October 25, 2010

Cashing In On An Unworthy Prejudice

I've been enjoying some vacation time with the family, so the Juan Williams kerfuffle caught me by surprise.  There's foolishness to be had all around.  We'll start with NPR. They fired Juan over the comments  he made on the Factor and did it in a pretty ham handed way.  Juan has 10 years plus in with NPR and apparently he didn't even rate an in person dismissal.  He got fired over the phone, Sherrod style.  NPR's public statements following the firing were pretty asinine and made them look and sound like complete liberal idiots.  They made a complete mess of it and when you combine the timing of these events with their announcement of a multi million dollar gift from the Daddy Warbucks of leftwing causes, George Soros, the optics of this sorry mess go from bad to much worse. No need to feel horribly sorry for Juan, he seems to have landed on his feet with a juicy Fox Networks $2 million contract to cushion his fall from liberal grace at NPR.
I find NPR's predictable and boring liberal overreaction less troubling however than Williams' comments and what they  suggest is  happening in the American psyche.  Its never a good look when you have to start a sentence with "I'm not a bigot" and thats your first warning that stupid is about to ensue.  Williams said that when he saw people dressed in Muslim garb on a plane, he gets nervous.  Conservatives from Palin to Jim DeMint are defending Williams' comments as an honest statement of his "feelings', one shared by many others, while decrying the political correctness that heaps condemnation on anyone who voices it.
The outrage over his being fired for the comments has merit, but defending what he had to say has very little because when you listen to it, it makes very little sense.  Everyone is interpreting his comments as seeing Muslims on the plane make him nervous, when what he actually said was that  seeing people in Muslim garb meant they had  chosen to identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims and that made him nervous.  What he's expressing is a prejudice.

Many are defending Williams' comments by pointing out that the 911 killers were Muslims and therefore this prejudice Juan expresses is justified.  No, its not.  A Muslim terrorist isn't going to attract your attention by identifying themselves with Muslim garb. The 911 killers did not wear Muslim garb.  The idiot shoe bomber did not wear Muslim garb.  The even more deeply idiotic underwear bomber did not wear Muslim garb.

Its an unworthy prejudice, albeit one that has an explanation.  But its still unworthy.  Its guilt by association.  Its the conflation of Muslim identity with terrorist identity. The fact that the 911 killers were Muslim does not change the unfairness or unworthiness of it.  Especially given that we Americans don't have the most fine grained filters.  I work with someone who is of mid east origin. He has a notable accent.  Should I feel nervous about working with him? He doesn't wear Muslim garb, but he has an accent and looks like one  of them.  I can admit to wondering about his origin, his thoughts about terror, is he part of a sleeper cell? They are unworthy thoughts based on assumptions most of which are probably wrong.  The truth is, I don't really know anything about him.  He might be Arab, might not.  He might  adhere to Islam or he could be a Christian. His people might hail from a country that is a staunch ally of the US against terror.  I don't know.  And he's done nothing to cause me to question his motives or integrity other than be himself.

When Juan looks at Muslims on a plane in typical cultural attire and gets nervous, he's indulging in an unworthy prejudice that calls into question their very humanity based on nothing more than them  just being themselves.  He's jumping to the conclusion that they might be killers of the first order more or less because they got out of bed that morning. Thats what we are doing when we indulge similar  unfair prejudiced thoughts.  Its isn't shocking that we feel this way.  Prejudice is as old as the species. It was a horrible event.  We are flawed human beings and we muddle along the best that we can.

Whats troubling is that Juan and seemingly those on the right who are so vociferous in his defense and practically crow about how they share his feelings, don't recognize it for the unworthy prejudice that it is, nor acknowledge the need to resist it's indulgence.

BTW, with Williams gone, NPR has no African American news analysts at all.  Seems to me that might be worth a comment or two from the NAACP's and National Action Networks of the world. 
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