Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Humor or just an old-fashioned racist message?

An e-mail containing head shots of all the presidents of the United States, with the current occupant in the White House depicted merely a pair of large white eyes on a black background. Like a black man in the old minstrel show type of stereotypical black man? If it's a joke, it's not funny. Just as it's no longer funny to attempt to portray wife beating as amusing, or physical punishment of children at school as humorous.

You may find a joke somewhere about Obama's game of basketball, his dislike of beets or his battle to quit smoking. But there is no real humor to be found in belittling the President of the United States on the basis of his being a man of color. And that is exactly what this "joke" is all about—to point out that he is different from the preceding presidents, and that the difference is in color.

Another disturbing element to this story, in fact, the most disturbing aspect of this obvious racist e-mail is that it was "sent to the wrong list of people." Is there a "right list" for this type of e-mail? Beyond that, the comment indicates that the aide who sent out this e-mail was instructed to send it out to a list of people, and she mistakenly chose the "wrong list." I might add that perhaps we should look more closely at her boss, State Senator Diane Black of Tennessee, who claims she "knew nothing of it." Black leads the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus and the word is that a statement on the e-mail noted that it had been paid for by the GOP!

And aides obviously don't send out anything to an entire list of people, any list of people, without instructions to do so. Mixing up those instructions is another matter. But we should not mix up the actions of the aide with the intentions of her boss.

Senator Black has much to answer for here, and her constituents, whatever list they may be on, should not tolerate this incident. They should in fact demand that she herself apologize for the e-mail. Should she fire the aide? I don’t know. A pity she hasn’t been fired herself. Don Imus was forced to resign after a racist remark he made against a black girls’ basketball team. What’s to be done with a political figure who sends a racist e-mail against the President of the United States? Does she get preferential treatment and a pass?

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