I’ve spoken about Juan Williams before on this blog, when he was dismissed from his NPR position for making an entirely fair point about his own personal fear of Muslims, and how he was having to deal with that. NPR overreacted and fired him for comments that, if taken in context, were a personal admission of a flaw rather than a demonization of Muslim people.
Mr. Williams went from NPR to a full-time position working for Fox News and didn’t show up on my radar again until a few weeks ago when he was hosting one of a ludicrous number of Republican candidate’s debates*. The video is here, but the TL/DW version of the story is that Mr. Williams tried to call out arch-sleaze Newt Gingrich on his blatant use of racist imagery in the campaign. Gingrich, as is his style, deflects the question, condescends to the poor, and then waves a miniature American flag (all to thunderous applause from a crowd who probably have fewer teeth than Gingrich has wives).
Mr. Williams wrote an opinion piece about his experience facing down the wyrm that is the GOP’s rigid hardon for exploiting the racism running rife through their base. I think it’s worth reading:
Two weeks ago at the Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., I asked each GOP presidential candidate some pointed questions about the racial politics that will play a big role in the presidential campaign.
Race is always a trigger in politics, but now a third of the nation are people of color — and their numbers are growing. With those minorities solidly in the Democratic camp and behind the first black president, the scene is set for a bonanza of racial politics.
The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are “entitlement society” — as used by Mitt Romney — and “poor work ethic” and “food stamp president” — as used by Newt Gingrich. References to a lack of respect for the “Founding Fathers” and the “Constitution” also make certain ears perk up by demonizing anyone supposedly threatening core “old-fashioned American values.”
Mr. Williams’ comments are interesting for two chief reasons. First, he works inside the beast. Being a commentator for Fox News means that Mr. Williams gets to see inside the machine that is the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. He is, presumably, intelligent enough to see through the veneer of ‘post-racial’ tolerance that is evinced by that organization and his appointment there. I have little doubt that he shares my suspicions that he is tolerated by Fox News’ audience (and likely management) only until he begins to voice any dissent from the party line, at which point he is “put in his place” by the likes of Gingrich.
The second, and perhaps more interesting reason why his words are so fascinating is this:
Just last week, the Labor Department reported that while the national unemployment rate fell slightly, black unemployment rose again from 15.5 percent to 15.8 percent and from 39.6 percent to 42.1 percent among young black people. The same report showed 11 percent of Hispanics are unemployed.
The problem is not a lack of work ethic on the part of the poor, who are disproportionately minorities. The problem is there are few good jobs for blue-collar people with the best work ethic. Let’s have an honest debate about why this is the case and what we can do to fix it.
In light of what we discussed this morning, the question of ‘lack of work ethic’ becomes a bit better illuminated. While Newt wishes to deflect and essentially deny racism in his comments about how all poor people need is for him to teach them how to get jobs, Juan is savvy enough to recognize that the system has a race problem. While we saw it in attorney recommendations that systematically put black people at a disadvantage, there is no reason to think that the same pattern of racist attitudes don’t exist at banks or staffing agencies or parole hearings or any other number of situations in which black people will fare worse simply for having dark skin.
It makes me wonder how Mr. Williams feels, having to represent the opinions of these people who so clearly give in to their worst instincts with little or no compunction. I wonder how he squares the seething resentment of his audience with the facts that he so clearly sees in front of him. I wonder if he ignores that in favour of the greater good of perhaps introducing critical ideas about race into the right-wing conversation, or if he’d simply prefer to be able to do as they claim to do and ignore his race altogether.
I wonder how long I could keep up a job like that.
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