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.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Penguins May Have Died but The Chicks Live

I'm now an official Blogging Chick! Find other chicks who blog; learn more about the technical side of blogging; read the blogger chick carnivals over on BloggingChicks.

Nothing too serious now.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Penguins Die in Crash; Octopus Uninjured

On a night when political junkies are surfing the net looking for the most recent results from the Connecticut and Georgia polls, how can you not get sucked in by a news link on Penguins Die in Crash; Octopus Uninjured.

Now the story is that a truck overturned carrying some unusual livestock.

"Four penguins and some exotic fish were killed in the accident, including three penguins that were hit by passing motorists, said Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Richard Buchanan.

"The rest of the penguins kind of stayed together in the ditch," he said.

And the octopus was uninjured.

But, it coulda been worse:

The trooper said it was the oddest traffic accident he had ever handled.

"We've worked several wrecks involving cows, horses, pigs, even fish, but this is the first where the live animals were penguins."

Buchanan said he was glad the accident was not worse.

"There was another truck full of snakes and alligators that was an hour ahead of them, so luckily we didn't have to deal with the alligators," Buchanan said.

I know that there is a metaphor in here somewhere for Democrats watching tonight's election returns. I just haven't figured it out yet.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Keeping it Civil; "Hate" is Not a Political Slogan or a Civic Value

Update: Style Weekly published a slightly edited version of this post on its Back Page on August 30, 2006.

This morning I listened to a civil debate between surrogates for Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont.

Then, I read this quote from Buck O'Neil, a self-described "proud ... Negro League ballplayer," on the occasion of the induction this week of 17 Negro leaguers and Negro leagues executives into the National Baseball Hall of Fame:

And I tell you what: They always said to me, "Buck, I know you hate people for what they did to you or what they did to your folks." I said, "No, man, I never learned to hate."

I hate cancer. Cancer killed my mother. My wife died 10 years ago of cancer. I hate AIDS. A good friend of mine died of AIDS three months ago. I hate AIDS. But I can't hate a human being, because my God never made anything so ugly. Now, you can be ugly if you want to, but God didn't make you that way.

It got me thinking again about one of the points that Mary Sue Terry made in the great speech she gave at the recent Virginia Women in Politics Conference. After speaking thoughtfully about the need to use long-term thinking in solving current issues and avoiding lost opportunities, Terry urged careful consideration of the language of politics. She expressed concern about language that makes politics a war or battle rather than a conversation or discussion. She talked about the need to change the nature of political discourse. She urged women not to participate in the use of "war" and "battle" language in politics. She reminded the audience that the language used can become a predictor of behavior.

This is a theme I have visited before. In spring 2000, I asked noted linguist Deborah Tannen, who had just published her book, The Argument Culture: Stopping the War of Words, to address the language of conflict in politics at the annual Southern Women in Politics Conference held that year in Northern Virginia. She has spoken and written about this here, here and here.

Her message:
... there's something deeper that I'm trying to talk about-the power of words to frame how you think about things, how you feel about things, how you perceive the world. The tendency in our culture to use war metaphors so pervasively, and to frame everything as a metaphorical battle, influences how we approach each other in our everyday lives. We end up thinking problems are insoluble, because we have allowed the polarized extremes to frame the debate.

In March 2005, I wrote a piece titled: "Let's Change the Language of Politics -- It's Time to Stop the Hate." Writing about the use of the term "hate," particularly by Kerry supporters, in the 2004 presidential campaign, I said:

I have trouble understanding why many of my politically passionate friends (regardless of party affiliation) without hesitation describe their disagreement with particular politicians on policy as reasons to "hate" that person. ...

I believe "hate" is a term that should be reserved for persons whose actions are so antithetical to common decency and civility, such an affront to our common humanity, that they should provoke a visceral, unreasoned antipathy among all people of good heart and right reason.

Should we not "hate" our captors if we were Iraqi prisoners subjected to abuse and torture or the relatives of kidnapped civilians beheaded on video for worldwide consumption? Should we not "hate" terrorists who purposely kill civilians to make a political point? Should we not "hate" bigots who maim and kill solely because someone is of another race, religion or sexual orientation? ...

What troubles me about the almost routine use of the term "hate" to describe people with whom we disagree in our daily discourse on matters of public concern is that it desensitizes us to the real meaning of the term and the emotion and passion that it normally evokes.

Can leaders and parents teach tolerance or expect tolerance from our children when we are so ready to describe objects of mere political disagreements as people we "hate"? ...

Before we continue to speak about our political opponents as people we "hate", we should think about the message we are sending to our children about when it is okay to "hate." We should not be teaching our children that it is okay to "hate" anyone just because they have different beliefs, unless those beliefs are so abhorrent that they shock the conscience.

We should consider the words of President George Washington, and ask ourselves before we speak if our words will live up to his expectation of the "demeanor" of "good citizens":

"Happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demeanor themselves as good citizens."

We should give bigotry no sanction and persecution no assistance by sending the wrong messages to those we lead or nurture. As Max DePree says in his book Leadership Jazz, "[w]e are dealing with God's mix, people made in God's image, a compelling mystery." "We are all authentic in our own right; no person awards us authenticity; we are born with it."

No one is worthy of hate, when that assessment is made only because they bring to that mix a different point of view, a different tradition of faith or a different political position.

This is an important lesson to learn for those of us participating in the debates of this campaign season about candidates and issues, including the Marshall/Newman amendment.

We do ourselves and our causes no good if we stoop to name-calling and demonizing our opponents. We teach our children the wrong lessons if we teach them through the language we use that it is okay to hate someone for their beliefs or their being or that politics is a "battle" or "boxing match" properly "fought" from opposite "extremes" or opposing "corners."

Anyone who doubts the power of words to incite behavior need look no further than the recent incident of hate violence against a gay couple living peaceably in Loudoun County. Can anyone doubt that words of hate fueled the attack there?

I haven't quite gotten out of the habit of participating in the use of "fighting" references in my political lexicon, as Mary Sue recommended. But, I'm working on it. Bad habits are hard to break and good habits are hard to keep.

What I do know is this.

Hearts and minds are not changed by force of battle. They are led to change by love and the gentle persuasion of conversation and thoughtful consideration.