Showing posts with label racism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label racism. Show all posts

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Jussie Smollett and the Righteous Race to Judgement



“Trust, But Verify.” 
-Russian Proverb

I first learned about the attack on Jussie Smollett when the news was blowing up on social media. My immediate reaction was one of horror and sympathy. However, once I began to read about the details of the attack, my antennae went up.

Mr. Smollett is a black man who is gay, and that made him the perfect target. His claim that the attackers put a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him powerfully re-enforced the victimization narrative on the left. The fact that his attackers also proclaimed proudly “this is MAGA country” seemed to leave no room for doubt in the minds of the left, in terms of the presumption of guilt.

Journalists and celebrities immediately seized on the attack as vindication of the fact that Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was responsible for another reprehensible attack. Politicians, who are supposed to keep their heads when all of us are losing ours, also rushed to judgement. Democratic presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, who were preparing for a Senate vote on a bi-partisan anti-lynching bill, used the attack as proof of “modern-day lynching”.

The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, tweeted that The racist, homophobic attack on Jussie Smollett is an affront to our humanity and Adam Schiff, the head of the House’s investigative panel tweeted that he had personally met with Jussie Smollett and had “…seen the passion and moral clarity of his activism first hand”. Both have since deleted their tweets.

I am not suggesting that I knew that Mr. Smollett was lying; I had not even considered the possibility. The problem for me was that the whole thing felt perfect, almost scripted to fit the narrative on the left about Trump and anyone who voted for him; and that bothered me.

In addition, I also thought it best to reserve judgement on the heels of the media’s recently botched Covington Catholic School student’s story. That was another case of a dangerous rush to judgement before the full facts were apparent. We now know that the boys, who were summarily branded racist Trump supporters by the mainstream media, have been fully vindicated. The Washington Post noted that an independent investigation into the incident revealed “no evidence of ‘racist or offensive statements’ by Covington Catholic students.”  

It turns out the Native American man, who claimed to be the victim of the boys’ racist taunts, lied about it, and the offensive and racist chants came from a group calling themselves the black Hebrew Israelites. It would seem that the boys’ only crime was wearing MAGA hats.

Yet, here we were again with media, politicians and celebrities presuming innocence and blindly attributing guilt before the police had even launched their investigation. More worryingly, even after Mr. Smollett refused to hand over his cellphone to the police, the conviction of many was not shaken. It would seem these people were not interested in the facts, so confident in the belief that a gay man, a man of colour, a liberal would never lie, leave alone do anything as heinous as fake the whole crime.

We live in an age where social media encourages a constant rush to judgement, on both the left and the right. We seek refuge in events that fit a pre-determined narrative and we side only with those who confirm our biases, while rejecting outright any facts that challenge them. This ensures a loss of integrity and fair-mindedness in our debates. Further, there is a growing trend, on both sides, to gauge “truth” based not on hard facts but on political beliefs, sex or colour of skin.

What is even more troubling is that there is a nonsensical belief among many on the left that anyone who did not vote for Trump has some claim to moral superiority, and is a better human being. For example many on the left accept as gospel that anyone who voted for Trump is a racist, and Clinton voters are not. If that is true, then how do we explain the fact that over 8 million people who voted for Obama in 2012 chose Trump in 2016? Or an IPSOS/Reuters poll from 2016 that found nearly one-third of Clinton supporters described black people as more “violent” and “criminal” than whites; this is not an insignificant number. A more recent study done by Yale University also found that Democrats and white liberals have a tendency to downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities, while there was no statistical significance when it came to Republicans.

The fact is that no group has any moral or ethical superiority over another based on religion, political beliefs, sexual orientation or skin colour. If this were true, we would still have faith in the Catholic Church and Bill Cosby would be ‘America’s Dad’. It is true that minorities have suffered disproportionately more discrimination than their white counterparts in this country, but none of this changes the fact that we still need to judge every person based on his or her actions, and the punishment must fit the crime. There is a good reason why justice is meant to be blind.

Indian, Jewish, White, Muslim, Black or Asian husbands are all equally likely to cheat on their wives or beat them. Similarly, it is ludicrous to suggest that liberal women cheat more often than conservative women, or suggest that gay men cheat less than straight men. People are people and all human beings have the same propensity for good and bad within them - it depends entirely on the individual; as an Indian social activist who spent his life championing minority rights eloquently said “no community has a monopoly over virtue or vice”.

As long as we fail to see the faults in the people we love, or to acknowledge the virtues in those we profess to hate and continue to apply different standards to both for the same actions, we will only serve to propagate bigotry and division. If we truly want an equal society, then the question we all need to answer is “do we want to live in a country that judges everyone based on the content of their character, or the colour of their skin?”

 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Why Hillary Clinton and Democrats Lost the White House, Senate, Congress, Governorships and State Legislatures

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” 
Barack Obama

Anyone who believes Mrs. Clinton lost because she is a woman needs to wake up. There is no question that misogyny played a role, but she needed to win in spite of this because she was attempting to break a glass ceiling in what is, for now, still a man’s world. The facts clearly show that women did not unite against Mr. Trump because of his lewd and misogynistic comments, just to vote for a woman. “Instead, they voted more or less as they always have: along party lines.” (NYTimes).

Also, consider that Trump won white working class voters in “many of the areas where Mr. Obama fared best in 2008 and 2012. In the end, the linchpin of Mr. Obama’s winning coalition broke hard to the Republicans." (Source: NYTimes).

He also won almost 30% of Hispanics (more than Romney or McCain did); and overall did “…better than Romney among blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans, making it more difficult to claim that racial resentment was the dominant factor explaining Trump’s support nationally.” (Source: Washington Post).

Let’s be clear that people don’t suddenly wake up one morning, turn on a racist switch and vote for hate. If that is true then we may as well pack our bags and abandon this great experiment called democracy. If we can get past the media’s hysteria and selective narrative, we will see that simply dismissing Mr. Trump’s victory as racism and misogyny (there was absolutely an element of it) is not just an over-simplification but dangerously naïve.

The next step is trying to understand, and fix, why Democrats and Mrs. Clinton lost, despite the fact that Mr. Obama had a higher approval rating than Mr. Reagan did at end of in his second term; another fact that makes it hard to blame racism. So, why did Mrs. Clinton lose?

She lost because the Democratic Party showed it had been taken over by a mafia and they were willing to use brute force to propel her candidacy, even though the base was clearly screaming for a different voice to represent them.

She lost because she came across like a Queen seeking a political coronation and someone who had become a member of the special interests and wealthy elites she promised to fight.

She lost because the majority of the world has lost faith in politicians of all stripes, and they are looking for outsiders who will use brute force to break the system, not politely try to navigate it.

She lost because she was complacent and took for granted that changing demographics would work in her favour. She simply assumed that minorities, women upset with Trump’s irresponsible and bombastic statements, and left-leaning millennials would carry the day for Democrats.

She lost because she changed her position numerous times on the minimum wage, on TPP and on trade; issues that most mattered to her voters.

She lost because she was completely tone deaf to the screams of the wider electorate, an electorate screaming for economic dignity. The kind of dignity that only a well-paying job can provide, and a sense of self-worth that comes from being able to provide for your family and promise your children a good education and a bright future.

The reason she lost is because she did not offer a vision for how she would help create decent jobs for all Americans; she forgot that it’s still “the economy, stupid”.

Her campaign was entirely rooted in trying to convince voters that Trump was an evil demagogue who is unfit to govern. But people needed to know how she would help them put food on the table, afford healthcare, find a job, get an education and lift themselves and their children from economic indignity; Mrs. Clinton failed to provide this narrative.

Instead, Mrs. Clinton and Democrats chose to stay in their bubble and ignore the growing working class cries for help. As a result the Democrats not only lost the White House, Senate and the House, but were also decimated across the board in Governor and state legislative races. Voters clearly and soundly rejected current party policies at every level of government; Democrats would be wise to take heed.

Democrats now have a clear choice to make. They can waste time and energy filing futile petitions, funding protests and calling for vote recounts. They can continue to scream and cry about Trump being racist and misogynist and refuse to accept that he is the President-elect and they can also refuse to work with him once he takes office. By doing this, they will once more bury their heads in the sand and, like the GOP has done, become a party with no vision, no rallying cause and end up with an internal civil war of their own, led by various extreme factions within the party.

Or they can come out of their bubble and spend time trying to understand why so many blue collar voters and minorities, who have historically been a guaranteed part of their base, felt so excluded and isolated that they needed to find such an extreme alternative.

They can work with President Trump to further the economic cause of all Americans while ensuring that hate never permeates the mainstream arteries of our democracy, and they can champion an alternative vision to his, one that must be more economically inclusive of all voters in 2020.


NOTE: Title changed on 12/5 from "2016 US Election: Why Democrats Lost and the Choice They Need to Make".

Friday, December 25, 2015

Political Correctness and the Rise of Donald Trump


“I got a feeling about political correctness. I hate it. It causes us to lie silently instead of saying what we think.” 
Hal Holbrook

There has been widespread condemnation, from across the political spectrum, of Donald Trump’s latest outlandish suggestion of barring all Muslims who are not US citizens from entering the United States. This is not the first time he has tread heavily into the territory of race, religion and ethnicity. Mr. Trump launched his campaign pronouncing that all Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug dealers and should be shipped back to Mexico. Since then he also has offended women, blacks, news anchors, the wider Hispanic diaspora, and the list goes on.

I have read many social media posts and news articles dismissing Trump as “un-American” and as someone who does not reflect American values. Yet, Mr. Trump’s poll numbers and popularity have remained largely unaffected and his support continues to grow. A recent poll indicated that 68% of his Republican base would support him if he ran as an independent (Source: USA Today) and he has 37% support nationally.

It is easy but would be dangerous to dismiss Mr. Trump and his passionate band of followers as crazy right-wing republicans and white supremacist bigots. Or to consider them a passing anomaly that has nothing to do with the growing fears and frustration of a large percentage of the American’s. I have heard journalists like Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity try to argue the merits of some of Mr. Trump’s assertions, and I suspect that fears about Islam, terrorism and immigration are main stream, even if the hate rests in the fringes. It is just that the majority of people are too scared to express even reasonable views freely for fear of offending someone and being branded a racist.

I am not suggesting that we seriously consider any of Mr. Trumps’ proposals, but to simply dismiss them and the fears of a growing number of Americans would be far more dangerous. If we do, these frustrations will only continue to fester, turn to deeper anger, and come out in even uglier ways. The question we need to ask ourselves is why does Donald Trump exist as a political force?

Trump is part reality TV star, part American dream, part frustration with politicians and lack of leadership, and part a product of political correctness gone awry. Trump is a cancer built from all the problems we have swept under our carpets for far too long in an attempt to create something resembling a society where nobody is ever offended.

Think about the fact that his greatest appeal is that he says, does, and sounds like most normal people do; like your politically incorrect grandfather, father and uncle. He routinely makes gaffs, says dumb things, lashes out in anger, but never does he come across as scripted or disingenuous politician trying to sound politically correct and thus totally unnatural. 
 
I am sure that political correctness, when it started on college campuses a few decades ago, was well-intentioned and genuinely meant to educate us, make us more aware and sensitive to other people. It was meant to help us become accepting of other beliefs, faiths and cultures. But today it seems to have become about trying to mould everyone into thinking, sounding and saying the same things. It has become the default weapon to shut down all alternate world views and is being used to prevent people from speaking their minds.

The point is that we all do and say stupid things and we all have prejudices and biases. We always have and we always will; that is part of being human. Today, it feels like political correctness (PC) in America has metastasised into a way to chastise anyone and everyone who does not fit some random litmus test. But all we are succeeding in doing is shutting down alternate viewpoints and muzzling people who do not think the same way, or agree with our views. It is this avatar of PC that is in large part responsible for creating and unleashing the monster we now call Donald Trump.

This is a very dangerous thing in a democracy that claims to value freedom of thought and speech above all else. Because freedom of speech also means allowing people who view the world differently to air their views, no matter how offensive, hurtful or heinous we might find them to be.

Not everybody thinks the same way about homosexuality, global warming or taxation. However, there is a stark difference between someone who spreads hate and someone who simply disagrees; and not all disagreement is rooted in hatred. We need to start making those distinctions and respectfully disagree with people, but not try to muzzle or force them to change their views by shaming them. Instead, we need to show people a better way through our actions; that is the only way you to change someone’s mind and long-held beliefs.

We need to make sure that the mainstream voice is more powerful and thus drowns out the hate. Think about the fact that there are still many Nazi sympathisers and active members of KKK, but the power of the mainstream has driven them into the wilderness, and made sure they stay ostracised and in the fringes of society.

We need to accept that everyone lies, fibs and says things that are sexist, racist, and homophobic. This does not make you a liar, racist, misogynist or a homophobe. We are human and will never be perfectly polite or politically correct because part of being human is doing and saying dumb and hurtful things – sometimes in anger, sometimes out of frustration or pain and very often in a misguided attempt to be funny.

I do not want to live in a world that is so superficial and forcibly sanitised, that we have to worry about everything we do and say. If we continue down this obsessively political correct path, all we will achieve is to alienate friends and family, and fuel the hatemongers even more. One day we will wake up to find that we have stopped independent thought, free speech, social experimentation and personal growth.

Our greatest ability, as humans, is not to be perfect in everything we say, do, feel and think, but to learn and change, after we have been shown a better way by others.
 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Dangers of Politically Correcting History

“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
Augusten Burroughs

If we want to, we can find fault with Mother Teresa, as a Hindu right wing group in India recently did. I have no doubt that she made mistakes, misspoke, and if we scrutinise every moment of her life we also will find numerous events and instances where there is cause to be critical of her actions and possibly even some of her deeply held beliefs. This is because even a saint is human, and therefore beautifully flawed like the rest of us.

There is a very dangerous movement underway in America, one that feels like an attempt to re-write history to make it more sanitised and politically correct, and therefore less offensive to people today. What is most frightening about this is that it is being done in a way that completely disregards the historical time and context. It is taking an irrational and one-sided view of history by trying to apply a modern day lens to it.

A few years ago a Mark Twain scholar and his publisher New South Books decided to release versions of the classic novels ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ deleting the word “Nigger” and replacing it with the word "slave" (Source: Publishers Weekly article).  That is akin to painting clothes onto a Picasso’s Blue Nude painting because women today find it offensive.

This movement is threatening to spread beyond desecrating works of art and of literature, setting its sights historical figures by attempting to re-evaluate their contributions to society, but evaluating from inside a blind and alarmingly inane fog of political correctness.

The irony is that this is happening under the guise of promoting inclusiveness and greater tolerance. The people championing this cause do not seem to realise that shutting down all alternate viewpoints and censoring historical facts (to fit their worldview) is the very definition of intolerance.

At Princeton University, a protest led by the Black Justice League is demanding that the college “publicly acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson,”  America’s 28th President, and take steps to rename the public policy school and residential college” and  remove his visage from every corner of the campus. (Source: NYTimes article).

Wilson grew up in the land of the KKK, the Deep South, and clearly held pro-segregationist views, as demonstrated by his efforts when US president to remove black officials and administrators from government. He also stood steadfast in refusing to admit black students during his tenure as president of Princeton College. Yet, he is also the same man who “oversaw the passage of a range of progressive legislation previously unparalleled in American history. Samuel Gompers, the most visible labour leader of the time, described Wilson's achievements as a "Magna Carta" for the rights of the workingman” and Wilson was one of the leading supporters of the League of Nations. (Source: Huffington Post article). There is no question that Wilson’s legacy is a complex one and that he held some detestable views, if we are to judge him with today’s cultural lens. But he did not live in the 21st century and that is precisely the issue.

Wilson, like most men (unlike a Hitler or Idi Amin) and like the vast majority of human beings, is a multi-faceted and complex person. So, before we attempt to erase from history books the likes of Winston Churchill or Woodrow Wilson, we need to stop and ask ourselves a few serious questions. Were the behaviour and views of these men a symptom of the time in which they lived and of their upbringing? Did these men devote their lives to spreading hate, akin to a Klansman or Hitler? Are we looking at the sum of their parts, over the period of their lives and not just one aspect of what made them complex beings? And most importantly, will doing this not just simply tilt the pendulum of history in the other direction and once again fail to present the full picture?

Would it not be better for us to use this moment of greater awareness as an opportunity to ensure that we can start to provide a more complete picture of these men, and therefore our history, rather than attempt to scrub or rectify it?

Also, if we go down this path, then we must think about how and where we would draw the line. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson were all slave owners. Abraham Lincoln famously said in a debate, in 1958, “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favour of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favour of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people…” (Source: Bartleby.com). We all know what Lincoln went on to do; so how should we now allow people to judge him – racist or reformer?

Nobody is suggesting we sit back and accept a one-sided view of history or accept a view that might justifiably have been ‘white-washed,’ but eradicating every flawed figure within it is not the solution. Human beings are complex, multi-faceted, ambiguous, emotionally charged and irrational beings. Our greatest strength is not in learning how to never say, do, think or believe things that may be inherently wrong, but in our ability to change. Greatness comes not from being perfect, but from the ability to learn from our mistakes and change even our most deeply held beliefs, as Abraham Lincoln showed us.

We will do future generations a great disservice, hurting the cause of tolerance and equality greatly if we attempt to take the opposite but still one-sided view of these men. So instead of expending our effort to erase murals and tear down busts and change names of buildings, let us re-examine history in an effort to add colour, to present the full and complex picture of the people they were.

Tolerance can only be promoted through a deeper understanding of the flaws and complexities that make us all unique and human, not by pretending we can ever be perfect.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

In Defense of Humour


“A joke is a very serious thing.”
Winston Churchill

I come not to defend racism but in defense of humour. I fear that people, particularly in America today, are finding it harder and harder to make a distinction between laughing at ourselves and feeling offended; and there is a difference.

Firstly, I firmly believe that comedy should have no boundaries or restrictions, because it is meant to entertain, lighten our worldly burdens and be nothing more than a laughing matter. The only caveat is that the comedian dishing it out does so equally, and does not target a single racial stereotype. Also, I strongly suspect that there are not too many bitter, malicious, mean-spirited bigots who decide to pursue a career in comedy.

Let’s spend a minute discussing the elephant in the room – stereotypes. Frankly, I cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with me when I say that ALL cultural stereotypes are rooted in some reality and none are pure figments of our imagination. So the issue, to my mind, is not so much that someone is making fun at my expense using a racial stereotype, but whether or not the intent behind it is malicious, or if it is coming from a light hearted place. Think about it. There is a fundamental difference here, and a hugely important distinction that every person needs to make. It is imperative we all make this distinction. It is a distinction each of us, in our ever-shrinking global village, needs to make in order to progress and thrive. This is not about all of us hugging trees and getting along. It is simply about having a thicker skin when we require it.

The easiest way to explain the difference is to imagine Dave Chappelle (a famous American comic) putting on the Klu Klux Klan’s white robes and hood to tell off colour black jokes versus an actual Klansman telling the same jokes. Or Ashton Kutcher making fun of gay people (or Jews), versus Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doing it. There is a fundamental difference. One comes from a place of genuine hatred, bigotry and anger, while the other is in jest, and therefore should be considered par for the course and fair game since it is not intended to malign or incite hatred.
Consider the idea that if you cannot laugh at yourself, then you are the one who is insecure or clearly not comfortable in your own skin. Period. 

Ashton Kutcher recently did an advertisement for Pop chips where he played various different character stereotypes ranging from a American redneck to a gay German (who is clearly modeled on Karl Lagerfeld). One of his characters was a Bollywood producer named Raj, for which he put on makeup to make himself look brown, as us Indian’s tend to be (frankly, most being even darker than brown). What offended me about this whole thing was not Ashton Kutcher putting on brown face makeup but the fact that some self-aggrandizer called Anil Dash decided it was offensive to me, and my fellow countrymen; all one billion two hundred thousand of them.
A still of Mr. Kutcher as Raj, from the Popchips advertisement, which has since been removed by the company.
Firstly, Mr. Dash was born and grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (not Hariana, Punjab) which would make him about as Indian as Bobby Jindal. It matters less to me where he or anyone else was born, but much more with what shaped and influenced him; the culture and surroundings he imbibed. Growing up in America shaped his outlook and sensibilities in a vastly different way than it would have growing up in India. The reality is that American kids born to first generation Indian parents are often pushed and pulled between the realities of growing up in America, while being imprisoned by an alien Indian culture, and way of thinking that they know nothing off, at home. This is driven by their Indian parent's misplaced and misguided desire to stay in touch with their Indian roots - one that is totally alien to their children. These kids are not Indian in any manner or form, because India never had the opportunity to shape their first steps, their upbringing, their schooling or their adult outlook. America did. It is that simple. So how can a man who has never lived in India speak for more than one billion of us? Not one Indian I know felt in the least bit offended by Mr. Kutcher’s portrayal, in fact they found it hilarious and shared it with their friends on Facebook.

Secondly, after reading Mr. Dash’s blog post titled How To Fix Popchips' Racist Ad Campaign", I had the impression that it was less about taking offense than about seizing an opportunity for self-promotion through controversy. Mr. Dash comes across as someone who is uncomfortable in his own skin. I sensed he was more offended by the fact that Mr. Kutcher, a mere actor, has been far more successful in the same start-up business, presumably because of his celebrity, and possibly the colour of his skin. This, I suspect, is what offended Mr. Dash about this rather funny commercial. I don’t know Mr. Dash but reading his blog post and especially some of his responses to comments, he comes across as self-involved, and much less a defender of the helpless and downtrodden. At one point he responds to a reader comment by saying: “Believe me, I fight many different kinds of injustices (see my post last week about my old high school)…”  Frankly, if the Popchips affair counts as an injustice in Mr. Dash’s world, then he seriously needs to get out from behind his computer a little more often.

There is also a larger issue at play here, a worrying one: that the definition of racism in America seems to be have been hijacked by a political agenda, leading it to become so diluted and watered down over the years, that it has reached an almost comedic climax. The trivial and ludicrous things that people cry racism about, and at the drop of a hat, never cease to amaze. I guess it is not called the “race card” in America for nothing; and it seems to be played much like the Joker or Wild Card. Don’t get me wrong. There are many things worth fighting for, and yes, racism does exist, and it is nasty when you experience it first hand, as I have a few times in my life. However, I suspect that many Americans of this recent generation (Mr. Dash included) have never experienced real hatred. Otherwise, they would know that it is much more serious than having one’s delicate sensibility offended by a humuorous advertisement meant to sell a bag of potato chips...