Less Street Theater, More Thought Crime, Please

While the lemming media and political office-seekers fall all over themselves seeking to demonstrate their selectively outraged sensitivities, at least one lucid commentator steps away from the stampede: John McWhorter in the New York Daily News.

What, really, is the goal of these monthly performances over something someone says in passing and usually in jest? If the goal is to stop people from ever uttering anything that can be construed as belittling to people of color, it doesn’t appear to be working.

We have already succeeded in making the outright abusive wielding of racial slurs unacceptable in American society. Nicholas (Fat Nick) Minucci, the Howard Beach, Queens, twentysomething who assaulted a black man with a bat while shouting the N-word, deserved to go to prison.

However, the quest for an America where no one ever makes passing observations that are less than respectful of minority groups is futile. And why are so many of us so obsessed with chasing that rainbow anyway? The truth is that black people who go to pieces whenever anyone says a little something are revealing that they are not too sure about themselves.

Imus hosts a radio show and a lot of people listen to it. During a few seconds last week he said something tacky. The show went on, as did life. Black people continued to constitute most new AIDS cases, black men continued to come out of prison unsupervised. And we’re supposed to be most interested in Imus saying “nappy-headed ho’s”?

What creates that hypersensitivity is a poor racial self-image. Where, after all, did Imus pick up the very terminology he used? Rap music and the language young black people use themselves on the street to refer to one another.

What Imus said is lowdown indeed, but so is the way blacks refer to each other. And life goes on.

Street theater is not strength. It saps energy better put to other uses.

What the world desperately needs now is much less street theater, many fewer witch hunts, far less name-calling, and much less street crime—but far, far, far more productive thought crime in the public sphere.

I don’t have much patience with talk radio, TV talk shows, or opinion-mongering in general, but I find these tedious cycles of talk crimes followed by ginned-up public outrage, struggle sessions, and rectification campaigns in the media far too totalitarian for my tastes. I’ll take thought crimes over mind control and reeducation camps any day.

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Filed under language, U.S.

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