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When is Racism OK?

When some idiot in the public eye spews forth an outrageous racist remark or two, they’re always called to task! And rightly so. Well… are they really? What happens when people are afraid to call a racist a racist, because they’ll be called racist? This story was in True’s 29 February 2004 issue:

Leading By Example

After a briefing on the coup in Haiti, U.S. Representative Corrine Brown (Democrat from Florida) said President Bush’s policy for the country was “racist” and engineered by “a bunch of white men.” That didn’t sit well with the president’s man she was berating, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega. “As a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man,” he told her, but promised that he would “relay that to [Secretary of State] Colin Powell and [national security adviser] Condoleezza Rice the next time I run into them.” Brown, who is black, said she was “absolutely not” apologetic for calling Noriega white, telling him “you all look alike to me.” (Florida Times-Union) …Racism: an appalling slur on humanity, unless committed by a black Democratic politician.


I wasn’t sure if I’d get angry letters. Surely people have figured out that I skewer stupidity and injustice no matter who commits it. Right? Hm. The following letters and “mini-rant” appeared in the 7 March 2004 issue:

I know, more times than not, you are accused of being anti-Christian and very liberal (or anti-Bush or anti-Republican). I have to admit that, at times, I have wondered myself about that after reading some of your comments but I have never been able to come to that conclusion because you pretty much skewer anything stupid and because there is no way to understand someone’s true beliefs because of a couple of comments made in reaction to a story. Regardless, you will, undoubtedly receive much mail now accusing you of being a Christian and a racist, Democrat hater. Can’t win, huh?” —Brad, Pennsylvania

Correct, Brad. Read on. Paul in Maryland was the most articulate of the anti crowd:

“Being a fairly new subscriber, I was disturbed by the ad hominem tag line at the end of the story ‘Leading by Example’. You infer that Democrats are willing to excuse racism and insensitivity from those apparently aligned with us. We are not. But as much as I resent the antagonist’s comments, I also resent your inference that I excuse them. As your publication gets bigger, there are more folks, opinions, and feelings that you’ll have to account for. [I’m] one step closer to ‘unsubscribe’.” —Paul, Maryland

No, Paul, I don’t “have to account for” the “opinions and feelings” of my entire reader base. True isn’t about making everyone agree with me, it’s about two things: entertainment, and making people think. If I can do both in a single story, great! But that’s not a requirement. Yes, the story was controversial; while it was meant to make people think, I also think it is, in its way, entertaining — many say they enjoy the ranting letters as much as the stories. As for my “inference that you excuse” Rep. Brown’s outrageous remarks, you didn’t do much to condemn her. Do you condemn her? Few in the media did, before me or after. But thoughtful subscribers did, after reading about it in True. Read on.

“As a resident of Jacksonville, Florida, I was very appalled to read the comments made by Corrine Brown. Since Ms. Brown is supposed to be representing ALL of her constituents, I wonder if the white constituents all look the same to her as well? Had these remarks been made by a white politician, that politician would have been embroiled in a huge scandal which would have probably resulted in that politician’s resignation. I am certain that the white constituents are angry over the comments, but I wonder what the minority constituents think about it. For anybody who truly believes in the concept of racial equality, the remarks made by Ms. Brown were an insult. I believe that Ms. Brown should step down and let someone who cares about the needs of all the constituents take the helm. The people of Florida need to show that racism is unacceptable from any politician, regardless of his or her race, and I just hope that Ms. Brown does not get away with her actions just because she is black.” —Tracy, Florida

Now that’s taking a stand.

“Thank you for the insight into my own blindness. I’m afraid I have a tendency to angelicize all in my party, as I think many do, and it’s good to be brought back to Earth sometimes that people, even Democrats, can be complete racist morons.” —Amber, Massachusetts

And that’s taking a stand.

Craig in Kentucky was one of several who anticipated Paul and others who wrote:

“Thank you for having the courage to point out that racism is given a free pass when committed by some in our society. After all, Corrine Brown can say ‘you all look alike’ and Hillary Clinton can say that Ghandi owns a gas station in St. Louis, and no one in the media says a word. You had the courage to comment on the blatant hypocrisy. I feel sorry for the letters I assume are heading your way, calling you racist bigoted rich white Republican man.” —Craig, Kentucky

Yes, I’m proud to be one of the few to take a stand, and I won’t be backing down. You can say “it’s different” when Rep. Brown shows herself as a “racist moron”, to use Amber’s phrase. But it’s not different. Racism is wrong no matter who the racist is, and she should step down — just like any white racist moron would be forced to do.

After the above ran in the 7 March issue, there was plenty of response; the most interesting are included below. Please resist the urge to send more unless you have something to say that’s not already covered on this page. Thanks.

“Before I give you my two cents worth, let me say this: I’m trying to identify myself, but don’t know if I’m Black, African-American (Charlize Theron is African-American too, as is my Jewish neighbor) or a Negro. I’ve been called all of those and other things, and I’m not sure which is politically correct this week. Living in southern California my entire life just makes me American, as far as I’m concerned. It’s nice to know that your readers are intelligent enough to recognize racism in whatever form it appears and idiots in whatever forms they appear. Ms. Brown is an idiot, and doesn’t even speak for her constituents, let alone the Black population. No one is totally useless; anyone can serve as a bad example.” —Michael, California

You know what I like best about your attitude, Michael? You don’t identify yourself as “Black”, “African-American”, or whatever other hyphenate, but rather simply as “American”. That’s what I call myself; I also can choose from Irish-American (my paternal grandmother’s side), English-American (paternal grandfather), Danish-American (maternal grandfather) or Norweigan-American (maternal grandmother). My genetic background is mildly interesting — but only to me — so when forced to apply a label other than “person” I choose to simply call myself what I really feel I am: American, plain and simple. My guess is that this country will never be truly color-blind as long as “minorities” are still working to set themselves apart as different!

I’d suggest Paul from Maryland crawl back under his rock! If you don’t condemn racism, then you support it. Politicians of any colour, faith or following are supposed to be role models to their own society. Might explain why the world is going down the toilet.” —Shane, Australia

“Heaven help us if Paul in Maryland was the ‘most articulate’ of the bunch opposing your comments. First, he says he was disturbed by your ‘ad hominem tag line,’ but apparently doesn’t know what the term means. Your tag line read ‘Racism: an appalling slur on humanity, unless committed by a black Democratic politician.’ Rather than accuse her of being a racist, you stated that what she said was an example of racism. Such is not ad hominem, not name calling. The only name calling you engaged in was to call her black, Democratic, and a politician. Hmmm, maybe an apology is in order, Randy. I would never let someone get away with calling me either Democratic or a politician. Also, the guy needs to learn the difference between inference and implication. ‘You infer that Democrats are willing to excuse racism…,’ followed by ‘I also resent your inference that I excuse them.’ Good Lord! Is this gentleman the best that the Dems have to offer?” —Andy, South Carolina

Quite a few people wrote about him missing the difference between infer and imply. But yes: he was indeed the most articulate of the several complainers at that time. A more articulate one is below.

“Can I use your tagline ‘Racism: an appalling slur on humanity, unless committed by a black Democratic politician.’ on a bumper sticker? —Michael, MSNland

Yes, if you send me a couple!

After reading several opinions from your subscribers on Ms Brown’s remark (as asinine as it was), I pose a question to you: is she not entitled to her own opinion, or has free speech been abolished??” —Jess, North Carolina

I consider this a silly question, but I’ll answer it anyway. No one is arguing that she shouldn’t be able to say what she thinks. That, indeed, is a right. It is also a right for others to react to her opinion; even you call it “asinine”, which is your opinion of her remark. If Ms Brown were a grocery clerk, this would not be international news; rather, she is an elected representative of the people; her job is to (key word here!) represent the people of her district and, to a lesser extent, the people of this country. Does her “asinine” remark represent your opinion? Or does it offend your sensibility and beliefs? If the latter, it’s not just a right but many would consider it a responsibility to speak out against her blatant racism and ensure that others know you repudiate the remarks she made in the name of the people of the United States. That’s why the only honorable thing for her to do is resign.

“Like so many others, I enjoy your stories each week, and always know they will give me a different perspective to think about. The comments that you published concerning the Corrine Brown story gave me pause. It seems that many people were upset at the verbiage she used, but no one seemed to mind that Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega ‘deeply resented being called a racist and branded a white man.’ I can see why he would resent being called a racist (I don’t know what policies he supports, so therefore have no clue as to whether he could be considered racist in that regard or not), but the term ‘branded’ a white man doesn’t exactly speak equality to me either. It’s OK to be sensitive to every ethnic background in the U.S., but not Caucasian?? If we’re all to be equal, then that should also include ‘white’ men and women. There can be as much discrimination toward people of Caucasian descent, but no one seems to mind the slurs that can be thrown their way. It’s time, in my opinion, that slurs against any ethnic group be [considered] unacceptable. Perhaps Assistant Secretary of State Noriega needs to check his own feelings on the subject. They might not be as righteous and pure as he has always believed.” —Melanie, Oregon

Good point. If a white or (say) Latino was outraged at being “branded a Black man,” surely he would be hounded with questions like “What’s wrong with being black, dude?!” Shame on Mr. Noriega!

“I do not think you are anti-anything other than stupidity and possibly hypocrisy. It seems that there are certain keywords you are never supposed to mention, for example ‘black’ or ‘Christian’, in anything other than a totally positive light or some people will immediately and without any real thought accuse you of being racist or anti-religion. I always thought that black people and Christian people were prone to stupidity and hypocrisy just like white non-Christian people. Yet when you write about white non-religious people doing ridiculous things you don’t seem to come under attack for doing so.” —Alison, Australia

Another good point. And yes, I’ve had my share of people upset for calling for true religious freedom, too.

“We can infer from [your complaint letters] that there is a sizeable portion of the population that chooses not to read anything not in accord with their beliefs. Everything they read is geared towards reinforcing what they already know or believe! Sounds to me like a population ripe for manipulation. Or, another way to look at this is: how is this any different from the way true believers from other cultures think? I’m sure Islamic terrorists choose not to read anything that might make them think, either. It’s funny how those who had been oppressed can continue to apply a different standard in their behavior despite the overwhelming equalization measures permeating society that would appear to have addressed the issue, or at least shown good faith in attempting to. Corrine Brown can whine about white men in all good conscience; women can continue to engage jokingly in male bashing, yet both are likely strong proponents of political correctness, which, if applied equally, would discourage such behavior. In an industry such as yours that depends on dumb people doing stupid things, you certainly need not worry about job security. Thanks for the entertainment and the things to think about. I’ll continue reading even if I find something I disagree with you about.” —Luis, B.C., Canada

“I can’t believe that you, and so many of your readers, are taking Rep. Brown as racist for these comments. Are people incapable of recognising metaphoric speech when they hear or read it? Personally, I think Brown has hit the nail right on the head. Powell and Rice might have brown skin, but they have well and truly signed up on the side of conservative white men from the East coast. That is their right, of course. Just because Powell and Rice are members of an oppressed minority doesn’t make them nice people, and it certainly doesn’t mean they have to work towards political policies that are good for that oppressed minority. But when you work for a government that makes political decisions that are for the benefit of conservative whites and does little or nothing for blacks, then you have to expect to be called racist, and shame on you for suggesting that Powell and Rice’s brown skins mean that they could not possibly enact policies that hurt blacks. Whites have almost all the power in the Western world, and so being ‘white’ is more a matter of being one of the powerful who act against the powerless than skin colour. American blacks understand this: you might remember the term of abuse ‘oreo’ for a person who is black on the outside but white on the inside.” —Steven, Australia

Finally, someone with an “anti” position more articulate than Paul! But I’ve seen no evidence that Ms Brown was speaking metaphorically; I sure didn’t take it that way, and neither do the vast majority of my readers — of any race. Surely if the situation were reversed, a white politician who said something like that wouldn’t be excused as “speaking metaphorically”. But that aside, you seem to be saying that one cannot both be black and work in the system. Please! You mean only whites can work toward making a color-blind society? Blacks can only be black if they only work for the improvement of black people, ignoring everyone else? Rev. King had an honorable “dream” — that all people are created equal, that his children will be judged by their character, not the color of their skin. That’s a job for everyone, not just white people — or just black people.

To say that the government works only for white people is ridiculous — and ignores massive strides away from our country’s institutionalized racism of the past. Clearly (obviously, considering the story that started this!) we are not 100% of the way toward equality yet, but one has to remember that the key word in “reverse racism” is not “reverse”, it’s “racism”. All racism is repugnant, and the sooner we get that through everyone’s head, the sooner we get to a truly equal society. Ms Brown’s attitude pushes that day further away.

“With interest I read all the comments about racism in America. I can not believe that a country that is ‘supposed’ to be the super power, that stands for global justice and equality, free and fair political tolerance, and yet can still be so ignorant. Shame on them who cries wolf whilst profiteering on the spoils of the wolf. How many years has it been that ‘segregation’ has been abolished in USA in comparison to South Africa? I live in South Africa. I can still hold my head up high and say ‘I am proud to be a South African’. We have achieved what a lot of other countries could not do. I have no disillusion of where I came from, our history or our future, and I have one thing to say to all of the men and woman who still live in the draconian era: You are all hypocrites. Shame on them who shouts ‘RACIST’ whilst sitting in the seats of directorships of companies whom practices affirmative action. Before you shout ‘RACIST’, look at yourself!” —C.A., South Africa

Ten Year Update

After first refusing to apologize, Brown finally issued a statement saying “I sincerely did not mean to offend Secretary Noriega or anyone in the room. Rather, my comments, as they relate to ‘white men,’ were aimed at the policies of the Bush administration as they pertain to Haiti, which I do consider to be racist.”

Brown also survived admonishment by the Federal Election Commission after her campaign treasurer quit after he discovered his name had been forged on her campaign reports to the FEC. The staffer who forged his signature was promoted — to become Brown’s Chief of Staff!

Brown was reelected, and (as of February 2014) continues as a U.S. Representative for Florida’s 5th congressional district.

7 Responses to When is Racism OK?

  1. paul, long island, ny September 4, 2010 at 9:54 am #

    About 20 years ago when I first started my legal practice I was called on to represent someone who was being accused of racism in his housing practices. At first blush, on paper, it sounded like it might have been racism, but after investigation it became clear that racism had nothing to do with the events, at least on the part of my client.

    There were several rounds of pleadings and every time that the complainant had any contact with the agency involved in giving a “fair hearing” in the matter, the complainant’s story changed to be an even more egregious horrifying example of blatant racism. I realized that every time the complainant spoke with an agency lawyer, he was coaxed into changing his story slightly, but in significant ways that made it a stronger case. This happens to be illegal and is called Subornation of Perjury when committed by an attorney. In New York it is also a crime. I found out that my client, who was an employee of NYC, was nowhere near the alleged events which happened 2 boroughs away because he was an engineer who had signed out a boat from NYC to inspect a bridge at the time the complained of events occurred. During the course of the litigation, I described the complainant as “black” and was roundly castigated by the agency attorney who looked at me as a racist piece of crap that I surely was and reminded me that the gentleman was “African American, not black!” She then accused me of being white and I corrected her and told her in my best politically correct, (contemptuous) voice, “It is perfectly apparent that I am a Celtic Visigothic American and I’d appreciate if if she would refer to me as such in the future.” I was so pissed off at the entire proceeding’s lack of rationality that I represented the defendant for free (from that point) and conducted my own investigation and found 4 instances of criminal perjury that should have gotten the complainant not only thrown out of court, but thrown into jail. The agency’s response was to find my client guilty of being racist in his rental practices of his 2 family house fining him $10,000.

    The snotty attorney sent me a letter to give me instructions as to how my client was to make payment. I responded with the following: “I am in the smallest room in my office. Your letter demanding payment is before me. Soon it will be behind me. My client will make payment to a perjurer when they are having snowball fights on the River Styx, accordingly please find enclosed his notice of appeal.”

    When the appellate attorneys (to be read as “competent”) for the city agency got the file they called me, apologetically, and asked if there was ANYTHING they could do to make it go away. We agreed to reopen the hearing, where the judge Mirandized the complainant before he was sworn in. This time he was honest, admitting that it was not my client at all and the case was dismissed. The appellate attorneys were afraid, rightfully so, that I was going to bring down the entire agency for reverse racism up to the commissioner. My client (who as I said was a city employee) was happy with a reversal of the original decision and an apology and did not want to pursue it further. The ironic thing was this was in front of the NYC Commission on Human Rights. It was outrageous.

    So when I’m not pawning myself off as a Celtic Visigothic American I too tell people I am African American because of my common ancestry with Lucy. My children are also members of an exclusive club know by us as “The Yiddish Son’s of Erinn.” The fact is we’re all mutts and proud of it. We’ve got the best of all the gene pools and a country that cherishes us for it.

  2. Chris, USA September 5, 2010 at 7:02 am #

    Racism – the practice of holding one race as better than another. The idea of hatred toward one race because that race is considered inferior.

    Ms. Brown, in stating that all white people look alike to her, is effectively stating that she feels they are all just a blur of inferiority when compared to herself and her race.

    Frankly, in my own opinion, anyone who accuses others of racism is more racist than those being accused, which is dangerous, as I find that I am accusing others of being racist while maintaining that I am not (what a vicious circle!). Racism is not a feeling of being picked on, persecuted, denigrated, oppressed, or simply ignored as less than human. That’s a different concept altogether. Racism is the opposite; a racist is the one doing the picking, the persecution, denigration, oppression, and ignoring. The difference comes when those who feel the effect of racism “rise up in the name of righteousness” and suddenly find themselves suffering from that which they so readily accuse their oppressor of accomplishing – racial pride.

    How is it different for someone who is black to hold themselves as elite because they are black? A Mexican to state that he is better than a White man or a Black man just because he is a Mexican? In no definition I have found does the White man hold exclusive ownership to being racist. In fact, I can’t find a definition that specifies any one race as being dominantly racist.

    Until we, as human beings, can accept each other on merit rather than on color, all people must be considered racist. Yes, there are those that truly practice non-racist attitudes in their individual lives. I am not directing my comments to the few. I am talking about a global community. We as a whole, not we as in me.

    Shame on Ms. Brown for stepping up so boldly into the position she so vocally abhors. Shame on Mr. Noriega for giving her the ground to stand on with his own commentary. Had he simply ignored her slander rather than rise to it, we might not have realized a backward step in the struggle to overcome stupid attitudes.

  3. Jim, Virginia September 11, 2010 at 8:34 pm #

    About 18 years ago, I went to a local, historically black college, to get a catalog for my wife, because their nursing program was considered one of the best on the East Coast. When I went inside, you could hear a pin drop. I was the only white person in the room. A very large security guard walked over and yelled, “What are YOU doing here?”. I stated that I was there for a catalog, I was given the whole “UP AGAINST THE WALL!” treatment, frisked, and asked for my I.D. Then I got in line for the catalog, got to the front of the line, and was told I was in the wrong building, to go across campus to another location to get one. Everyone else was getting the same catalog as I was, so I left. I told my wife there was no way she would ever attend that school. Several people told me to file charges of racial harassment, but I figured I would be labeled as a racist for reporting what happened.

  4. Ernest, Urana, NSW, Australia March 7, 2014 at 1:20 am #

    I wish to make one comment on the theme of racism this article is about, and yes, I do know capitals is text shouting: I AM BLATANTLY RACIST AND FULLY IN FAVOUR OF THE HUMAN RACE OVER ALL OTHERS.

    In short, I see humans as being more important, than dogs, cats, rats, mice, birds, etc. Oh, I almost forgot, humans come in a range of colours, societal, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, but there is only ONE human race.

  5. Helen, Sydney Australia April 23, 2014 at 7:15 pm #

    It’s funny but I just recently had similar experience. One of my FaceBook friends (I’m using Friend loosely) posted that video of Samual L Jackson going off at that reporter for asking a question that was actually about Laurence Fishburne. Under the video she had wrote “racist journalist”. I commented underneath along the lines of “bad journalism for sure, highly doubt it was a racist attack, honest mistake, reporter probably doesn’t even write his own questions”. The first comment I get back pretty much labled me “white racist bigot” then I get another comment telling me “I may be right but since the African American community percieve racism we must follow their lead”. I don’t know about “African American community” but even if some African Americans see racism if the facts are against them it seems insane to just jump on any bandwagon. This time I get called a “a defender of white racists, elitist, bigot”. Hey at least now I’m an elite =) I don’t really know what to make of this experience, to me it does suggest something pretty twisted in society’s view of racism, but I suppose what I find more disturbing is the Simon says and we jump attitude. I was basically being told not to think for myself someone else has formed an opinion and how dare I contradict that opinion.

  6. Diane, KY August 12, 2014 at 4:14 pm #

    I call myself a Heinz 57 American, but now I worry. Since Heinz is a distinctly German name, could that be called racism as well?

    Most certainly — by someone! -rc

  7. Robyn, Baltimore January 20, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

    I noted your discussion in the 1/18/15 newsletter: “The human race started in Africa, and moved out from there.” I then found this page re race. I just like to be technically correct. Humans, Homo sapiens, are a species not a race. It drives me crazy when people refer to the “human race.” There is not one human race. There are a hundred or so human races or breeds if you will. The problem comes when one race believes they are superior to another based on their race. Instead, if people appreciated our differences, then there wouldn’t be racism. After all, those of us who love cats and dogs love them all, no matter the breed. We know it’s the upbringing and not DNA that determines personality.

    You like to be “technically” correct, but don’t state your basis. There is the scientific definition, and then there’s the dictionary definition — and the use here is, in fact, “technically” correct for the latter:
    race, n.
    1. A group of people identified as distinct from other groups because of supposed physical or genetic traits shared by the group.
    (It does note that “Most biologists and anthropologists do not recognize race as a biologically valid classification, in part because there is more genetic variation within groups than between them.”)
    2. A group of people united or classified together on the basis of common history, nationality, or geographic distribution: the Celtic race.
    3. A genealogical line; a lineage.
    4. Humans considered as a group.
    (American Heritage: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/race )

    The overriding question is, do readers understand what’s being discussed? The answer, of course, is yes — even if biologists would quibble about the “technical” details. -rc

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