The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bill O'Reilly

So…Bill O’Reilly “Couldn’t get over the fact” that there was no difference between patrons at an upscale black restaurant in Harlem, and white restaurants in other parts of the town. And then was surprised when people considered his comment racist.

This is sad, and a perfect example of those Right-wing perceptual lenses I speak of often. I repeat again—I think that both sides of the political spectrum see the world through tinted filters, and neither side has an exclusive on accuracy—they just make mistakes in opposite directions, and tend toward different dysfunctions.


In O’Reilly’s case, the preassumption is that there WOULD be a difference between patrons, and it would seem reasonable that he assumed that difference to be on the basis of race. As people often do when they don’t want to take personal responsibility for an attitude, he then went on to say that “this is what white America doesn't know, particularly people who don't have a lot of interaction with black Americans. They think the culture is dominated by Twista, Ludacris and Snoop Dogg." I believe that in his way, he was actually trying to say a good thing, a positive thing, to facilitate a healing.

I’ve had countless conversations with white Americans, mostly of Conservative bent, who have said similar things. One that stands out is a man who proudly considers himself to be “to the Right of Ghengis Khan” politically, a southerner of considerable education and stature. He was a university professor at one point in his life, and, in speaking to me about race relations—and he’s made it clear that he believes the basic tenants of the Bell Curve—tried to communicate the moment in his life when he began to see that black people were capable of more than his father had taught him. It seems that the smartest student this gentleman ever had was black. “And Steve,” he told me, “once you see a talking dog, you can never look at any dog the same way again.”

And I am quite certain that he meant this as a complement, that he considered this an epiphany and was sharing this with me as an attempt at honest and heart-felt communication. And was terribly confused at my attempts to explain why this was offensive.

I’m afraid that this is one of those cases where you either get it or you don’t. Do I think O’Reilly is a racist? I think that he has attitudes typical of 20th Century white Conservative Americans--that essence preceeds existence, that nature trumps nurture, and that blacks, on the average, were just a teensy bit cheated by God. Well, maybe they were given extra sports and musical ability to make up for the lack of civilization, intelligence, and civility. Maybe. But this attitude rarely comes to the surface, because of a constant century-long hammering of Political Correctness: “Racism is Wrong.”

So everyone agrees racism is wrong, even though it is still a part of the human psyche. So everyone pushes the subjective line of “bigot” just a little farther along than where they happen to be. Why, they’re not a bigot! They just notice reality. They’re just willing to say what others are too intimidated to admit.

So speaking as if it is astounding that black people would behave in a civilized fashion is merely saying that, on average, he thinks (or has in the past thought) that they don’t. And that he belongs to a community of like-minded Fox News Americans who he assumed would agree with his position, and perhaps even be enlightened by his radical news. O’Reilly more honest and sincere than I previously assumed. That kind of gaffe is only made by someone actually confused about where they are on the map. I’m sure he is angered and dismayed by the uproar.

It’s simple: if you told someone “wow! I’m surprised your son doesn’t throw like a sissy!” or “that Jew actually gave me correct change!” or “that white man can actually dance!” or “that woman was actually courageous” you are revealing your preassumptions. One can defend those assumptions, but to deny you have them is merely saying that your values are held so closely to your chest that you cannot see them.

This is the danger of political zealots, on whichever side of the spectrum they sit. They simply cannot see their own filters. Or to put it another way, they cannot hear the talking dog.

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