Posts Tagged ‘Racism’

An Apology in Lew-Port

June 10, 2009

. . . well, sort of.

“First, I must offer a sincere and heartfelt apology,” Weller wrote in a letter to the Rev. Darius G. Pridgen, pastor of True Bethel Baptist Church.

“Regretfully, a private district matter had to become a public concern. These e-mails were private messages, which were never meant to intentionally offend anyone, and I regret that they cast a negative perception of me and the Lewiston-Porter Central School District.”

“I am no more racist than the man in the moon. These are jokes. I don’t censor whether they’re funny. They’re jokes. They’re not supposed to be taken seriously. It was like an editorial in a newspaper, as far as I am concerned,” Weller said.

“The majority of my e-mails are about religious, spiritual things and supporting the troops,” he added.

I love this guy.  On the one hand, this is in the form of a classic modern “apology” — I’m sorry that people found out about my behavior, and if they were offended by it, I’m sorry again.  In that sense, Weller’s apology is pretty sophisticated.

And yet, the content of the apology is full of the kind of loopy and half-witted justifications that permeated his original defense of the emails, and which suggest this is a guy well out of his depth.  Sure, we understand that these are jokes, but can’t jokes be racist?  And the jokes aren’t meant to be taken seriously, like an editorial in a newspaper?  If the Buffalo News published an editorial about how blacks are lazy and women belonged in the kitchen, they’d have a pretty tough time living that one down, right?  He saves the best for last, though, when he hides behind his god and the troops.  Now that’s funny!


Lew-Port, Louis CK, and Racist Jokes

June 7, 2009
Don Rickles he ain't . . .

Don Rickles he ain't . . .

What’s more hilarious than racism and sexism?  You may have seen the story about the president of the Lew-Port school board being taken to task for sending racist and sexist emails to his colleagues.

Board President Robert J. Weller regularly forwards what he considers to be humorous e-mail messages to a list of friends and fellow board members, current and former board members told The Buffalo News.

Weller, a Town of Porter resident, acknowledged sending the e-mails but said the messages do not mean he’s a racist. He also said he didn’t mean to offend anyone.

“They can accuse all they want to,” he said, “but I didn’t do anything other than what everybody else in the world does.”

The messages fall under his freedom of speech, he said, adding that he did not author them, but merely forwarded them.

“The president of the School Board is no more holy than a minister, and a minister probably sends a lot more stuff than I do,” Weller said. “These are just jokes. If somebody wanted to take offense, they had the opportunity to shut if off, just like a radio.”

I love his defense — every aspect of it is idiotic.  I think racism is funny, but I’m not a racist; the jokes are premised on offending people, but I didn’t mean to offend anyone; everyone else is doing it (except, I guess, all those who find it offensive); freedom of speech — which regulates the relationship between government and citizen, not public official and citizen — protects him from the consequences of his speech.  It’s a masterpiece of idiocy.

The most important part is the claim that “these are just jokes.”  Ok, but they’re jokes that trade in ideas that are directly connected to a long and ongoing history of oppression.  Women and blacks have been (and continue to be) harmed by these ideas.  And of course, it’s very easy for a white man to argue that it’s all in fun when there are no analogous jokes that can be told about him.  Louis CK has a great bit about the advantages of being white (and male), and one of them is that we can’t be insulted.  The clip below is great from start to finish, but the piece about white immunity from these sorts of jokes starts around 2 minutes in:

Gay Marriage, Black Churches, and Kyriarchy

May 19, 2009
Rev. William Gillison: Homophobe

Rev. William Gillison: Homophobe

As the marriage equality issue heats up, the media continues to pit blacks and gays against each other in a competition to define “civil rights.”  The Buffalo News got into that game with an article on Monday:

Black clergy have long opposed the march toward legal same-sex marriages. Now, they’re also challenging the growing efforts of gay-marriage supporters to frame the issue as a civil rights cause.

The Rev. William Gillison, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church, a large African-American congregation on East Delevan Avenue, said he is insulted by the comparison.

“We know what we have gone through as an ethnic group. We feel the terminology, the definition itself, has really been hijacked,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s just another ploy to garner more support from people who may not understand what the civil rights struggle was all about.”

Bishop Michael A. Badger, pastor of Bethesda World Harvest International Church on Main Street, said that he doesn’t doubt there is discrimination against gay people but that it is hardly on the order of what African-Americans have encountered and still face.

“As an African-American, I don’t have a choice in the color of my skin. I have a choice in whether I’m abstinent or not,” Badger said. “I don’t think you can compare the two.”

The intended effect of articles like this is twofold: first, they damage the credibility of marriage equality advocates by removing one of their strongest claims to legitimacy; and second, they damage the reputation of the black community as a whole by highlighting those black “leaders” who are bigots and buffoons.  Of course marriage equality is a civil rights issue — it questions whether the government has sufficient cause to deny equal rights to a particular (and historically oppressed) group.  And of course homosexuality isn’t a choice, nor can someone stop being gay by abstaining from sex.

What can’t be as easily dismissed are the tensions between different forms of oppression that are at the heart of the conflict.  Trying to sort out whether racism or homophobia (or other oppressions) are “more important” or “worse” seems like a waste of energy at best, and dangerously counterproductive at worst.  Nobody wins when racial minorities, women, LGBTQ folks and the poor are fighting amongst themselves, yet our typically rigid and dichotomous way of looking at oppression practically guarantees that that’s what happens.

I was doing some reading on this subject when I came across the concept of kyriarchy. Some may already be familiar, but it was new to me:

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.

Let me break this down for you.  When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination — they’re talking about kyriarchy.  When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that’s kyriarchy.  When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that’s kyriarchy.  It’s about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid . . .
But, the pyramid stratifies itself from top to bottom.   And before you start making a checklist of who is at the top and bottom – here’s my advice: don’t bother.  The pyramid shifts with context.  The point is not to rank.  The point is to learn.
This seems like a much more valid — and useful — model for understanding oppression and how it operates.  It recognizes that everyone — even members of historically oppressed groups — can be oppressors themselves, and it steers us away from contests about “who has it worse” while recognizing that all oppressions aren’t the same.  And it doesn’t allow people like Gillison and Badger to hide their bigotry behind their own history of oppression.