Saturday, August 19, 2006

On Andrew Young

This week a man for whom I have long had great respect disappointed me.

I am not referring to George Allen.

I am, of course, referring to Andrew Young.

Young was hired by Working Families for Wal-Mart to help the company defend itself against criticism of its business/economic model and its allegedly discriminatory employment practices (a role for which he'd previously been criticizedhimself).

In his role as chair of Working Families and Wal-Mart spokesman, Young was asked, according to news reports,"whether he was concerned Wal-Mart causes smaller, mom-and-pop stores to close."

His answer:

"Well, I think they should; they ran the `mom and pop' stores out of my neighborhood," the paper quoted Young as saying. "But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us, selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs; very few black people own these stores."

This response drew "forceful condemnation" from several fronts, including from among leaders in the Jewish, Arab and Asian communities, and Wal-Mart executives, which led Young to resign from Working Families, which issued a statement calling the remarks "insensitive".

But, if Allen's apology for his recent public expression of personal prejudice was "feeble," Young's response was positively "incapacitated", even though preceded by "it's against everything I thought in my life":

Young, who has apologized for the remarks, said he decided to end his involvement with Working Families for Wal-Mart after he started getting calls about the story.

"Things that are matter-of-fact in Atlanta, in the New York and Los Angeles environment tend to be a lot more volatile," he said.

He also said working with the group "was also taking more of my time than I thought."

Mel Gibson came off as more sincere than that.

"Matter-of-fact"? Does he really mean that it would have been okay to say what he said in Atlanta, and that he only got in trouble for saying it because he said it in LA?

Young's comments haven't provoked the almost worldwide negative commentary and reaction that Gibson's and Allen's did.

Why not?

Partly, I suspect, because there is no video for YouTube, proving, once again, the power of the visual over text.

But, there is clearly a double standard here.

And, we shouldn't tolerate it!

To folks like Howling Latina who today tried to dismiss the Young comments as not worthy of press attention, much less opprobrium, I say (and said on her comment page, some of which is repeated below), I could not disagree more.


In reaching for some way to defend WalMart against growing criticism of their economic model and allegations of corporate discrimination against minority employees, Young fell into behavior he's criticized in others ... repetition of irrelevant religious, ethnic and racial stereotypes.

His language (and Allen's) reflect the growing divisions in this country, along ethnic and racial lines, where suddenly the term "immigrant" means folks (mostly people of color) who've come here in the last decade rather than all Americans who came here from somewhere else during the entire history of our great nation.

It is the willingness to use this kind of intemperate and inflammatory language about which I expressed concern in recent posts on this blog and Bacon's Rebellion.

Howling Latina and others demean themselves by trying to distinguish Young's words from Allen's words. Their offenses are equivalent, except that Allen's behavior clearly was, in part, that of school yard bully which gave his offense extra weight, particularly when judging his fitness for higher office.

Allen's and Young's (and Mel Gibson's)language is cut from the same cloth ... a cloth of intolerance and fear of other.

The ethnic and religious background of people who exploited the poor was irrelevant to Young's principle point ... that there have always been people ready to rip off the poor by providing poor quality goods and services at higher than average prices (see, e.g., pay day lenders) and that the Walmart effect (driving small businesses, including these alleged exploiters, out of the marketplace) isn't a bad thing given that history.

Young's unnecessary reference to the race, ethnicity and religion of some of these people, however, reflected a personal predjudice -- nothing more, nothing less.

Using ethnic or religious stereotypes isn't properly classified as "racist" but it certainly is intolerant, and can, as in this case, reflect deep-seated prejudice.


Jim Hoeft said...

Nice post, Claire. I like your consistent approach and intellectual honesty.

CG2 said...

Thanks for coming by, Jim, and thanks for the compliment. I respect and value your opinion. Bearing Drift is one of the better blogs out there in our Virginia political blogosphere, and it is distinguished by its maturity and thoughtful commentary.

Oh, The Joys said...

Young disappointed me too.

Karmyn R said...

and yet, Wal-Mart hired him I have another reason not to shop there.

Thanks for the post. I'm glad someone is staying on top of the newstories that need to be told!

Pat Henry said...

A couple of differences are obvious:

1. Young was not a public official.

2. Young--no matter how ungracefully--resigned.

Regarding the "resignation". I'll simply say "And may George profit by that example!"