Epilogue—Tries a little tenderness and a larger chunk of the truth: Three years ago, in South Carolina, a wonderful thing occurred:
Tim Scott became the Republican nominee for the House in the state’s first congressional district.
In November 2010, Scott won the general election. Today, he represents South Carolina in the United States senate.
Don’t get us wrong! We wouldn’t have voted for Scott ourselves; we don’t share his politics. But South Carolina Republicans do. Here’s why it was a wonderful thing when he won that primary.
In that Republican primary, Scott was running against Paul Thurmond, son of the late Strom Thurmond. But Republican voters liked Scott better. And good God!
If you want to score things this way, Senator Scott is black!
Let’s review what happened. Those voters could have elected the son of Strom—but they liked the black guy better! We wouldn’t have voted for Scott ourselves. But that was a tremendous triumph for our improving Americanism.
Could Dr. King have imagined a day when white voters in that southern state would have cast their votes that way? Our civil rights martyrs died for the day when voters would function that way.
That said, very few liberals spoke words of praise for those South Carolina voters. We are more likely to find ways to insult Republican voters when they vote for black candidates.
To us, that seems like a dumb way to do politics and to advance our values.
In the wake of the Boston bombings, we thought of how stingy we liberals had been with our praise when those voters selected Tim Scott. As in the 60s, so too today:
Sometimes, we liberals like to display our own superior values through odd displays of denigration and overstatement. We refuse to praise our fellow citizens and we refuse to take yes for an answer! We revert to our tired old habit of talking down the Amerikan people.
We thought of these things when David Sirota built a potentially useful column around the framework of “white male privilege.” That framework didn’t fit the circumstance all that well, but Sirota went with it anyway.
In the process, Sirota’s extremely valid concern came out just a bit jumbled. This week, he is still being mocked on Fox. In truth, his tribalized approach to a basic concern made his piece easy to mock.
When it comes to matter of race, we liberals rarely have kind words to say for the rest of the American people. We don’t spell “Amerika” with a k, but it sometimes may seem that we want to.
We thought of these things when we watched Melissa Harris-Perry speak to Valerie Kaur on TV last Saturday morning.
Kaur had been introduced as “a writer and filmmaker and a fellow at seminary.” It also seems that she is a Sikh, although this was never clearly explained.
We thought Kaur got several things right in her appearance on Saturday’s program. But during this early exchange, we thought of the way we liberals tend to err in matter involving race:
HARRIS-PERRY (4/21/13): Valerie, I know your work after the Oak Creek shooting of a Sikh temple, one which many people believe to have been basically a case of American ignorance, misunderstanding about the Sikh religion versus Islam, right, gets right at that core. What can we learn about how to recover?The shooting to which Kaur referred occurred in August 2012. The white supremacist in question had recently broken up with his white supremacist girl friend. She worked down the street from the Sikh house of worship the shooter attacked.
KAUR: Well, let’s remember that the Oak Creek mass shooting was actually the last incident of domestic terrorism in this country. And it was committed by a white supremacist who walked into a Sikh house of worship and opened fired. In the wake of that tragedy, we did not hear calls for white people to be profiled, we did not hear Christianity denigrated, we did not see Christians living in fear. The way that our country diagnoses a problem when it’s a white perpetrator, it’s an individual problem. When it’s a person of color, suddenly an entire community is deemed dangerous.
The gunman had been active in several white supremacist bands. In his madness and his fury, he seemed to hate everyone who wasn’t Aryan and Christian. Reading major reports on the case, we find no evidence that the gunman’s attack on the Sikhs involved a case of mistaken identity, or that he would have had any trouble hating Sikhs as much as Muslims.
It may be that the shooter mistook these Sikhs for Muslims. But in the reporting, we find no sign that this was found to be true.
Whatever! Here’s why we were struck by that exchange between Kaur and Harris-Perry:
First, we were struck by the casual way Harris-Perry referred to this “case of American ignorance.” The killer was an American, of course. It's possible that he was ignorant of the diferrence between Muslims and Sikhs.
That said, we were struck by Harris-Perry’s casual reference to “American” ignorance. She didn’t spell Amerika with a k, but these casual, snooty denigrations have littered progressive speech since the 1960s.
This was a minor matter, but such casual denigrations were widely sprinkled through the discussion this day. We will suggest that such denigrations have never helped progressives connect with a wider audience and that they never will.
We were struck by that casual denigration. We were more struck by Kaur’s reply. Let’s look again at what she said:
KAUR: In the wake of that tragedy, we did not hear calls for white people to be profiled, we did not hear Christianity denigrated, we did not see Christians living in fear. The way that our country diagnoses a problem when it’s a white perpetrator, it’s an individual problem. When it’s a person of color, suddenly an entire community is deemed dangerous.Part of that statement is plainly accurate. In the wake of the Oak Creek killings, we didn’t hear calls for white people (in general) to be profiled. We didn’t hear Christianity denigrated. We didn’t see Christians living in fear, afraid that they might be collectively blamed for the conduct of one disturbed killer.
We didn’t see those manifestations, and of course we shouldn’t have.
That part of Kaur’s statement was plainly true—but how about the rest of her statement? Is it true that “our country” deems entire communities dangerous when a person of color commits such a crime?
Was Kaur perhaps overstating? We’ll ask again: Were African-Americans collectively blamed in the wake of the Beltway sniper killings? Was the entire black community “deemed dangerous” at that time?
We’d have to say the answer is no—and as with the election of Scott, that was a very good thing. But quite often, something keeps us progressives from noticing outcomes like that.
As we watched this particular program, we saw several instances where “America” was collectively blamed or denigrated in ways which were inaccurate, overstated, dated, embellished. But we started with Kaur, and we thought she stood out at several junctures.
A fair amount of collective blame was being directed at “America,” “our country” and “the nation” as the liberal panelists showcased their plainly superior values. But at one point in the proceedings, Kaur tried a bit of tenderness and a wider dose of the truth.
As part of the exchange with Harris-Perry we've already quoted, Kaur discussed the way a wide range of people responded to the Oak Creek killings last year. This was her fuller statement:
KAUR: Well, let’s remember that the Oak Creek mass shooting was actually the last incident of domestic terrorism in this country. And it was committed by a white supremacist who walked into a Sikh house of worship and opened fire. In the wake of that tragedy, we did not hear calls for white people to be profiled, we did not hear Christianity denigrated, we did not see Christians living in fear. The way that our country diagnoses a problem when it’s a white perpetrator, it’s an individual problem. When it’s a person of color, suddenly an entire community is deemed dangerous.Millions of people have learned many things in the days since Dr. King died. Sometimes, we liberals like to pretend that none of this has happened.
But that said, I want to speak to this issue of how we have recovered. The kind of love and outpouring that we experienced, Sikh and Muslim and South Asian Americans across the country, from all kinds of Americans of all backgrounds, was so overwhelming. It was an experience where our fellow Americans were not looking at us as foreigners or suspects, where they were seeing us as neighbors, as colleagues as friends, as patriots. And that is the kind of hope, that’s the kind of vision of unity that I’m hanging on to in the days to come. That’s our higher self.
We thought Kaur showed a brighter, wiser instinct as she praised the outpouring she observed last year. We think she gave viewers more of the truth, offered a wiser politics.
Kaur looked on the brighter side at one other juncture—but good lord, there we went again! In the statement which follows, she said the nation has changed for the better since 2001. But in some ways, her statement suggested that our crabbed liberal instincts have not:
KAUR: You know, this week, I experienced as a crisis in two different ways. I was north of Boston when the explosions went off. I lived in the city of Boston for three years. I was terrified, as were my friends and family who were held up in Watertown on Friday. I was breathing a sigh of relief as were all Americans when the terror finally ended.As she started, Kaur defined the deeply legitimate concern Sirota jumbled in his column. But then, she acknowledged positive change! She said we’re a wiser, better nation that we were in 2001.
But, like millions of Muslim, Arab and Sikh Americans, I have been waiting, praying, hoping that we wont see the fear and violence and hate that we have seen many times before, after Oklahoma City and after September 11th, regardless of who the perpetrator was in those moments.
But when I take stock of this last week, the one thing that gives me hope is that we are not the nation we were in 2001.
KAUR: President Obama has come out asking our nation to stay true to unity and diversity, words we did not hear after 9/11. Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts, said if we are to heal and recover as a nation, we need to turn to each other rather than on each other. I’m going to hang on that hope, I believe there, as we navigate the next few months.
We think that is probably true—but we were struck by the selective way Kaur praised Obama and Patrick. In fact, President Bush did make similar statements shortly after 9/11. And uh-oh! So did a certain Republican governor in the wake of Oak Creek.
Kaur described the great outpouring which followed the killings at Oak Creek. In a news report, the New York Times described one part of that reaction:
YACCINO (8/11/12): People of a range of races and faiths wore colored head scarves out of respect for the Sikh religion. Some were red-eyed from crying. Others clutched rosary beads. It was the most recent example of the outpouring of support from a community that has held vigils, sent comforting e-mails, and helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the victims' families over the past week.Attorney General Holder spoke that day—but so did Governor Walker. For ourselves, we wouldn’t vote for Walker. But just as Obama and Patrick did last week, Governor Walker came to the service and made statements which expressed our improving American values. Kaur praised the statements of Obama and Patrick, skipped those of Walker and Bush.
''I don't see how we can forget this,'' said Barbara Henschel, 41, of who lives in nearby Milwaukee and took time off work to attend the service. ''There's a lot of healing that will have to begin.''
Representatives of the victims' families, Sikh religious leaders and government officials spoke during the memorial service, among them Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
''No matter what country your ancestors came from, no matter where you worship, no matter what your background, as Americans, we are one,'' said Mr. Walker. ''When you attack one of us, you attack all of us.''
How quickly, how tribally, how determinedly we liberals sometimes arrange to forget! To us, this seems like a bad way to do politics and to advance our improving values. But on its face, this kind of thing is selective, inaccurate. False.