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Richard Cohen just learned that slavery was bad

Mother Jones has a “Richard Cohen’s 10 Worst Moments” piece, which is good, because I have hitherto neglected this rich vein of bad moments.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen goes to the movies, finds out slavery is wrong.

I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life…slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks. Slavery was a lifetime’s condemnation to an often violent hell in which people were deprived of life, liberty and, too often, their own children.

About a week ago, Richard Cohen went to see 12 Years a Slave and came out surprised by the brutal depiction of slavery in America. He defended himself by saying that he learned slaves “were sort of content” and “slave owners were mostly nice people” in school. Cohen graduated high school in the class of ’58. No, 1958.

Jesus hopping Christ, what? He learned slaves were content and owners were nice in school and nothing since? Are you kidding me? A guy who writes a column for the Washington fucking Post hasn’t managed to learn more about slavery than what he claims he learned in school? He had learned absolutely nothing about it since until last week when he went to a movie?

That alone is enough to get him demoted to a paper route.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen defends Clarence Thomas because boys will be boys.

Thomas stands nearly alone on the court in his shallowness of his scholarship and the narrowness of his compassion. But when it comes to his alleged sexual boorishness, he stands condemned of being a man.

In a 2010 column, Cohen dismissed any allegations of sexual misconduct that occurred during the 1980s, since that was “a bit before the modern era,” and argued that Thomas’ alleged actions—including asking a woman at work for her bra size and making other sexual comments—were just typical guy stuff.

Uh huh. It’s just typical, and women have to just put up with it, and whaddyagonnado, and these things just are the way they are.

Cohen claimed that Anita Hill couldn’t have been harassed, because “why did she follow her abuser, Thomas, from one job to the next?” But maybe that’s unfair to Cohen. After all, it’s not like he was ever accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

1 (tied). Richard Cohen is accused of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Stand up and turn around.

According to a Washington Post staffer, Cohen said the above to 23-year-old editorial aide Devon Spurgeon. Staffers said he also told her she “looks good in black” and engaged her in an offensive discussion about oral sex following the Monica Lewinsky scandal. (Cohen denies the first comment and says the others were made innocently.) Spurgeon took a leave of absence, and Washington Post management found that Cohen committed “inappropriate behavior,” but Cohen maintained, “it was a personality dispute [that] had nothing to do with sexual harassment as the term applies today.” For further reading, see Cohen’s creepy screed on how terrible it is that women in movies don’t fall for men decades their elder as much as they used to.

Now what does that remind me of? Oh yes. That.

That’s just the first four; enjoy the final six.

 

 

Comments

  1. noxiousnan says

    Cohen’s Creepy Screed broke my irony meter, permanently I’m afraid. Its got smoke pouring from it. I better give it a break before I read anymore Cohen.

  2. forestdragon says

    He didn’t learn until he saw Twelve Years A Slave that slavery was bad?! Jesus H. Crossdressing Christ, how did he manage to miss Roots? You didn’t even need to go to the theater to see that; it was one of the first TV miniseries.

  3. says

    I have trouble comprehending how anyone can be so completely lacking in self-awareness and basic social awareness. “Duh, I had no idea the enslavement of Africans for centuries was a Bad Thing™ until I saw that slavery movie. #liveandlearn” Are you fucking kidding me? What next – will he rent Schindler’s List to see if the Jews were more than a bit inconvenienced under the Nazis?

    Whenever I hear of yet another borderline-insane pundit being employed by an apparently respectable organisation despite a history of jarring moral incompetence and rank ignorance (and/or inflammatory rhetoric, accidental or otherwise) I can only conclude they still have a job because they’re easy clickbait. Usually, no single lackwit is enough to bring down an entire paper so if said paper can weather the occasional shitstorm of negative publicity, they’ll keep the lackwit and lap up the clicks.

  4. idahogie says

    “it was a personality dispute [that] had nothing to do with sexual harassment as the term applies today.”

    This must have been some of that conventional sexual harassment. And I bet he had a bit of a gag reflex when he learned of the complaint against him. Too bad.

  5. Desert Son, OM says

    enjoy the final six.

    Shan’t. Just ate.

    he learned slaves “were sort of content” and “slave owners were mostly nice people”

    Not only was he poorly educated, but he has managed to spend the 55 years since in contact with no other human beings or informational media whatsoever. What a shitheel.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  6. iknklast says

    There are schools out there that not only teach that slavery wasn’t that bad (slaves were treated like members of the family) but that in fact, it was better than freedom, because when you’re free, you actually have to take care of yourself and work for a living. Yes. This was told to me (not in my school, fortunately, but by a friend who went to school in Texas – yes, that Texas, the very one.)

    As for this – the 1980s were a bit before the modern era – WTF? He must have a strange view of the modern era. I was around in the 1980s, and as I recall, we had running water, telephones, cable TV, and even computers. And it was generally taught that sexual harassment was wrong, but apparently not to this guy. Slavery? OK. Sexual harassment? OK. Now, it’s the 21st century, and he suddenly finds out he believed some rather peculair things (or he’s just making excuses).

    Where I worked in the 1980s, we all had to go to sexual harassment training because someone had been caught and part of the punishment is always to punish all of us by making us sit through long, tedious talks by people who clearly have never learned much about teaching. And the things they tell you are, well, let’s just say, basic knowledge to most people who have progressed past the age of 14. Like, it’s not good to put your hand up someone’s skirt without permission – or other such no-brainers that it seems some people have a lot of trouble understanding.

    I hope Cohen keeps on learning. Sounds like he should start back in kindergarten, and work his way back up.

  7. ekwhite says

    Mother Jones puts out a top ten list, and Richard Cohen immediately goes out and tops it. What an asshat.

  8. themann1086 says

    In his most recent column, he wrote the following:

    People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

    And remember, he’s one of the Post’s liberals.

  9. Mark Zima says

    It is good that we as a society are moving away from calling “creepy” people’s diverse tastes in relationships, so that we offer supportive words to gays, transgender persons, all sorts of diversity… this is a good trend in society. But you are nonetheless going to judge as “creepy” the idea of attraction between individuals decades apart in age? Perhaps you should re-assess your principles with respect to harassing people with different tastes than your own with hateful speech.

  10. Dunc says

    Whenever I hear of yet another borderline-insane pundit being employed by an apparently respectable organisation despite a history of jarring moral incompetence and rank ignorance (and/or inflammatory rhetoric, accidental or otherwise) I can only conclude they still have a job because they’re easy clickbait.

    Moral incompetence and rank ignorance are not impediments for this line of work, they’re essential qualifications.

  11. AsqJames says

    I find it as difficult as anyone else to believe that for 50 years Mr Cohen has somehow managed to avoid every piece of journalism, history and fiction which conveyed the cruelty of slavery. So I wonder if some other factor has been at work within his own mind helping him to ignore, downplay or excuse those horrors.

    Racism is the obvious candidate – “it’s not really that bad since it was done to black people” – and his comments on interracial marriage and bi-racial children certainly point in that direction. I haven’t yet seen 12 Years a Slave, but I know the central character is black, so why didn’t Mr Cohen’s race blinders save him on this occasion? Was there some other element here that broke through to his underlying humanity?

    I understand the plot involves a previously free adult male living in an American city being kidnapped into slavery. It’s a disturbing thought, but is Mr Cohen so lacking in empathy, and so wrapped up in American Exceptionalism, that he was unable to identify depravity when it was practised against women, those born into it, or non-Americans?

    Or is 12 Years A Slave really the first time he ever saw or heard of slavery being such a bad thing? Has he really managed to avoid all of the hundreds of films, documentaries and TV shows which might have enlightened him? Has he really never read a novel or history book set in the pre-civil war US?

    I honestly don’t know which possibility is less likely or more damning of the man’s character and intellect.

  12. latsot says

    I’m not sure how much education is needed to figure out that slavery is wrong. Even if my school had told me that really, people liked being slaves, I’m sure I’d have sensed that there was a rabbit away somewhere. It’s weird that he seems surprised that slavery “often” (!) deprived slaves of their liberty. What did he think slavery was?

    It reminds me of something I heard (I think it might have been on QI, so it’s probably not true) that a doctor once described a mental disorder that affected only slaves. Its symptom was the irrational desire to not be a slave.

  13. says

    I find it ridiculously hard to believe that a former knee-jerk liberal like Cohen could have learned nothing about ANY part of US history — let alone a part as widely talked-about as slavery — since finishing high school. The (feigned?) naievete he shows here is both appalling and disgraceful. This is so far down from his 1980s performance that I’m beginning to suspect some sort of brain damage. Or at least brainwashing at the Moonie/$cientology level.

    As for “12 Years a Slave,” I found it gruelling and unpleasant, but not at all surprising. People expecting the satisfying revenge-fantasy ending we saw in “Django Unchained” will be horribly disappointed, because none of that was a real option in the real South.

  14. says

    I’m not sure how much education is needed to figure out that slavery is wrong.

    Somewhere between first and sixth grades? The full gruesome picture takes a bit longer to assimilate, but the basic principle is pretty easy.

  15. says

    Another thing about the movie: Christianity doesn’t come off looking all that great, what with all the slaveowners using Bible quotes to keep their slaves in line.

  16. latsot says

    As for “12 Years a Slave,” I found it gruelling and unpleasant, but not at all surprising.

    Well that’s a good point. Did he think it was going to be the fucking feelgood movie of the year or something?

  17. latsot says

    Somewhere between first and sixth grades? The full gruesome picture takes a bit longer to assimilate, but the basic principle is pretty easy.

    I don’t think it ought to take any education at all. The bits where some people have fewer rights than others and aren’t allowed to not do what they’re told or tp run away are a bit of a giveaway that there might be a problem. I’m fairly sure that no fancy booklearnin’ is needed to suss that out. That’s surely true even for people who pretend that there’s no violence or rape or child-stealing involved and that slaves are grateful for having the burden of living a free life generously taken away from them.

    I understand that indoctrination and environment can warp people’s perspectives and fuck them ALL THE WAY UP, but if it takes education to make someone understand that it might be wrong to imprison and exploit people because they don’t want to do their own work or just because they really really want to, then I’m not sure they can really blame environment.

    That’s an objection every child is capable of seeing, even before violence and other horribleness comes into the picture. As it certainly will when there’s a class of people who get to decide the rights other classes of people have.

  18. elephantasy says

    It doesn’t surprise me at all to hear Cohen say he’s still in a learning process regarding the horrors of slavery, and that back in school he learned slavery wasn’t all that bad. That sort of education still happens today. I’ve heard about it from people here in Alabama. I’ve seen it when visiting historic sites that are the former homes or workplaces of slave owners, which always take pains to show how their subject wasn’t THAT bad, he treated his slaves well. Try to find a historic home or former plantation where the original owner is described as cruel to his slaves; I haven’t seen one yet.

    I think it is very difficult for people to be taught things that make them ashamed of their heritage, particularly in parts of the country where heritage is held in high regard.

    That Cohen might have experienced this kind of education in Queens NY in the 1950s is perhaps a small bit surprising, but not really. It’s a sad truth that his comments are nothing unusual.

  19. Anthony K says

    There are schools out there that not only teach that slavery wasn’t that bad (slaves were treated like members of the family) but that in fact, it was better than freedom, because when you’re free, you actually have to take care of yourself and work for a living. Yes. This was told to me (not in my school, fortunately, but by a friend who went to school in Texas – yes, that Texas, the very one.)

    It is indisputable that there are people who believe this (or, more accurately, speak as if they do, or at least think they’re making a good rhetorical point somehow). Remember the young man at the CPAC meeting who claimed Frederick Douglass should have been grateful for the food and shelter he received from his owner?

    What’s especially galling is that there seems to be some overlap between those who hold this kind of idea and then go on to claim that food stamps, or national debt, or accessible healthcare constitutes some form of slavery. SO we have:

    1. Slavery as slavery. Awesome. Benevolent. Helpful.
    2. Healthcare as slavery. Worst thing ever. It’s like pissing right into the eyes of the Founding Fathers (Hallowed Be Thy Names/Peace Be Upon Them)

    Ah, conservative thought. Is there anything you can’t be self-contradictory about?

  20. says

    I’m not surprised to hear that this kind of education still goes on in some schools. It’s the bit about never learning any different after school that I just…can’t…

    I can’t even figure out why he said it, really. It can’t possibly be true, and he can’t even think anyone would buy it, so why say it?

  21. johnthedrunkard says

    Ya know? I’ve been a Guy since 1956 and I have NEVER seen acts like Clarence Thomas’ (and Cohen’s) regarded as ‘normal’ or OK.

  22. thinkfree83 says

    Until the Civil Rights Movement, the idea that slavery benefited whites and blacks alike was a completely mainstream belief. As others have mentioned, it’s a concept that is still being taught in schools today. To suggest that slavery was a crime against humanity problematizes every aspect of American history and culture, and it’s not something that many white people want to consider. And it’s not just Americans; the Caribbean countries are trying to sue a multitude of European nations for the damages they inflicted on them during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the accused refuse to consider it.

  23. Pieter B, FCD says

    I’ve read that Cohen’s editor has apologized for not suggesting that the remark about interracial couples be rephrased, but I’ve got another nit to pick. The gag reflex is a physical response to something touching the back of the throat. What Cohen meant was reflexive nausea. /nitpick

  24. says

    @ 22 Well yes, maybe, but the Civil Rights Movement was several decades ago. I just do not see how a columnist for the Washington Post could possibly have lived through all those decades (as he did, having graduated from high school in 1958 as one of you said above) without learning otherwise.

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