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I looked over the last entry on Schwarzenegger, and I think my use of the term 'bigoted' needs some explanation. I don't think Trent Lott is a bigot. I may be wrong. I don't think he would have said we'd be better off if Strom Thurmond had been elected president if he'd realized the implications people later drew out of that statement. It would have been political suicide to say such a thing while aware of how people would hear it. He only later realized this, and then he had to apologize to avoid looking like he intended something no one in his position would have dared to try to say. I do think he doesn't consider race issues to be all that important, or he wouldn't have said what he said. If he'd been thinking of race as a key issue on the agenda, he would have thought about his words more carefully, and he would have remembered that many black people see Strom Thurmond as the epitome of white racism. While this was all going on, John McWhorter argued quite cogently for exactly what I'm saying here.

I also don't think Hillary Clinton is a bigot. She recently made a racist joke. She apologized even more quickly than Lott did. She realized the inconsistency of her holding others to standards she herself doesn't meet and had to take it back. Lots of people make racist jokes without really thinking ill of the people who are the brunt of their jokes, and I have no doubt that she has respect for people from India, including Gandhi. I don't think she has Indian concerns at the top of her agenda, but that's perfectly ok for someone who probably doesn't interact with Indians on a daily basis. It's less ok for the senator "from" New York to have racial issues low on her agenda, but Indian concerns aren't even at the top of racial concerns in the U.S., given where the majority of racial problems in this country and in this state tend to lie. What she did was a mistake, and it reveals some level of hypocrisy, but she apologized. Only future comments will reveal if she has repented.

Gray Davis, however, is another story. He deliberately said something demeaning about an immigrant, and it isn't even true. His comment was insensitive toward those who learn English to a degree far better even than the average native-born American yet still have accents that they wish they could overcome. Linguists have shown that the sounds distinctions we are able to hear and reproduce are determined fairly early in our language learning. My 17-month-old right now is babbling in sounds that occur in all sorts of languages but never occur in English. It won't be long before he settles down with English sounds and will have a very difficult time with German, Russian, Japanese, Hebrew, or Hindi sounds that aren't in English. Schwarzenegger learned English as a foreign language and did an incredibly good job of it. Davis' comment reveals that one of two things is true. Either he has a low view of immigrants who haven't developed a perfect American accent, or he was trying to appeal to voters who have such a low view. So he's either a bigot himself or he was pandering to the bigoted vote. I don't mind identifying him with those he wants to act like, so I don't mind attaching the name to him.


Why was Hillary's joke considered racist?

1-8-04 6:20 pm

It associated Indians with working at a gas station. I assume most people's offense was at the implied comparison between Gandhi and Apu. There were certainly such comparisons across the blogosphere, though interestingly most of my Google searches turned up nothing related to this.

1-8-04 6:33 pm


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