It is instructive to periodically read what “America’s paper of record” represents as fair and informational reporting. Here is a fine example: an article below the fold on page 13 of the issue from three days ago. Its title in the print edition: “When Sorry Doesn’t Heal the Wounds.” The theme is small town mayors and other officials being held accountable for “racially insensitive remarks” during the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck.
Case Study #1: Brian Henry, mayor of Pawleys Island off the coast of South Carolina, whom protesters are insisting must resign for Facebook posts that “outraged and divided much of the community.”
What did he say? He opined that the killings of two town residents had not received national attention because the victims were white and the suspect is black, and also characterized Black Lives Matter and antifa as terrorist organizations that were destroying American cities. He is in full retreat and grovel mode, saying at a news conference last month that conversations with friends, faith leaders and his staff had given him “a deeper understanding of racial inequality and the importance of diversity sensitivity, which is very much needed to heal Pawleys Island, Georgetown and our country.”
A. This is one more example of social media being a menace for public officials unable to keep their fingers still. Why would anyone on public office think it was wise or responsible to make either of these statements without good reason?
B. His first statement was obviously correct. People should not apologize for statements that are correct, unless the apology is for inciting controversy for no good reason.
C. His second set of assertions are also inflammatory but close enough to truth for social media horseshoes. Both groups depend on threats of violence to intimidate citizens into supporting them. Does that make them technically terrorist groups? I don’t care. They need to be de-glamorized and labeled the undemocratic and destructive organizations that they are.
D. However, again, if there was no good reason to make these observations on a little island town, it was foolish and unethical to stir up division by making it.
Case Study #2: Boston School Committee Chair Michael Loconto, who was caught on audio in a virtual meeting mocking the Asian surnames of community members who wanted to speak. He apologized a few moments later, explaining that he was “talking about a children’s book.” (Right.) Eight members of Boston’s City Council called for Loconto’s resignation, and he stepped down,
A. Good. He should have stepped down.
B. “After the ongoing discussion about racism in our country, that type of comment could no longer be accepted,” said Ed Flynn, a city councilor who represents Boston’s Chinatown, as well as parts of South Boston and the South End. “Society will no longer tolerate or accept inappropriate comments from a member of city government.” Wrong. Ridiculing citizens seeking to be heard was never ethical conduct. Stop making everything about George Floyd. The hanging “inappropriate” is a threat to legitimate opinions and speech. Who decides what speech is “inappropriate”? Society should not tolerate public officials showing disrespect for the public by mocking them based on ethnicity. Be specific. Freedom lies in the balance between details and vagueness.
Case Study #3: Mark Chambers, the mayor of Carbon Hill, Alabama. He resigned after criticizing the University of Alabama’s football team’s support of Black Lives Matter.
A. To quote my father’s favorite epitaph, “He was right, dead right, as he sped along, but he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.’ No, sports teams at any level shouldn’t be taking political positions. But the conduct of the Alabama football team is none of his business. He should have resigned, not because what he said was incorrect, but because he needlessly roiled the community.
B. That said, he resigned without retracting his opinion, though he could have ethically admitted that he should have kept it to himself. The one-sentence letter of resignation stated: “I quit the job of mayor effective June 27 at 4:30 p.m.” It’s more admirable that the typical grovel.
Case Study #4. Kenneth Poynter, Mayor of Harper Woods, Michigan, resigned after saying he could understand the reasons a person might become a white supremacist.
Observation: He’s an idiot. Of course he should have resigned.
Case Study #5: Rudy Patch, the mayor of Blackduck, Minnesota. He shared an online meme of a blood-covered Jeep that included a caption implying the vehicle had been used to run over protesters. This occurred shortly after the George Floyd protests began. He later said he regretted sharing the post without proper context and hoped to receive training to learn more about racism.
Observation: You can’t fix stupid, Rudy. He had to resign, How could a mayor ever thing sharing such a meme would be anything but divisive and destructive?
Digression: Writes the Times,
“The unfiltered comments by elected officials — which might have landed differently before Mr. Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers, prompting thousands of protests — were shared mostly on social media by people presiding over small, majority-white towns.”
A. We don’t know that Floyd was killed by the officers. The medical examiner said that he wasn’t. There is also a trial to be held. This is activism, not journalism.
B. Such gratuitous foot-swallowing by officials is no more acceptable now than before Floyd’s ugly death. It’s just that they used to get away with it more often.
Case Study #6: Hal Marx, Mayor of Petal, Mississippi. He tweeted, following the Floyd episode, “If you can say you can’t breathe, you’re breathing.” Protesters demanded Marx’s resignation, but after apologizing, he refused to go. “You shouldn’t lose your livelihood over a stupid remark,” he told the New York Times.
A. Marx has been mayor for eleven years. If he still has the public trust, and that was his worst tweet, he’s right.
B. With the exception of comments that are directly racist or seem to endorse racism (like #4 above), balancing and proportion is in order. Marx’s comment was foolish, but did not mandate his resignation.
Case Study #7. Barry Presgraves, mayor of Luray, Virginia. He posted a political meme on his Facebook page that said, “Joe Biden has just announced Aunt Jemima as his VP pick.” He deleted the post, but many called for him to resign. He apologized but refused, and got off with the Town Council’s public censure for his “harmful words.”
Observation: I regard that meme as signature significance for someone with no ethics alarms regarding racial and gender bigotry, exactly like Roseanne’s comparison of Valerie Jarrett to an ape. He should have resigned or been removed.
Case Study #8: Linda Jackson, the mayor, and Cheryl Chapman, the deputy mayor of Endicott, N.Y. They shared and liked a “White Lives Matter” post on their personal Facebook pages. They survived by doing a full grovel, admitting to “ignorance of the Black Lives Matter movement” and attending antiracism workshops.
A. I confess not to know what to make of this one. The BLM slogan is racist in its implications and assumptions, but its advocates have succeeded in making it a racial Catch 22.
B. Competent public officials should know by now not to step on that particular well-marked landmine.
C. Should they have stood their ground, made their case, and gone down in flames as a matter of principle? I might have. Nonetheless, their job description did not include announcing gratuitous verdicts regarding social justice fads.
Final Observation: the Times story places all of these episodes in the same category: “racially insensitive remarks.” That misleads readers and implies false equivalence among statements ranging from outright bigotry to gratuitous opinions to legitimate opinion.
13 thoughts on “Georg Floyd Train Wreck Public Official “Racial Insensitivity” Controversies: Eight Case Studies”
You know, Morons.
If progressives want every jerk in the United States to stop acting like jerks as a result of government enforcement, we’re doomed as a society.
I agree completely with everything except 4., based solely on the information you provide. (It may not be a coincidence that 4. was the only one for which you didn’t provide a nuanced analysis.)
The ability to understand and empathize with terrible people is a noble and very helpful skill, and eventually I hope to see the day when a person can declare that they understand a terrible person and be met with curiosity rather than horror. It may not be wise for a public figure to say as much in the meantime if they aren’t prepared to elaborate, but I don’t know the context in which he said it or whether there was any followup.
The reasons a person might become a white supremacist are already well documented, by ex-white supremacists and the people who bothered to empathize with them. Poverty, ignorance, emotional vulnerability, a feeling of being treated unfairly… The same reasons why people join any violent tribal movement, really. We’re not going to get people to stop being terrible people until we understand what makes them that way, so we may as well get used to the idea.
Anyone who attempts to suppress efforts to understand terrible people is themselves a terrible person. And yes, I understand why.
“An educated mind can entertain an idea without accepting it.” –attributed to Aristotle
“The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can touch the poison of hatred without being harmed.” –Unnamed Lion-Turtle; Avatar: The Last Airbender
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.” –Ender; Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
People who push dogma don’t know how to navigate the space of possible ideas and beliefs while maintaining a sense of objective reality, discipline, and ethics. They don’t believe it’s possible. To prove to them that it is, the easiest way is to walk them through my thought process as I consider the reasons why people do terrible things and the reasons why I ultimately reject those reasons.
I too paused over #4, thinking that understanding is quite different from accepting, although the distinction is lost for some.
To your excellent analysis, I’ll add just one more quote, from Sun Tzu: ““If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
I also think #4 may be perfectly acceptable depending on the context. I see a lot of activity by leftists that would push people to a white supremacy viewpoint. You have active discrimination against whites, whites are demonized in the schools, many people in the press are outwardly advocating for white genocide or an ‘end to whiteness’. You don’t think if you have a child in public school who comes home crying because the teacher tells him that he can’t have an opinion because he is white, that he needs to apologize for his skin color in front of the class, that he is responsible for everything wrong with the world, or that he can’t participate in some really cool programs because they are only for ‘BIPOC” (nonwhite) students that you might be pushed towards a white supremacist viewpoint? If you are forced to undergo ‘sensitivity training’ and told that you need to apologize for all the world’s ills and your advancement in the company is now limited because they have to have racial quotas so the non-whites can compete, do you think you might be pushed towards a white supremacist viewpoint?
This all is made more understandable by the fact that the Democratic Party, the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and just about any other civil rights organization have a white supremacist viewpoint. You don’t see the ‘leave us alone to stand or fail on our own merits’ of Frederick Douglass. You see a ‘white people need to give minorities this, or that, build this for minorities, pay for minorities, or move out of the way so minorities can compete’. This all assumes that ONLY white people are capable of accomplishing anything. This, of course, is explained as due to ‘systemic racism. Well, if 11% of the world population conquered the world, still control every society, and have defined and invented everything of value in society, they wouldn’t they be superior? If you see that every minority-run city seems to fall to pieces and the leaders of those cities then blame racism and demand that whites come in to fix it, wouldn’t it seem like whites are superior? Isn’t this a white supremacist ideology, as corrosive as that of the Aryan Nation? Yes, it is.
I see a lot of reasons that people might become white supremacists. I also see a lot of reasons that people might become drug addicts ( I am in awe that some people I know AREN’T drug addicts). That doesn’t mean I encourage it or that I’m happy about it. It just means that I see the problems that drive people to these behaviors and viewpoints. Pretending those problems don’t exist will only make it worse.
These are the elephants in the room no one wants anyone to talk about. It’s really not all that different than the feminist attitude that a rape victim bears absolutely no accountability for her plight, no matter what she did or how objectively stupid it was. It does not matter that she dressed seductively, went to a party with a lot of people she didn’t know, chatted up and flirted with some guy she knew nothing about just because he was good-looking, took that extra drink that rendered her impaired, or decided to let this good-looking guy walk her home across the park at 2 a.m. None of that is supposed to matter, because the fault is all on men. Criminal liability? Sure. The guy isn’t supposed to take her against her will. However, commonsensically, the person most responsible for her safety is herself. Maybe don’t dress like a trollop? Maybe don’t go somewhere with a lot of strangers you know nothing at all about? Maybe don’t flirt with some guy you don’t know just because he’s got a strong chin and his ass looks great in tight jeans? Maybe don’t take that extra drink? Maybe leave before the small hours and make sure you have a secure way home? You can’t count on the other person to do the right thing, but you CAN avoid setting yourself up for him to do the wrong thing.
Same deal with the races. Yes, you may have been born in a less advantaged family. However, the person responsible most for your success is you, not the white guy. Maybe finish school? Maybe DON’T run with people you know are into doing dangerous things? Maybe STOP complaining about disadvantages and chances denied and instead try to make the most of the chances you DO get? Maybe stay away from substances you know are deadly? Maybe also stay away from folks who deal in those substances, because you know they will kill you if you don’t pay them or don’t pay them fast enough? Maybe don’t go near someone else’s lady who you know has an unhealthy propensity for violence? Maybe DON’T slam your fist into every problem that comes your way? Maybe spend less time on the basketball court and more in the library? It’s really not that hard.
For people who don’t dare to hope for something better, who are told that the world is against them, who are never given the tools to build up themselves and their communities, and whose peers pressure them into instant gratification and heedlessness of consequences, it can be very hard indeed. That’s why understanding matters. It tells us what we need to change in order to make more change possible.
Oh, thanks, that’s a great quote as well!
The article smacks of trophy display. “Hey, look who we destroyed NOW!”
#1. No, go to Hell. No one should be destroyed or disgraced for telling the truth, and, as the left has often pointed out, there’s no wrong time for telling uncomfortable truths. He should have done like the police chief of Milwaukee and said the truth, that the blacks and leftists who can recite the names of the last 12 black people killed by police would be absolutely MIA if asked to name the last 5 violent crime victims in their own state.
#2. That was dumb. Save the Charlie Chan accents and tinky-tinky music and references to “Tikki-tikki-tembo-no-sa-rembo-chari-bari-ruchi-pip-peri-pembo (yes, there really was a children’s book by that name)” for when no one else can hear.
#3. I wouldn’t have resigned. Since BLM thinks “roiling” is their job and a sacred duty, maybe it’s time the other side did some “roiling” of their own.
#4. Not enough details here. I know I’ve said that, for example, along the New York/Pennsylvania border, where there’s no opportunity and not much of anything, that directionless young men might turn to hate because they have nothing else in their lives. That’s not a comment on white supremacy being good or bad, it’s a comment on idleness, boredom, and lack of direction. I’ve also said I can see why white folks might turn to identity politics when every other group is. That’s just another way of saying what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
#5. Yup, this guy was carrying the idiot ball.
#6. Obnoxious, but true – if you can speak, you can breathe.
#7. OK, that WAS openly racist.
#8. Dumb, but not racist. Not even close.
I don’t think we really want the media or anyone, acting as racial zampolits, deciding who can and can’t say what, on pain of personal destruction.
1. I can’t for the life of me conceive of a good reason for any government official to have a personal social media presence that is accessible by the public, particularly if one has difficulty discerning between those things that ought to be said by an official (truthful though they may be) and those that ought not. Until I retired from public service, my accounts were only available to select family members and a trusted group of close friends. I avoided any politically controversial posts or comments like the plague. My personal opinions about most issues were privately held and only shared face to face. I maintained the attitude that every reporter was recording every conversation, every mic was “hot,” and there was always somebody listening and hoping for a careless remark or controversial comment.
I agree with Jack’s father’s favorite epitaph. Like the old song says, “If they asked me, I could write a book…” about many elected and appointed public officials I have known who torpedoed their own careers with a careless, stupid or irresponsible remark or statement. Being right won’t save you from the consequences of controversy, especially needless controversy. Those lacking the ethics alarms to self-regulate their commentary would be well-served to avoid seeking or holding public office.
Now that I am no longer representing a public agency I am free to speak my mind, which I do, within the bounds of good taste and decorum (unless cruelly provoked).
Sooooo, would you post the sprinkler joke?
Sorry, I’m not familiar with “the sprinkler joke.” By context, I presume it is probably something I would not post.
You know those sprinkler models that move with the little knocker? And make that rattling noise when they move back? The joke is that sprinklers are racist because the rattling noise sounds like the n-word spoken rapidly.
Exactly. The joke is what do you get if you put three Hispanic guys, one Chinese guy, and four black guys together? A sprinkler! Spic-spic-spic-CHINK-nigger-nigger-nigger-nigger! Very un-PC.