So, for starters, what did he say that was so wrong? Well, I don't know, he basically judged a people by their clothing - Muslims/Arabs in full garb scare him on planes. Why? Because they choose to wear said garb, thus identifying themselves with that identity...and that is something to fear. So...Mr. Williams, if we use...your own damn criteria about racism from the 1980s, this is a racist comment. He said: "common sense becomes racism when skin color becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me." Going from skin color to clothing isn't really a big leap in this case. Williams now uses ethnic clothing to determine who he fears. Kind of the same thing he argued against before. Williams did try to distance himself somewhat from his statement, but let's be clear: he made it in defense of O' Reilly's point about the "Muslim" problem in the world. Williams agreed with O' Reilly's point and then made his controversial statement: "I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
Now, there's another argument about this: he's black, he has written about the civil rights movement, he can't be racist! This is sort of the defense many on the right have taken. This is...insanely stupid. Racism is not dichotomous...there is more than just black and white. Just because he's black doesn't mean he can't be a racist. And writing about the civil rights movement doesn't negate racist comments, either. What he said was freaking racist, okay? It doesn't matter what his skin color is, or his background. There are plenty of black racists, white racists, Arab racists, etc. To somehow suggest that Juan Williams can't be a racist because he's black and has written about civil rights is just silly.
Next, we have the "he didn't say anything that bad" angle. Since Muslims attacked America on 9/11, its okay to think these things about them. Okay, well, first of all, 19 crazy dudes, in an organization of maybe a few thousand, attacked America. There are over a billion Muslims. Do the math. Second, if we're doing the guilt by association thing, I think there are a lot of other groups that need to be "monitored" pretty closely. White people. Europeans. Christians. Jews. Malaysians. Sri Lankans. Russians. Basically, anybody with skin. Kind of a problem. Williams, of course, had support from his boy O' Reilly, who has gotten some criticism (not really, because it's okay to hate Muslims these days) over his actions on The View when he associated all Muslims with terrorism. Did he actually say that? No. But he intimated it. And he definitely knows what he's doing. All these people do. This is not some accident. They're trying to incite this crazy fear. Let me put it to you this way. If some prominent Arab media figure said this about Americans, would you be downplaying this? Highly unlikely. "They're racist against Americans! We want an apology!" Hell, we make every Arab/Muslim in America apologize for things the fringe lunatics in their religion do. Disown your crazies, right? Well, we can't even acknowledge when an American says something racist like this.
And the press coverage...shows you just how big a problem Islamophobia is in America these days. When somebody important says something potentially racist, who do you go to for thoughts on it? I don't know, how about the group he/she slandered? So...why have I only heard a bunch of white people talking about this? You know, I think it's lovely to hear Karl "I should be in jail for helping out a CIA agent, along with Scooter Libby and Dick Cheney" Rove give me his analysis of how ridiculous NPR was to fire Williams. Ditto Bill O' Reilly, Britt Humes, Keith Olbermann, Michael Moore, etc. But how about hearing from a few Muslims? A few Arabs? Would this be so hard to do? If I said something potentially racist about black people, it would make sense to have folks like Jesse Jackson, Michael Eric Dyson, L'Heureux Lewis, etc., provide their thoughts about what I said. In fact, it would be critical to have them provide their thoughts. What do we get here? A bunch of non-Arab non-Muslims talking about how Williams was either right in what he said, or wrong...but seemingly none of the people he may/may not have offended. Nice. Maybe they don't care? Yes, that must be it. There can be no other explanation...right? Because, otherwise, this reveals just how big a problem we have right now.
Finally, there are many who thinks Williams is contributing to the national discourse on race with his comments and should not have lost his job because of them. Two huge problems. One, Williams is a journalist. You know what journalists are not supposed to do? Reveal personal biases. Apparently, this personal bias problem is one NPR tolerated from Williams for a while, but this incident was the last straw.
Ultimately, journalists are supposed to be people we trust for non-partisan analysis. Whether they are really unbiased, or whether a comedian does their job better than they do themselves, is an issue in itself, but still, to openly state this kind of bias (which implies that he's got something against Muslims) kind of kills his ability to report on anything re: Muslims, Arabs, or honestly, anything. If a journalist openly talks about prejudices WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGING THAT THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG ABOUT THEM, they have no credibility to be an honest reporter. Which is precisely why NPR was right to fire him. Which is precisely why Fox News gave him a new $2 million contract. Muslim-hating is what they do over there. He'll fit right in. (For some evidence of this, watch Jon Stewart below)
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
This latter issue is the second, and a more dangerous, problem. What many others get so horribly wrong is that allowing racists to be part of the debate without pointing out that their views are racist and wrong is not making any progress on racism. They talk about the importance of allowing people to be fully honest and participate in the conversation, yet somehow completely forget the fact that neither Williams (nor O' Reilly - not surprising, he's a open anti-Muslim/Arab bigot, and kind of a moron, anyway...that I went to the same college as he did makes me a little ill) ever pointed out the problems re: their statements. Had Juan Williams said something right after his comment like "and I realize that's not right", this would be very different. Fact is, we're all a little racist, and we all need to work on being less racist. That's helping the debate...acknowledging the problems with what we say and think, even if there is some substance behind them. And, by the way, most of that "substance" exogenizes something pretty important...like politics, economics, etc. Do poor people commit more crime? Yes. Does that mean the problem is with poor people? Or that their economic circumstances play at least some role?
But instead, what Williams' supporters do by allowing people making bigoted comments a seat at the table as legitimate participants in discourse about hate speech is normalize xenophobia. For them, there's nothing fundamentally wrong about racist talk. This type of discourse removes stigma from racism and attempts to study and analyze xenophobia in order to make said discourse objective, even though racism, by its very nature, is non-objective. Instead of fighting bigotry, this type of discourse enables it. There is a reason why "the other" in this equation is never the one proposing this kind of discourse. Only those never subject to bigotry can think of such a dangerous idea as encouraging objective discourse on it, where all views are seen as legitimate. These folks have clearly never tried to walk in the shoes of an Arab-American Muslim in Dearborn today, of a young black girl in Selma in the 1950s, of a Japanese-American teenager in the 1940s, of a Jew in Poland in the 1930s...the list goes on and on.
Not surprisingly, Williams claims he's being censored by NPR. It is true that Williams didn't advocate discriminating against Muslims, but he clearly insulted them, treated them as an "other", and did so in a purposeful manner. So, yeah, no. Juan, you're being fired by NPR because you are making racist comments, and you didn't talk about how your racist views are a problem to be worked on. Now, if 30-40% of Muslims dressed like that were terrorists, okay, he might have a point - so long as, again, we're not exogenizing some major explanatory factor, like political situations, economics, etc., which we almost certainly would be (reductionist arguments don't really work out so well, you know...see: every racist argument in history). But, that is not even remotely close to being true.
Williams is instead just contributing to the problem in this country right now...it apparently is okay to be racist against Muslims. I've written plenty about this re: Park 51 (aka the Ground Zero [though it is not at Ground Zero, but rather an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory] Mosque [though it is really an Islamic community center]), which is the culmination of a decade of this kind of crap. By allowing bigotry into the conversation, we've lost so much as a society.
Nowadays, anything Arab or Muslim is potentially bad, any attack against them (like Williams') is allowed - and even defended when organizations like NPR actually do the right thing. Look...it is not okay to argue that Arab culture or Islam is fundamentally violent. Last I checked, America killed more innocent civilians in a few seconds on two separate horrible days in 1945 than al-Qaeda ever did, right? As the new Wikileaks leaks reveal, we've done horrible, horrible things in Iraq. We kill innocent people in possibly-illegal drone attacks in Pakistan every week. We dropped depleted uranium shells in Iraq despite the fact that we knew the remains were highly carcinogenic. We have done things that al-Qaeda cannot approach in any fantasy world. This is why Chris Rock isn't scared of al-Qaeda; he's scared of al-Cracka (see below). That does not make Americans bad people, though. Anybody who makes that claim is wrong. Just like Williams is wrong about his claim.
So, what's the solution to all this? I don't know. Maybe we need to let Americans go undercover (like Eddie Murphy did in a famous SNL sketch years ago to uncover the differences between white and black America), disguise themselves as Muslim-Americans, and see what that life is like. Williams certainly should know better...he did experience the civil rights movement, so he knows what racism is. In his case, he's just decided that racism is only about black and white. Maybe the problem is, there are too many people who have no clue what kind of damage this kind of bigotry that America has tolerated and now, seemingly, embraced, has on Muslims and Arabs in our land, people who have the same goals and dreams as everyone else. Williams' supporters don't see their support of Williams allows racism into a debate on these topics without calling it what it is. They make no effort to walk in the shoes of the other person for a little while.
We see the effects of a decade of just this kind of accepted racism before our very eyes. The damage will take many many years to fix. And that's only if we start doing something about it now. That is to say, we need to call a spade a spade. If we want a society that doesn't live in irrational fear of nonsensical, Hollywood B-movie style supervillans, we need to realize that allowing bigotry like the kind Juan Williams exhibited is bigotry.
It can be part of the conversation....IF WE CALL IT WHAT IT IS. Otherwise, it only helps enable more bigotry, creating a dangerous and toxic climate of hatred. These situations leave us morally hollow. Nobody says, hey, thank goodness the Salem witch trials went down the way they did...or, boy, if it wasn't for McCarthyism, we'd be kind of screwed right now...or, man, do I get nostalgic for lynchings. If Juan Williams and his band of non-Arab non-Muslim racists want to keep arguing that NPR was censoring him, fine. Everyone else better understand that not standing up to such actions is un-American in every sense of the word. Failing to do so will result in nothing good...it never has.