Never be afraid to get dirty, but be sufficiently sure-footed to avoid the abyss of contamination.

Words, Words, Words

In the process of discussing his solid political standing among Indo-Americans, Senator Joe Biden started a controversy with the comment:

In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.

Biden’s words raised the ire of some; however, they provide no indication that his political views are a threat to the Indian community. The irony is that the senator perpetuated this stereotype while describing his positive relationship with the Indo-American community.

During his presidency, Bill Clinton worked toward peace and stability in Northern Ireland. In fact, some credit his efforts as paving the way to the Good Friday Agreement. In a remark on these efforts, Clinton made the following statement:

I’ve spent an enormous amount of time trying to help the people in the land of my forebears in Northern Ireland get over 600 years of religious fights. And every time they make an agreement to do it, they’re like a couple of drunks walking out of the bar for the last time–when they get to the swinging door, they turn right around and go back in again and say, ‘I just can’t quite get there.’ It’s hard to give up these things.

Clinton’s words did not suit his actions. He described his involvement in the peace process but chose an analogy that was not PC.

Trent Lott made comments that people found offensive, too. During Strom Thurmond’s birthday party, Senator Lott delivered a speech that included the following passage:

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.

Unlike Clinton or Biden, Lott did not mention any racial or ethnic stereotype. Why was it offensive? The focus of Thurmond’s campaign was to preserve Jim Crow laws and segregation. Lott’s comments recalled these policies, and as the majority leader of the Senate, Lott’s words sounded particularly foreboding. As a result, Lott lost his leadership post in the Senate.

Are words enough to condemn someone? Are they enough to bless someone? In Hamlet, Claudius concludes a prayer with the couplet, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: / Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”


5 responses

  1. Henry

    Interesting discussion. Biden’s comments do seem a bit offensive. On the other hand, I tend to see Clinton’s comments less negatively because according to the statement, Clinton appears to have ancestry from Northern Ireland. It’s sort of like how most people think making fun of, or stereotyping a racial/ethnic group is ok, if you belong to that particular racial/ethnic group. (There’s also an interesting question as to whether or not it’s ok to make positive stereotypes, but that’s another issue). What do you think?

    July 16, 2006 at 2:59 am

  2. Krish

    I think the irony is that a stereotype coming from a member of the same racial/ethnic group does more damage than a statement from someone outside the group. If the statement comes from an outsider, it can be dismissed as racist. This argument feels less convincing if the same statement is made by someone of the same group.

    July 16, 2006 at 5:59 pm

  3. Henry

    Are you saying that racist comments coming from outside the ethnic/racial group are less damaging? Maybe it depends on the situation, but I would tend to think they’re even worse. Like, if an Asian friend of mine said “Asians can’t rap”, I might not agree with the statement, but I don’t think I would be offended. I’d see the statement as an observation he was making based on personal experiences/observations, but not as a put down. On the other hand, if a non-Asian said the same thing, I think I would be offended, because it could be a put down.

    July 17, 2006 at 3:44 am

  4. Krish

    Not quite. My point was that it’s easier to tag statements made by a member outside the group as racist and filter it out. For instance, we don’t see stereotypes perpetuated by members of the KKK on television daily, but we do see Chappelle’s Show.

    July 18, 2006 at 6:29 pm

  5. Henry

    I see what you’re saying now. Right, I think if racist comments are filtered out by mainstream media, they certainly do no harm. Of course, if they were not being filtered, they would do more harm.

    July 18, 2006 at 8:00 pm

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