Greer McVay’s Web Log (BLOG)
Volume 1, Issue 17
October 23, 2010
When you listen to Juan Williams in the context of Fox News and its resident commentators, he sounds no better or no worse; he fits right in. He has a right to say what he wants and if his employer has no problem with it, he can even voice his opinions on air. Apparently however, at least one of his employers did have a problem with it.
Williams admitted to having momentary lapses of comfort when traveling by air due to the presence of people he assumes to be Muslims, thus enemies. I don’t think he is all too far from the rest of us. We do try to be politically correct by not admitting our own prejudices and insecurities. However, that doesn’t eliminate the reality that we sometimes have unsavory thoughts going through our heads.
The issue here, however, is two-fold. First, how did Juan Williams, or I or you, or Beck or O’Reilly get to be so damned afraid of Muslims or Blacks or gays (or fill-in-the blanks)? It happened because we see a person in a burqa or other “Muslim garb” and feel a momentary twinge of trepidation because it has been beat into our heads for eight long years that we need to be afraid. Be very afraid.
What do you expect to happen when terror alerts are constantly hovering between deep-orange and fire engine red? What do you expect when we are entertained by scary television shows about Cops, or being Locked Up Raw, and America’s Most Wanted? What are our choices when our president gives us a daily directive to be vigilant in airports, shopping malls and public gathering places? What comes to mind when you wake up every single morning with news of yet another suicide bombing in a Baghdad market place? And how can you feel comfortable when your vice president will not come out of hiding from his secret undisclosed location? We have been programmed and conditioned to be afraid of any and everything that we do not understand.
Juan Williams simply made the mistake [if you could call getting a shiny new $2 Million contract a mistake] of stating his honest fear of Muslims in a discussion that lasted longer than a soundbite. The context of statements was that he has these fears but he has to catch himself and make sure he doesn’t disenfranchise all Muslims due to the actions of 20 radical Wahabi fundamentalists. According to a recent article by Jack Mirkinson, published on Huffington Post, ‘Williams did go on to tell Bill O'Reilly that he had to be "careful" to stress that he was not talking about all Muslims when he criticized some and that America was not at war with Islam. He also compared blaming all Muslims for the actions of extremists to blaming all Christians for the actions of Timothy McVeigh.’ But since we have dumbed down America and have everyone doing so much with so little, no one has time to listen to anything that is longer than 27 words.
Yep, that’s it. Twenty seven words, nine seconds and three messages is what studies have proven is all we can handle at any one time. With any more than that we go into overload. So if the three messages that have been a steady drumbeat for us are–Muslims killed us on 9-11; be afraid; and Democrats want to give all of your hard earned money to people who don’t belong (like Muslims and other dark people)–then of course you’ll find yourself considering voting for a witch or a Nazi-re-enactor.
The second lesson to learn from this Juan Williams incident is regardless of how he feels about Muslims, he [seemingly] doesn’t act on those fears. He didn’t indicate that he cancels trips when faced with a turban at the boarding gate. Nor does he show up at their funerals and incite a group of radical followers to hold up signs in protest shouting how God wanted them dead. Instead, he found an audience sympathetic to his fears and then pulled back the reins on fear-mongering by reminding people that his fears were somewhat unfounded and his reaction to his own feelings was key. It seemed logical to me. One might even argue that he’s the one sane voice on a network woefully lacking in diversity and tolerance.
I am also dismayed by Williams’ portrayal of how his firing transpired. According to him, his boss, who had it in for him, refused to listen to his side of the story and stated emphatically that nothing he had to say would change her mind. Of her, I ask one question: Do the words Shirley Sherrod have no meaning to you? Being sensitive to the feelings of others is a nice concept and goal but doing so at the expense of getting all the facts can lead to bigger trouble …and lawsuits…and bad press…and loss of federal funding.
When all is said and done my fellow Americans, the left and the right need to recognize that the sword we swing is the same one that will cut us. You cannot simultaneously vilify Muslims for exercising their right to build a religious facility on your “sacred ground” while embracing the rights to free speech of a pastor who chooses to burn their Qur’an; nor can we salute CNN for firing Rick Sanchez for exercising his right to free speech by calling Jon Stewart a bigot but chastise NPR for firing Williams for sharing his experiences. Dr. Laura is another story…
I have seen more than my share of discriminatory actions against minorities in my lifetime. I am no longer shocked by white men making a dollar for every 87 cents earned by black men or for every 76 cents earned by white women or for every 62 cents earned by black women when the work is equivalent; It doesn’t faze me when a seasoned employee is outsourced or downsized in favor of a novice who will work for half the pay and won’t be around long enough to receive the pension the older worker should receive; and I don’t lose sleep when I hear distasteful jokes about bad Asian drivers, lazy Mexican workers or Black welfare queens. It’s all the same to me: It’s a sad commentary on our inability to coexist peacefully. It is someone exercising their freedom of speech at the expense of others necessitating the open and frank discussion of our history required to launch a long-overdue healing process. It is something that will not go away until we deal with it and make it go away. For now, I accept that this is an national shortcoming.
I understand why a white woman might clutch her purse tightly when a Black man gets on an elevator; she's been taught to be fearful. But I’d also understand if a Black man does a double take when he comes across a group of White guys drinking beer near their pickup truck; there's some negative history there. There is ample fear and loathing to blanket the races, religions, genders, cultures, classes, age-, education-, and socio-economic groups.
We are all entitled to feel what we feel and we should be encouraged to participate in a conversation about those feelings. What is not alright is that we try to scare others into sharing our paranoia. It is also not alright to avoid hiring a black man although we know he is well-qualified for a job because he just might be the one Rush Limbaugh warned us about. Without defending Juan Williams, I have to admit that I hope his termination was not based on this particular episode of disclosure. I have witnessed a wide outpouring of derision as well as support for him. Opinions as divergent as ‘Williams is a hero for shining a light on race and civil rights in Eyes on the Prize’ to casting him as social pariah and a Muslim-ophobe. He may be both and he may be neither but it doesn’t really matter either way; he is entitled to his feelings. However, both sides of the political spectrum will construe the details of this occasion to advance their own agenda.
Republican leaders have already lionized this man, whom few would invite to their cocktail party. I’m sure Williams is a nice enough man, but his affiliation with the Fox News Channel and his willingness to pander to the anti-Obama rhetoric on the right gives Progressives reason to seek his ouster for any cause. Conversely, Williams’ willingness to divulge that he feels threatened by a group who currently rank as public enemy number one has the neo-cons frothing at the mouth, much the same as when they smelled blood with ACORN. Further, it was the right who are largely responsible for casting Muslims as the boogeyman. Each side tries to create a reality and when we stumble into the narrative that they set for us we become pawns in their game. Juan Williams is a pawn. I just hope he knows it.
So for now, let’s allow NPR to make its staffing decisions in peace. Let’s focus on what needs to be focused on like getting out the vote. And let’s leave trivial sideshow issues where they belong. If we are really ready to have a serious dialogue on race then let’s have it (after next Tuesday). In the meantime, if we allow ourselves to be distracted every time Ginny Thomas calls Anita Hill or Christine O’Donnell reminds us she is not a witch, we will miss the millions of dollars being funneled into our electoral system by overseas interests. As a result we may miss this opportunity to fix the damage that has been done to our county.