Watch Your Mouth!
Terry H. Schwadron
Let’s take a Trump-Comey break today. There are more important things to discuss about our culture, including how Bill Maher, a reasonably popular television host who presents as “liberal” in political outlook blithely could drop a racial slur into a broadcast.
I have been reflecting all week at just how angry I am at continuing expressions of racism.
Maher has apologized and even taken part in televised discussions with black entertainers and public figures who actually have had to explain to him the rudeness of his off-hand remark. And even Sen. Ben Sasse, the Nebraska Republican who was being interviewed by Maher when the slur popped out, said that in retrospect, he should have said something pointedly to Maher about the inappropriateness of the remark, but he didn’t.
In this last week, Red Sox announcer and former second baseman Jerry Remy had to apologize after suggesting that a Yankee pitcher who is Japanese shouldn’t need a translator for a discussion at the mound in the middle of the game. The pitcher, Remy said, should be able to speak baseball-ese, at least. That followed by a few weeks a need at Fenway Park, the Red Sox home, to ban a fan for life who showered a black outfielder from the opposing team with racial taunts.
Basketball giant LeBron James had to have painted racial expletives erased or covered at his home in Los Angeles even as he was about to start NBA finals competition. James handled the situation with admirable, careful, low-voiced reminders that to be black in America is to know that these events will continue unendingly, that the nation has a problem with racism that will not go away.
It is not all language: There were more of those cases in court in the last week where police officers faced formal accusations after shootings involving unarmed black suspects, a trend that everyone but the Trump administration (there he is again, unbidden) and Republican lawmakers seem to be able to recognize.
And there is word that the Trump campaign against undocumented immigrants is turning to reopening closed deportation cases, stepping up wide-reaching and family-destroying raids, and spreading fear among Latin populations.
Those are just the public cases, not the number of remarks within my hearing this week as I walked around, inevitably overhearing private chats. Of course, these are just recent salvos in the never-ending list of stupid things that people cannot stop themselves from doing, saying, or forcing on others; indeed, it has become a hallmark of Trump supporters to assail the need for “political correctness” in our society.
These statements always are described as inadvertent, as meaningless in context, as jokes; yet they always hurt someone(s) and could just as easily be avoided with a minimum of paying heed.
Racially charged words were the one set of words banned for our children. We didn’t care much about the use of four-letter words; the kids understood that words do matter, and that they needed to be aware. But those words with racial or class or gender bias, those phrases that indicate that the speaker thinks himself or herself better than the subject, those are the words that deserve a soapy mouth.
It’s our legacy after having been subjected to lots more than anti-Semetic words from Nazi and those Japanese guards who kept my family behind wired ghettos in China. We can do better, we must do better has been a consistent message in our communities.
We live now in Harlem, living as members of a white racial minority in a world that turns totally just 40 blocks south. Yet we celebrate that our world is filled with people of different looks and faces, different backgrounds and languages. I help teach English to immigrants willing, eager to spend at least 6 hours a week learning the language; our class once again represents people from 18 different countries for whom English is often the third, fourth or fifth language they can speak.
We’ve been visiting Kansas City, Mo this week, an inviting city bustling with a bumper crop of construction, small businesses aimed at offering good leisure times, a place where people stay in their cars, and where development in black neighborhoods near the legendary jazz area around 18th and Vine lags seriously behind the rest of the city. I’m sure it is no accident; there is more money to be made in newer, spiffier, yuppie neighborhoods pushing towards suburbs than there is in rebuilding the monochromatic areas east of downtown. Kansas City is not unique, of course, which is the point.
We look to our elected, religious and cultural leaders in the end, maybe even more than we look to ourselves, to provide real markers for a better communal life for all of us. In New York City, we all use the subway and crowd into a car that has more colors than any Rainbow Coalition would normally list. We exist. We see each other. We try being polite to one another. It is better than a world in which we do not try.
Isn’t that why the Pope looked so exasperated trying to talk Mr. Trump into carrying out his “Christian” values as a leader? Isn’t this why we’re now seeing a resurgence of more liberal-leaning clerics from various faiths seeking out ways to remind government leaders of their responsibilities in not singling out Muslims for degrading description and for forgetting the poor in constructing budgets that affect food stamps? Isn’t this why “political correctness” actually is a necessity in our society rather than a throwaway political insult?
Whether the subject is Russian collusion or mean remarks about political opponents and competitors, we should be seeking out ways to build community as well as infrastructure, to find meaning in the well-being of our neighbors.
The Wall we should be building is one against institutional racism.