Two For The “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring” Files (Or Maybe “Mine Detectors” Is The More Appropriate Metaphor) [CORRECTED]

HEY! Don’t you see that? IT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!”

These two recent stories puzzle me. There are some aspects of civil conduct and societal norms that every cognitively functioning human being who lives in this society and culture cannot possibly have failed to notice. Nonetheless, these events keep happening. Quite part from the specifics of the incidents, they represent a failure of basic life competence.

1. California: Another Teacher Uses Blackface

I have, much to my sorrow—it was one reason Ethics Alarms is censored on Facebook—defended the use of dark make-up when its objective is not to denigrate and mock a race, but to play a dramatic role in a context where such make-up is necessary. White actors should be able to play the Moor Othello. In a saner society, white kids should also be able to dress up as Barack Obama or Beyoncé for Halloween, but interpreting any use of dark make-up as a deliberate reference to minstrel show “blackface” is now part of the victim lobby’s power tool kit, and one has to be aware of and understand the risks of bucking a treasured narrative.

How could any teacher not know, following the travails of Governor Northam in Virginia and Justin Trudeau in Canada, about this cultural landmine? If these elected officials, among others, were threatened by the cancellation culture for having used black makeup as students years ago, wouldn’t it be screamingly obvious that using blackface today, before a classroom, would be professional hari-kari? (Oops! Cultural appropriation there!)

Yet a white high school teacher in Milpitas, California wore blackface in his class on Halloween  to do an imitation of the rapper Common. Of course one of the students made a viseo, of course it came to the school board’s attention, of course it created an irresistible opportunity for members to grandstand and engage in virtue-signalling, and of course such opportunities must not be wasted.

Thus Chris Norwood, the president of the school board in solemnly intoned that the behavior was “inappropriate, unprofessional and insensitive” and called for an investigation, adding,

“As an African-American man, the history of blackface reminds me of the cruelty, hatred and fear my parents and people of African ancestry have dealt with in the past and still experience today around the world. Unfortunately, blackface still permeates global society today through social media, comedy and fashion.”

(It’s a bit hysterical to say blackface permeates social media, comedy and fashion. I also think the head of a school boards should observe the rules of grammar: the history of blackface is not an African American man.)

But never mind; the point is that such a teacher must be oblivious to the world around him to not only step on this particular career-destroying device but stomp on it. he’s a fool. Fools should not be teachers.

Now, I was going to introduce the second story with “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” That seems safe: it was the title of a hit for Bachman-Turner overdrive in 1974, and the ttle of a 2012 film. Then I checked: the line “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” was made famous as a catch phrase by…Al Jolson, the famous performer most associated with blackface!

Oooh, close call!

2. The Naperville Bufallo Wings Incident

This is KABOOM! worthy.

In a Naperville, Illinois, in suburban Chicago, a large group including  African-Americans went to a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant for a celebration. A host asked the group to move to another table, saying that a regular customer and his companion objected to having to sit close to them. The group says that they were told that the reason for the customer’s request was the color of their skin. [NOTICE OF CORRECTION: Apparently this was not clear in my original post.] After the group refused to move, they heard the host and the restaurant’s manager commiserating with the customer. Then they left, and a representative alerted the news media.

Said the Wall Street Journal, in one of the great understatements of the year, that Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. “plans to speed up sensitivity training.” Ya think? By the way, BWW, it’s far too late for that. The company fired the host and the manager, and banned the regular customer from the store for life.  But where had these three mutants been for the last, oh, sixty years? How could anyone think this kind of openly racist behavior is appropriate, and likely to pass without objection and serious consequences?

Who are these people? WHAT are these people?

[Note: No, this was not a “hate crime.” Acting like a racist jerk, and facilitating racist jerks with mere words. don’t break any laws.]


21 thoughts on “Two For The “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring” Files (Or Maybe “Mine Detectors” Is The More Appropriate Metaphor) [CORRECTED]

  1. Acting like a racist jerk, and facilitating racist jerks with mere words. don’t break any laws.

    Well, no criminal laws. I wouldn’t be so sure that being or facilitating a racist jerk towards customers while working at a place of public accommodation doesn’t violate civil rights laws, giving rise to a private cause of action.

  2. Meanwhile Hitler costumes are all the rage in high school…apparently.

    I don’t know what person – teenager or otherwise – in his right mind would consider wearing a Hitler costume anywhere, but it’s a mine ready to blow each time.

    And in Idaho:

    Kevin Richert 11/05/2019

    Teton High School is reconsidering allowing student Halloween costumes, after one student showed up for school dressed as Adolf Hitler.

    A second student was dressed as a Jewish person, and the student dressed as Hitler pulled the classmate around with a leash or rope, Jeannette Boner of the Teton Valley News reported this week.

    The students put on the costumes during Thursday’s lunch break, and English teacher Marilyn Reiley stopped them as they entered her class, Boner reported.

    “There is no simple fix to this,” Principal Sam Zogg told Boner. “We are trying to address this as a staff. These were two kids and not the whole student body. We have to look at the whole issue to prevent even two kids from doing this again.”

    Other costumes were problematic as well, Zogg told Boner. One student dressed as a prostitute, another dressed as Jesus, and others wore masks that made them unrecognizable.” (source

    • In Cabaret there are plenty of characters who do need to wear full Nazi regalia. In 1994 when I played Texas in it in college, it was discovered that the guy playing the worst Nazi already had a full replica costume in his family closet (!). As students were doing some of the research/design/build in the costume shop, they discovered the full historical accuracy of it, and it sat on display in the costume shop to be copied for the others. The actor/guy wore his own stuff in the show (such a budget savings). He had worn it on Halloween before (I think he said it was Goebbels, but I’m not sure anymore), but because of the discussion he started, kinda learned the lesson that maybe he shouldn’t anymore. I’m pretty positive he didn’t think there was anything wrong with wearing a full SS Nazi outfit as regular daily apparel, but he at least got that if he DID, things wouldn’t go his way in public.

    • I don’t think so. Renault calls him Ricky a couple of times; Sam and the other employees call him “Boss”. Even Major Strasser, reading from a Gestapo dossier, states Rick’s name is “Richard Blaine”.

      I haven’t a clue.

      • But Carl calls him “Eric,” and three times. Richard would be on the dossier if that’s the name Rick has adopted. But there is no reason for kindly, avuncular, courtly Carl to call him “Eric” if he didn’t know something personal.

        I believe Carl.

          • No. I look at it this way: it’s Occam’s Razor. I can see how an Eric went by Ric, used Richard sometimes because of it, but confided in some confidantes what his real name was. I cannot see a path where a Richard who went by Rick, which is hardly unusual, would be called Eric by an employee. Can you?

            This question lies outside the four corners of the screenplay (maybe it’s a vestige from the (bad) Broadway play that loosely inspired Casablanca. Since all we have is what we’ve got, I think my version makes sense.

                  • If I was able to accept that, it might move up in the Occam’s Razor scale. My problem is that Carl was played by S.A. “Cuddles” Sakall, who was famously Hungarian, as was his accent. Since Rick’s Cafe is ostentatiously an international community, with French, Bulgarian, Russians, and many other nationalities, there is no reason to assume Carl (notice it isn’t “Karl”) is German except by the “Herr Rick” theory, oddly pronounces as “Herrick.” There is, on the contrary, good reason to assume that he’s playing his own nationality, as most of the actors are.

  3. I don’t understand the Buffalo Wild Wings story. A large group that included African Americans sat down for a celebration, presumably noisy, next to a couple engaged in quiet conversation. The couple was unhappy and asked that the group sit somewhere else. The staff commiserated with the couple. So far, I haven’t heard anything outrageous.

    Am I missing something? Was the group mostly African American or did it just include a few African Americans? Does “commiserating with the customer” mean “expressing sympathy for the collapse of the customer’s plans for a quiet dinner” or is it a euphemism for “exchanging racist remarks with the customer about noisy black people”?

    • Buffalo Wild Wings is not the place for quiet conversation; it’s a loud sports bar with shitty food. Asking that a large party be moved to accommodate two people, for any reason, is unreasonable. If I were looking for a place to bring a raucous, celebrating group, Buffalo Wild Wings is exactly where I’d go. If the couple wanted quiet conversation, they should have politely paid their bill and gone elsewhere.

      • I’m not saying the couple were reasonable for asking the group to move instead of just moving themselves. But national news? The party group stomping out in a rage? Employees being fired and customers being banned for life? From the are facts that Jack recites, it doesn’t sound on its face like a racist incident at all

        • It’s my fault—I went back and read the post, and I didn’t make it sufficiently clear that the group claims the host indicated that the skin color of their black members was the reason for the request. I thought that was clear; it wasn’t. My mistake. I fixed it.

    • I’m skeptical about this one also. It reminds me of the Victoria Wilcher KFC hoax. When I intially read that story, my first thought was “Who would be stupid enough to kick out a small child because somebody didn’t like her face?” Turned out nobody was, her granny and aunt made up the whole thing. So I tend to apply a reverse Occam’s Razor to these stories: “Don’t attribute to stupidity what can be explained by fabrication”.

  4. This story is totally doubtful. It is possible that someone, somewhere, might say or could say: “I do not want to sit near a group of Blacks”. (It is also possible that some Black or Blacks might not want to sit next to Whites and I am sure this happens often. Indeed, some Blacks desire to send their kids to all-Black schools).

    But who would have revealed to the Black group (or mostly Black group) in that restaurant that the customer said he did not want to be near Black people? It does not stand up to enquiry. And it is probably a hoax.

    Another aspect of ‘the war on whiteness’ it looks to be: any tools will be used and all such tools justify themselves.

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