Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You're Fired!

Once when was still in grad school, I was talking to my therapist about how I hated writing papers. The thing that I hated about it was the effort it took to take a list of information and turn that into a paper. Introductions, conclusions, topic sentences, and the like. And don't get me started on APA style. I have often said that much of higher education is a game--forcing people to write in a certain style is one of the best examples of that. Margins, two spaces after a period, italicize this, underline that, and how do you cite websites again? But now I'm getting off on a tangent.

So, in one of our sessions I was telling him how my life would be so much easier if I could just turn in a list of bullet points. He responded by asking me what was keeping me from asking my professors if I could do that? I think he was trying to show me that I had some control in the situation, and that I could stop complaining and take some action. Like most clients, I heard what he said but didn't do anything differently ;) I just continued to soldier through, writing the stupid papers in the stupid APA style, until I got that lovely diploma and got the hell out of there.

But here it is several years later, and I've had a revelation. On my blog, I can do bullet points if I want to! I don't have to ask anyone for permission, and I don't have to let my disdain for finding the perfect transition word keep me from writing about something that's been on my mind for days: the Juan Williams
controversy. So, let's get to it...

--Juan Williams said something like "When I see a person on a plane dressed in Muslim garb, showing that being Muslim is their primary identity--I get scared." NPR fired him soon after. Fox News signed him to a multi-year, 2 million dollar contract soon after that.

--Juan's comment doesn't make logical sense. The people who bombed the U.S. on 9/11 were not wearing what Williams would consider 'Muslim garb.' And even if they were, 19 people dressed a certain way doesn't mean you can come to conclusions about millions of other people who are dressed similarly.

--My understanding of the situation is that Williams was not making this statement proudly. He followed it up by saying that he still gets on the plane, and that he doesn't think the people he is scared of should have to go through extra security. I interpreted his comment as an honest confession of his feelings.

--Part of NPR's justification for his firing is that his role with their organization was as a "news analyst," and with that statement, he was making it difficult for people to distinguish between his opinion and actual fact. Personally, I think a person would have to be pretty obtuse to think that what he said was anything but his personal opinion.

-- Related: I also think it's funny that people in the media think it is even possible to be objective when reporting about pretty much any issue. Anytime a person writes or says anything, it is being influenced in some way by their personal experience. I think the field of journalism would be enhanced if it would acknowledge this fact more, instead of thinking that people are able to be truly neutral, objective, fair or balanced in their reporting.

--Williams' comment bothers me because he is sending yet another message to marginalized people that says, "Hey if you just assimilate--you can be accepted." Don't show pride in your marginalized identity, at least not in a way that is too 'in my face.' I write more about this way of thinking, and why it is harmful here.

--But, Williams simply making the comment doesn't bother me. I think NPR by firing him sends the message, "It's not okay to say you're scared of Muslims. We're not scared of Muslims here at NPR." They're missing an opportunity to explore why he and millions of other people get scared when they see people who look like they follow a certain religion. And what that does and doesn't have to do with 9/11.

--NPR is also being hypocritical because like Patricia Heaton said on The View, if Juan had said he was scared of members of the Tea Party, he would likely still have his job. Basically, NPR gets to decide who it is and isn't okay for Williams to be scared of.

--That last point makes me think of black conservatives Shelby Steele and Clarence Thomas, who make the provocative argument that white liberals are fine with black people--as long as black people agree with them. If black people stop agreeing with them, start having their own ideas, defining problems differently or want to try other solutions--bad things can happen. You can lose your job, be labeled an "Uncle Tom" and/or very quickly fall out of favor. You can read more about these ideas by checking out some books by Steele and Thomas--which are over on the right there under my "read more books" sidebar.

--9th grade civic lesson: this is not an issue of free speech. If Juan had been thrown in jail by the police, or if NPR got more than 2% percent of its funding from the government--we might have a 1st amendment issue on our hands. Free speech and the first amendment only come into play when the government does something to punish someone for what they say...mmmmkay?

--Finally, if you think you're not afraid of Muslims (or gay people, or black people or people in wheelchairs, or some other group that's not exactly like you,) please go here and take some of their nifty tests.

--As per usual, I want to know what you think. Feel free to leave me a comment in whatever style you'd like (bullets, haiku, interpretive dance, etc.)


  1. Here is an example of the thought police running wild. I guess Juan got a “TWB” Or a “FWB” Talking While Black or Thinking While Black or Feeling While Black. He just spoke out on a feeling and got nabbed by the intolerant left who promote political correct dialogue only to entrap and ensnare one of their own. How ironic or funny. If you swim with sharks or sleep with snakes you will eventually get bitten. Or if you sleep with whores don’t be shocked if you catch a disease. The left finally got him off NPR, Who is next? NPR is no beacon of pure thought and far from an objective news source. NPR was gunning for him because he was a Fox commentator and was tired of the association. The heads of the NPR plantation were tired of Juan for many years and finally took action. They got him on a technicality, or as Clarence Thomas would call it a ‘high tech lynching”. Juan was there almost 10 years, what took them so long? What kills me the most is that Juan did not fit the mold of the house negro they want on the left and at NPR. He bucked and spoke against his masters too often and was given a public humiliation. Juan expressed his opinion and according to the political correct thought police gave him a perp walk to set him straight and get his mind right. As in the movie Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate” Putting Juan in the sweat box for a while will set him straight and he will think twice before he deviates from the left play book of political correctness. Juan said the wrong thing too many times and his failure to toe the line caught up with him. Make sure that you are the right kind of black and minority so that you do not get kicked out of the plantation on the left. I t is such a warm and loving house that loves all people of color and diversity. Just get your mind right!

  2. this just seems bad all around.

    those tests were pretty cool I took a couple!

  3. I didn't see any books by Steele or Thomas on your sidebar. I would have been very interested in seeing any books by those two that You would recommend. And, I did like the recommendations you did make.
    Implicit is one of my favorites on the Web!

  4. Anonymous9:30 PM

    My Muslim boyfriend thoughtfully responded to this controvery by saying, "You know, I have to admit that I might be scared if I saw men in 'Muslim garb' on my plane. I'm not okay with having those thoughts, but I might automatically respond that way..." If we shoot people down whenever they honestly own up to their deeply ingrained racist beliefs / assumptions, which we ALL HAVE, then we lose the opportunity to have these important conversations. I think it's brave to talk about all the isms, and I think it's the only chance in hell they'll ever go away.