the line and this was a political move ... not a move to promote justice ... by NPR because the leaders there don't like Williams.

Dan Anderson-Little

Mike, I like where you are going with you discussion of "PC" language. I agree that some folks can be doctrinaire about words that doesn't have universal or near universal agreement (like "Latino" vs "Hispanic"). I would just argue the the term "PC" itself if frequently used to "shut down dialog and demean and marginalize". Your argument the first time would have been much clearer and more precise if you had said NPR did this as a political rather than a justice move because they didn't like Williams rather than saying it was PC run amok. Accusing someone of being hyper PC often means you need a thicker skin and I can call you whatever I like. So I guess my appeal is to drop the label "PC" not the issue that caused you to post the entry in the first place. Thanks again!!

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