Juan More Time

In her defense of NPR’s decision to fire Juan Williams, NPR Ombudsman Alicia Shepard said this:

“I can only imagine how Williams, who has chronicled and championed the Civil Rights movement, would have reacted if another prominent journalist had said:

‘But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see an African American male in Dashiki with a big Afro, I get worried. I get nervous.’”

Of course he would have reacted – and rightly so. That IS a racist statement. When was the last time a group of African American males in Dashikis with big Afros blew up an airplane? Middle Eastern Muslims crashed airplanes into buildings on 9/11. They certainly didn’t represent all Muslims, they were most definitely radical, they were distorting and bastardizing the religion they profess to adhere to; but the fact remains, they identified themselves as Muslims and drew the rationale for their mass murder directly from their view of the teachings of that faith. Further, they are not alone. There continue to be a large number of these radicals throughout the world. These are the facts.

Second, being Muslim is a choice. It’s a life decision that partially defines who you are. Being black is not a choice, it’s a condition of birth. You can’t change it, you can’t resign and it really has no bearing on someone’s character. Certainly people identify with their race and the world – however enlightened we may be today – continues to define individuals by their race. Isn’t that the problem that we have been trying for centuries to get past: defining someone by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character? A person is male and black by birth and could be anyone (not necessarily African by the way).

Muslims, Christians, Jews… these individuals choose to be part of their respective religions. They choose to identify themselves with those teachings, those churches, those groups of individuals who make up their religion. That doesn’t mean every Muslim has to identify with Osama bin Laden. All Muslims are obviously not radicals but the vast majority of radicals associated with groups such as Al Quaeda are most certainly Muslims. The fear of Muslims on an airplane while perhaps unfair to peaceful, moderate Muslims is based on a series of actual events perpetrated by real Muslims – not unfounded fears of people who happen to have a different skin pigmentation from your own.

The huge problem with left wing identity politics is the categorization of people based on the conditions of their birth. Blacks, women, the handicapped, Hispanics… the identity politics of the left assume that people who are born a certain way must also be a certain way and think a certain way and even be treated a certain way. Hence all the discussion about courting the “black vote” or the “Hispanic vote.” Courting that vote assumes those people all think the same way. THAT is stereotyping. It assumes that the color of someone’s skin or someone’s ethnic heritage will dictate their political preference.

NPR and really all of the American media in this country continue to routinely categorize people based on these stereotypes. Just because the behavior assumed is not necessarily negative does not mean that the stereotype is not damaging. On Thursday, Carrie Kahn of NPR wrote:

Democrats have long counted on the Latino vote to make the difference, especially in tight races. But it looks like Latino voters are more disillusioned with the political process than the general electorate.

Kahn’s story assumes there is such a thing as the “Latino vote,” that it will fall primarily for Democrats and that “Latino voters are more disillusioned” than the rest of America. I’d wager that Marco Rubio or Alberto Gonzalez for example might have a thing or two to say about the “Latino vote” being primarily Democratic but there are certainly polls which indicate that some voters who happen to be Latino tend to vote a certain way. Let’s ask the bigger question: how is assuming Latinos are going to vote a certain way any different from Juan Williams’ fear that Muslims might act a certain way? Both are generalized assumptions about individuals based on specific realities that may or may not apply to the individuals in question.

Speaking of stereotypes, one last comment from Alicia Shepard:

“Williams was doing the kind of stereotyping in a public platform that is dangerous to a democracy. It puts people in categories, as types – not as individuals with much in common despite their differences.”

If that is true then how can NPR continue to solicit the services of an ombudsman who would automatically associate Juan Williams with an “African American male in Dashiki with a big Afro?” That sounds like a stereotype to me. Moreover, it’s not a generalization applied to hypothetical individuals. It’s a stereotype applied specifically to Juan Williams because he is black. You can’t pick and choose the stereotypes you think are acceptable or the “journalists” who are allowed to make them. That’s called a double standard.