The Creeping Creepiness of Racism

Toady, I entered a conversation about whether a white news commentator might not have known that suggesting that other golfers "lynch him (Tiger Woods) in a back alley" was a racist comment worthy of public sanction.

Among the various arguments I read was this one: Given the commentator's age, she might not really understand the charged context of the word "lynch" in reference to a person-of-color.

And somehow, vaguely, in the back of my mind, I remembered a time when I could not imagine that I would be hearing this argument from progressives.

Later in the day, I read that many younger readers at the same blog did not know the racist connotations of the phrase "Shuck and Jive", "cakewalk", or "porch monkey".

I was amazed.

I tried to think back to when conversations about racism, sexism, xenophobia, antisemitism, and homophobia among progressives started to have the edges filed off of them.

I could remember that, in the 80's, even though there were still many, many confrontations with the MSM and mainstream culture, and much consciousness-raising yet to be done, I didn't think I would have been having this very basic argument about using the word "lynch" (or arguing about whether rape was "gray", or "gag gifts" featuring detached female body parts were "just a joke" rather than sexist) -- with progressives.

I wondered when things started to change, and I realized that, for me, it was around 1988.

After that time, I started hearing absolutely outrageous crap from people like my brother-in-law (who had recently become a "ditto-head") -- shit like: "Homosexuals want to take over our schools. Oliver North is a hero!" (Sad fact: Some of you probably don't remember who Oliver North was, or weren't born yet and probably didn't hear a peep about the Iran-Contra scandal in school -- Anyone for an Institutional Memory canapé?)

Of course Rush Limbaugh had been saying shit like "Take that bone out of your nose and call me back" since the 70's. He just didn't have a national platform from which to do it . . . . until . . . . . until . . . .

Until the late 80s/early 90s. Suddenly, there were racist, sexist, homophobic AM talk-shows cropping up everywhere -- Dr. Laura, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, etc.. They were loud, claimed to speak for "real americans" -- and they were crumby -- and crappy -- and creepy.

How did that happen? Well, for one thing, when the FCC abandoned the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 (and Congress tried to re-institute it as law, but was vetoed by Reagan), there was no longer any requirement that publicly licensed broadcasters provide time for coverage of opposing viewpoints on controversial issues. (Some conditions remained for rebuttal of purely personal attacks and political editorial until 2000, when these were suspended as well.)

Hmmm. Notice any changes from 1988 to 2000? And then MORE changes from 2000 to present? On the airwaves, that is, and TV?

In addition to removal of the Fairness Doctrine, the Telecommunications act of 1996
allowed media conglomerates to suck up ownership and control of more of what we see and hear, and the FCC regulation changes in 2003 allowed a single company to own as much as 45% of the media we receive (limited to 25% in 1985), and stopped reviewing licenses in terms of "public interest" considerations.


Now, you may be asking -- what does this have to do with the Creeping Creepiness of Racism (not to mention Sexism, Homophobia, Antisemitism, and Xenophobia)?

Well, my friends, I believe that we are being systematically de-sensitized to these issues by the MSM.

De-sensitization isn't difficult. All you have to do is get someone to accept something as trivial ("It was just a joke") and the next thing you introduce (slightly more overt, slightly more offensive) can also be touted as something trivial. If it's too much, too soon, you can back off a bit, maybe look contrite, put someone on a leave of absence for a few months, and then bring them back and try again.

Think torture. Think Habeus Corpus. Think invading Iran.

One of the distinct advantages of getting older is that I can remember more than two decades.

I remember that Howard Cosell once said: "Look at that little monkey go!" (in reference to a black athlete - 1983) -- and was out a job that year, even though there was some argument about whether this was a term he used for athletes of all colors (yeah, right). I remember that Jimmy the Greek was fired from CBS in 1988 for his racist comments about black athletes. Not sanctioned. Not given a leave of absence. Fired.

Let's compare some statements, shall we?
"The black is a better athlete to begin with because he's been bred to be that way -- because of his high thighs and big thighs that goes up into his back, and they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs. This goes back all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trading, the owner -- the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid." - Jimmy the Greek, 1988

". . . these people have shown a remarkable ability, ladies and gentlemen, to cross borders, boundaries -- they get anywhere they want to go. They can do it without water for a long time. They don't get apprehended, and they will do things other people won't do." - Rush Limbaugh on Hispanic competitors on Survivors, 8/23/06
See any differences? Oh -- maybe the social outrage and the firing. Just that.

In my mind, Jimmy the Greek and Rush Limbaugh are perfectly comparable. They aren't front-line news-anchors, but they're both big, bombastic personalities with major media presence.

My problem with filing off the edges of our outrage at such racist words and actions is just that -- it's filing off -- it's erosive -- and the problem with erosion is that if you let it go on long enough, you'll eventually wind up with nothing at all.

(Now I'll put in my tired old disclaimer: Yes, we've made progress. Yes, it's not like it was when I was a kid. Yes, consciousness has been raised, and gains made. No, I'm not talking about conversations between individuals where education is going on about race and racism. No, I'm not done dealing with my own racism yet. )

However -- I honestly believe that, in the last decade, and perhaps longer, we have lost ground as a nation in terms of eliminating racism.

I believe that we have been slowly spoon-fed the pap that racism isn't a problem anymore, even as rank racism is spewing forth from our television sets and radios.

People of color may have a better resistance to this insidiously toxic media message, as they are subject to the actual results of racism every day -- and radical white progressives may (I said "may") have an increased immune-response to this stuff as compared to whites of other political/sociological persuasions. I suspect, though, that all of us have slowly conceded corners of our resolve to the onslaught.

It happens so slowly -- so incrementally, that we don't notice at first -- that's why I love montages -- because when you put all the messages together, you realize that it the indoctrination has been huge, and intentional, and vile -- and not subtle at all:

(For those of you who with whom I discussed this issue today -- I'm sorry if I seemed cranky -- it's just that I'm ready to reclaim some ground, and I've had it right up to HERE.)

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