By Chris Murray
ABOVE PHOTO: Jeremy Lin.
One of my favorite scenes from the Spike Lee movie Do the Right Thing was what I’ll call “the Stereotype Rant”.
During this scene, Lee’s character Mookie went on a rant that featured stereotypes of Italian-Americans, Pino, portrayed by actor John Tuturro, hurled insults at African-Americans, Stevie, a Latino kid (Luis Antonio Ramos) slammed Asians, Officer Long (Rick Aiello), a white police officer, spewed stereotypes of Latinos and Sonny, an Asian store owner (Steve Park), finished the rant by spewing some anti-Semitic bile.
In what can only be described as a true cinematic irony, the voice of reason in this scene was, of all people, Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson, playing the role of DJ Mr. Senior Love Daddy, called for a halt to the invective by yelling, “Hold up, timeout! Y’all take a chill! Ya need to cool that sh—t out and that’s the double truth, Ruth.”
I’ve been feeling a lot like Mr. Senior Love Daddy over the past month due to the latest bouts of bigotry that have hit the national spotlight. From the near constant use of racist stereotypes by the Republican candidates for the presidency and other offices, to the list of homophobic tweets hurled by a prominent national pundit to the stream of racial insults hurled at rising New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin, I think that it’s time for us to take a chill on the stereotypes and racist, sexist and homophobic invective.
If nothing else, the fact that the villains in all of these cases are a multicultural group should tell you that even in a 2012 America presided over by an African American president, we still have a long way to go in terms of creating the ‘beloved community’ that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of.
Since the sports world is where I hang out most often, let’s start there first…and with the most recent.
The rise in the popularity of Lin, point guard for the New York Knicks, has been fun to watch. The Harvard-educated journeyman who had been on two other teams and had spent time in the National Basketball League’s Developmental League before getting his chance to play in the nation’s largest media market, has been an inspiration to all…especially the Asian American community.
But for some, Linsanity has been an excuse for unpacking some pretty heinous Asian American stereotypes. For writing the headline “A Chink In The Armor”, after a Knicks loss, ESPN fired a copy editor. The network also suspended the SportsCenter anchor who repeated the slur during the evening’s broadcast.
Calling Asian Americans “chinks” is the same as calling an African American the N-word and it’s just as wrong.
But not to be outdone in the racial stereotypes contest, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., a man not known for his tactfulness under any circumstances, said Lin wouldn’t be getting all this publicity if he were Black and the Knicks MSG Network, the network that broadcasts Lin’s games by the way, that featured a picture of Lin coming out of a fortune cookie.
Now I understand that this is a big adjustment for some of you, having an Asian American in the NBA. I mean Yao Ming just retired a year ago, right? But how about making that adjustment without sticking your foot in your mouth during the process, okay?
But while sports is where the most recent example of our need to express our Inner Racist comes from, it’s not the only, nor it is the most important, place.
Perhaps the loudest noise in the body politic of American bigotry is coming from the candidates vying for the Republican Presidential nomination. If you’re Newt Gingrich, you’re behind in the polls and you’re running in a Southern primary, the one way to get votes from that good ol’ boy NASCAR crowd that’s still pissed off about the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and having a Black Man in the White House is to conjure up negative stereotypes of Black people on food stamps.
Not only did Gingrich suggest that poor Black kids become janitors and erroneously calling President Obama the greatest “food stamps president in history,” he also verbally smacked down Black conservative pundit Juan Williams who dared to suggest during a debate that stereotyping of African-Americans as the prime recipients of food stamps was offensive.
The next day, a South Carolina woman at a campaign rally walked up to Gingrich and thanked him for putting Williams in his “place.” For Black Southerners and for African Americans in general, “putting someone in their place” is code for admonishing any Black person who would dare to stand up to a white man.
For all that, Gingrich got a huge ovation from the mostly white crowd in South Carolina at the debate and of course, the former House speaker, who was trailing in the polls prior to the debate, eventually won the primary.
Years ago, the late Alabama Governor George Wallace said that when he ran as a moderate Southern Democrat for governor, he didn’t get elected. But when he started using racist rhetoric, the crowds and the votes multiplied exponentially and he became governor of Alabama. President Lyndon Johnson acknowledged as much when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and lamented that he had lost the South to the Republicans (and the former Southern Democrats that now run the Republican Party) for decades.
But while the South is where we’ve come to expect such bigotry when it comes to politics or pop culture, it’s not the only place where it’s happening. A couple of Los Angeles shock jocks referred to the late Whitney Houston as a “crack ho” during a conversation about the singer’s recent death and a pundit from Fox suggested that California Congresswoman Maxine Waters “put down the crack pipe” after she referred to Republican House leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor as demons.
The shock jocks were suspended. The Fox commentator, Eric Bolling, tried to laugh it off…and received no punishment from the network.
Race isn’t where the latest slew of intolerance stops, however. A set of Super Bowl Sunday “tweets” from CNN pundit Roland Martin set off a firestorm of controversy due to suggestions that any man who lingered over the H&M commercial for David Beckham’s new underwear line and a New England Patriots receiver wearing pink shoes should be beaten. A few days later, a video of a bunch of Black kids beating up a Black gay male in Atlanta was posted on YouTube.
While Martin has since apologized for his remark, and the events are in no way connected, the combination of the set of “Tweets” and the beating were symbolic of the homophobia that exists within the African American community, something that’s kind of ironic when you consider the history of African Americans in this country.
All the gay community asking is for the same equal protection under the law as any other American citizen. Wasn’t that the principle that African Americans marched for in the 1960s? The gay community and the African American community should be allies in the fight against bigotry and hatred.
Of course, a lot of my hardcore Christian friends will quote chapter and verse about how homosexuality is frowned upon by God. But hatred for your fellow man is far worse. That this is a violation of the whole “love your neighbor as yourself” policy tends to be overlooked by those practicing bigotry… especially those doing it in the name of God.
I really do pray for the day that the better angels within us will prevail over the tyranny of our prejudices and hatred. I pray for a world that is truly post-racial and post-hatred. The way we can start is just to Stop…
…and that’s the quadruple truth, Ruth.