FRED WOLFERMAN: A Double Standard on Racial Remarks?
"When a black guy is in trouble, he goes to his grandmother."
Who would say that, and what could he possibly mean? Consider some possibilities:
If George Bush had said it, he would be pilloried from coast to coast, and beyond, by media and politicians accusing him of racism, stereotyping and insensitivity to black family dynamics. There would be rants from Chuck Schumer and Charles Rangel and calls for impeachment. I do not think I exaggerate much.
If John McCain had said it, the Democratic candidates would go berserk, tarring all Republicans with the racist brush and calling for McCain to withdraw from the presidential race.
If Bill Cosby, who has made a second career out of taking blacks to task for lack of responsibility, had said it, he would be viewed as a perceptive critic of the dysfunctional black family and praised for bringing some tough love into the picture.
The automatic inference would be that black families are unstable, that parents abandon their children to grandmothers because they are uncaring or in jail. There would be no letup; it would be the reverse side of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's much-publicized rants about white America.
You say you have seen no explosion of invective concerning this remark; you say you've never heard it before? So who actually said it?
It was an off-the-cuff comment made by Bill Maher, far-left political pundit, to Chris Matthews, mid-left political pundit, on "Hardball," Matthews' television show on MSNBC. As far as I know, nobody has noticed, and Maher and Matthews had a hearty chuckle and moved along.
The comment was made during a discussion of Barak Obama's speech explaining and defending his relationship with the aforementioned Mr. Wright. In it, Obama mentioned the wisdom of his black grandmother. There's nothing wrong with that. Grandmothers can be wise -- mine was -- but when talking about a black man, a whole lot of cultural baggage is attached, accurately or not.
The remark slipped by very quickly -- I must have been paying more attention than usual even to notice -- but the normally hyper-aggressive Matthews let it slide and then joined in the fun.
I like "Hardball." I know Matthews is more liberal than I, but he is a dogged interviewer, and words flow furiously. Lots of things are said in haste, and there's no reason to deliberate at length about an impromptu slip of the tongue.
So why call attention to these few seconds of questionable badinage?
I think it's because I'm surprised that no one else has. In a heated, media-crazed political era like this one, in which somebody found a comment made by Geraldine Ferraro buried in paragraph twelve of an obscure publication, how has this slipped by?
Maybe it's because Maher isn't running for anything and doesn't rate having every word he says parsed. Maybe it's because he's so liberal everyone understands he wasn't serious; it was just a bad ironic joke. Maybe he gets a pass from conservatives because they just don't want to go there. Maybe your humble columnist has found the only un-overanalyzed remark made by anyone in the past year. If that's the case, I admit I'm more than making up for it here.
Still, I find it annoying when a hard-left liberal says something without consequences which, if uttered by a conservative, would rate a scathing editorial in The New York Times.
If you think I'm making a mountain, or at least a small hillock, out of a molehill, I'd be the last to argue with you. In a sense, that is my point. Hardly anyone notices stuff like this unless the media, desperate to fill time and space, point it out, usually incessantly.
So, now that you've read this far, forget the whole thing. It doesn't matter. The same applies to a lot of other input from other sources.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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