“But What Do You Do?”– Take Off the Hoods!

I just finished a biography of J.Frank Norris called ‘The Shooting Salvationist’ by David R. Stokes. Norris was America’s first megachurch media star in the 1920’s, but his reputation dimmed somewhat when he succumbed to compassion fatigue. Instead of counseling a troubled soul who came to his office he shot the man dead.

Texas in the 1920’s was Klan Kountry. Like many other politically connected men of ambition; Norris enjoyed a friendly relationship with the fraternal terrorist organization. They shared common enemies– Catholics and saloon owners, and the Klan never bothered anyone who mattered.

So, speaking of people who matter, why in the 21st Century am I ragging on Pat Robertson? He’s so old he’s almost cute, in an evil gnome kind of way.

Well, like the elderly Rupert Murdoch, he sits on top of a media empire. Pat Robertson’s 700 Club broadcasts it’s own version of the news across America and the world. If my informal survey of what’s on TV when I make nurse visits is any indicator, Christian Broadcasting Network has a large following, and they vote. That’s why politicians take Robertson seriously.

For the Left, he’s always good for an outrageous sound byte, like this explanation for the murderous attack on the Sikh Temple…

“What is it?” the TV preacher wondered. “Is it satanic? Is it some spiritual thing, people who are atheists, they hate God, they hate the expression of God? And they are angry with the world, angry with themselves, angry with society and they take it out on innocent people who are worshiping God.”

“And whether it’s a Sikh temple or a Baptist church or a Catholic church or a Muslim mosque, whatever it is, I just abhor this kind of violence, and it’s the the kind of thing that we should do something about,” he added. “But what do you do? Well, you talk about the love of God and hope it has some impact.”

Yes, we abhor this kind of thing…

Whether they burn crosses on your lawn or a pile of leaves it’s untidy and ruins the grass.

Whether they spray a swastika on a synagogue or a tagger’s initials it’s graffiti vandalism, how deplorable.

Whether it’s a terrorist symbol or a gauche fashion statement, a white hood is not something a minister should wear in church.

“But what do you do?” Robertson asks after blurring distinctions and making a false equivalence.

Any gathering, for worship, music or politics, could suffer a mass shooting, especially with guns so cheap and available. But this attack on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin was carried out by a man who was active in hate groups and had his intentions tatooed all over his body. He was a crime waiting to happen.

It doesn’t let you off the hook if you wear you hood backwards and claim you don’t see.

Robertson is giving talking points to an audience of millions. Stuff happens. Atheists are terrible people so all crimes must be the fault of atheists. Or the devil. And what do you do anyway? Talk about the love of God. Don’t call out sin when some of your best friends might take offense. There’s nothing we can do about this poor old world. Let’s move on and unite against our real enemies, the feminists, gays, atheists.

Hey, a revolving enemies list is nothing new. J. Frank Norris got quite chummy with the Catholic Church in his later years when they found a common enemy in the Red Menace (that’s Communism, not the Republican Party.)

Are any of the megavangelists going to come out powerfully against hate, against prejudice, against the hostility to immigrants, to those who are different from the majority. Will Evangelicals confront the sad history of the Klan, enabled by too many Christian Churches? It wasn’t a question mark they burned, after all.

Fortunately, the secular law of the United States does recognize organized crime and will pursue this vicious murder of innocent people in their place of worship– will investigate the collaborators in the crime. Church members, and everyone who wants to exercise the right to peaceably assemble should be grateful that there is something we can do.

Which Box Did He Check?

It’s hard for me to look at the ubiquitous picture of Trayvon Martin without thinking of my nephews. I knew them as children and as teens, and now as men raising their own sons and daughters. They have stories to tell– near misses and random violence. It’s this lived experience that gives the lie to the claim that race had nothing to do with George Zimmerman’s pursuit and shooting of Trayvon Martin.

In today’s New York Times is a complicated graphic parsing the attitudes and affiliations of people who identify as Black or Hispanic or White. The media has been pounding on this ever since Zimmerman’s father described him as a “Spanish-speaking minority.”

Before we all get too far into the metaphysical dimension of this, let’s remember that George Zimmerman might already have answered the question of his racial identity. On job applications, on school applications, on the US Census of 2010, which box did he check?

At times I have needed to get demographics as part of my job. In a meeting I said that I was always a little embarrassed to ask the race question. A Black nurse said she was glad I asked, often nurses just guess. I told her that it’s tough– I mean, no one ever asks me what race I am. But I need to ask, and often I’m surprised by the answers people give. Race is a scientifically fuzzy concept, we are a mixed society, and ultimately the individual makes the call on how they identify. I’m sometimes surprised by the prejudices people express. Belonging to a group that experiences discrimination does not make everyone sing Kumbaya. Human nature is more complicated than that.

All of us, by adulthood, have a paper trail of checked boxes. Did George Zimmerman always check the same box? Did he check the one most advantageous to the circumstances? Would there be anything wrong if he did?

It seems strange that we are so caught up in intangibles and un-measurables when dealing with something so final as a murder. A law that allows such an act to be committed with no accountability is flawed and must be fixed. This trial by media is nasty, but the willingness of the police and local law enforcement to take the shooter at his word and bury the investigation has brought us to this place.

Vicious and Vain

Surreal, this report that mass murderer Anders Brievik had plastic surgery to make himself look more ‘Aryan’.

Far right extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who confessed to a bombing and youth camp massacre that killed 77 people in Norway earlier in July, had reportedly undergone plastic surgery to appear more Aryan, a Norwegian intelligence official claimed Sunday.
Head of Norway’s intelligence agency the PST, Janne Kristiansen, told the British Sunday Times that there is no way that Breivik’s blond haired, blue eyed strong features look was natural.

America’s David Duke reportedly had a face lift to enhance his career as a professional white man.

[Louisiana Rep. Ron]Gomez recalls having met and interviewed Duke in the middle 1970s when Duke was a state senate candidate: “He was still in his mid-20s and very non-descript. Tall and slimly built, he had a very prominent nose, flat cheek bones, a slightly receding chin and straight dark brown hair. The interview turned out to be quite innocuous, and I hadn’t thought about it again until Duke came to my legislative desk, and we shook hands. Who was this guy? Tall and well-built with a perfect nose, a model’s cheek bones, prominent chin, blue eyes and freshly coiffed blond hair, he looked like a movie star. He obviously didn’t remember from the radio encounter, and I was content to leave it at that.”[39]

Consistent with Gomez’s observation, Duke in the latter 1980s reportedly had his nose thinned and chin augmented. Following his election to the Louisiana House of Representatives, he shaved his mustache.[40][41][42]

In recent photos Duke looks ironed.

Too bad they don’t just tie a towel around their neck and jump out a window thinking they can fly. Some fantasies are more dangerous than others. The myth of superiority has caused countless wars. It’s funny, in a sick way, when nature can’t create a superman that doesn’t need a little nip and tuck.

Undermining the Caregiver

‘Aren’t there any white doctors here?’ a clinic patient asked me once. ‘No’, I said. We had three doctors from Ghana and one from Egypt.

Like many primary care clinics, this one was staffed by young doctors starting their careers, some fulfilling a committment to the US Health Service, and they tended to move on after two years. The demographic mix was always changing. If I were looking for care for myself I would have chosen the doctor I thought best for my particular complaint. That could be any one of them depending on what illness I had.

Choosing a doctor by race or ethnicity is no better than choosing a doctor by astrological sign. And yet, there is enough prejudice remaining in our society to cloud patient’s judgment when they choose a doctor. Here is one doctor’s account of his education in medicine from his surgery professor, and in racial politics from his fellow students…

“If I were sick,” I said to my fellow resident that night, “I know which surgeon I would ask for.”

“But you can understand why some patients and referring doctors don’t go to him,” she replied matter-of-factly. “Other guys wear Brooks Brothers, have recognizable last names and carry a degree from the ‘right’ medical school. But when a potential patient or referring doctor sees our guy, all they might notice is a foreigner with an accent and a strange name who graduated from a medical school in some developing country.”

The prestige of having an MD doesn’t protect doctors from various kinds of disrespect, including prejudice. How much more exposed is a hands-on health care provider who does the hardest work for low wages.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Certified nursing assistant Brenda Chaney was on duty in an Indiana nursing home one day when she discovered a patient lying on the floor, unable to stand. But Chaney couldn’t help the woman up. She had to search for a white aide because the woman had left instructions that she did not want any black caregivers. And the nursing home insisted it was legally bound to honor the request.

Excluding a couple of nursing homes in the far corners of the state, the majority of nurses aides on teams I have worked with are women of color, and/or immigrants. Most often the relationship between caregivers and patients is a benevolent one. It has to be, there’s no energy to spare for conflict. Sometimes an assignment ‘doesn’t click’ and the patient is re-assigned. This is common and no big deal. I have never worked anywhere that made discrimination a matter of policy. This is just so wrongheaded.

It’s true that patients have rights to feel comfortable, the law recognizes that…

Courts have held that patients can refuse to be treated by a caregiver of the opposite sex, citing privacy issues. But the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling in Chaney’s case last month, said applying that accommodation to race goes too far.
”The privacy interest that is offended when one undresses in front of a doctor or nurse of the opposite sex does not apply to race,” the ruling said.

Caregivers are workers providing a skilled service. Patients are diverse and have different needs. Caregivers have to work together as a team or the job becomes much more stressful and patient care suffers. Undermining the caregivers and dividing them by race can only hurt morale and send a message that some workers are less valued than others.

I’m so glad that the organizations I worked for never interpreted patient’s rights as erasing the non-discrimination policy required by federal law. I can’t imagine what Brenda Cheney felt each working day…

Documents in Chaney’s lawsuit, filed in 2008, say her daily assignment sheet at Plainfield Healthcare Center always included the reminder that one patient in her unit ”Prefers No Black CNAs.”

It’s a bad road to go down, accomodating prejudice. The range and variety of prejudices I have encountered in eldercare would make it impossible to function if an organization tried to indulge them all. Much better to have a clear policy of non-discrimination and focus on getting the job done. It’s a tough job, and those who do it deserve respect.

ALL AMERICAN: It’s worth noting, also, that Brenda Chaney is African-American. There should have been no cultural barriers or communication problems. Her family has been American for centuries. This instance of discrimination was based solely on skin color. It’s a painful reminder that the color line has not been completely erased.

Deconstructing Doctor Laura and Newt Gingrich

It’s a weird time to be ‘white’ in this culture. Our American ideal, the cultural inheritance of all of us, is one of equality and opportunity, fairness and rule of law. That our country has, in the words of Condoleeza Rice, a ‘birth defect’, is a contradiction that has not been resolved. You can see it in radio entertainer Doctor Laura screaming racial insults one day and denying she’s a racist the next.

I’ll leave it to Laura Schlessinger to psychoanalyze people she’s never met and not presume to guess what set her off, but there’s a transcript of her rant, and it’s not only possible, but fun and easy to analyze her mistaken reasoning. Please do try this at home.

A caller asked Dr. L’s advice with a marital problem. The caller is black, her husband is white, and some of his friends use offensive language around her. This should have been pretty easy to work out. A married person should stand up for their spouse over their friends when the friends are being jerks. That’s why they call it marriage.

(There’s precedent in the role of the traditional husband, who tells his friends to keep it clean in the presence of his wife. They’ll probably even respect him for being a mensch, and take their stinky cigars and profanity elsewhere. Miss Manners, aka Judith Martin, could have settled this. And I wish she had a radio show. She could probably negotiate peace in the Middle East if they’d just listen to her. )

Dr. Laura failed to listen to the caller’s actual problem and jumped right into a trap that lies waiting for anyone who doesn’t question the racism implicit in our history and language. I use the word ‘implicit’ because these kinds of traps are hidden in the assumptions we don’t question.

The name of the trap is Us v. Them. See this transcript of the rant she unleashed on the caller, via Huffington Post…

Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO and listen to a black comic, and all you hear is n****, n*****, n*****. I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing. But when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.

Well, Dr. L is making the fundamental mistake of assuming that because the caller is black, she’s one of Them. Never mind that the reason she called is because racist language is offensive to her. She’s black, and therefore accountable for whatever anyone considered black says.

The white side of that coin is that white is normal, neutral and non-ethnic. What a white person does reflects only on them. For black people this coin is called, ‘heads I win, tails you lose’.

Consider the sad case of a rapper called Marshall Mathers, nearly forty and still whining about his mother. Is it likely that I will find myself trying to explain to a black person why my kind love him so?

That’s white privilege, not being held responsible for M&M. I don’t have to worry that he’s a discredit to my race, no matter how embarrassing he is.

Speaking of embarrassing, political celebrity Newt Gingrich made the same kind of false equivalence, when he was speaking about the Islamic Cultural Center planned near the Ground Zero site.

“They ignore the fact that more than 100 mosques already exist in New York City,” Gingrich wrote. “Meanwhile, there are no churches or synagogues in all of Saudi Arabia. In fact no Christian or Jew can even enter Mecca.”

Who is ‘They’? What has the repressive government of Saudi Arabia got to do with the right of Americans to practice their religion? The implicit assumption is that Muslims, whether American, Saudi, Bosnian or Indonesian are all the same. Secondary is the assumption that Islam is not a real American religion, that it’s allowed on sufferance of the majority, and its adherents had better put up and shut up and be grateful they aren’t treated like Christians in Saudi Arabia.

Our Founders understood religious conflict very well, and had the foresight to make it explicit that the government will not officially favor any particular religion. The mosque passed the zoning board and has a right to be there. But it seems obvious to many that ‘They’ should stay in their place.

There are not too many people who will openly brag about being racist. It’s not the American way, not in our best sense of ourselves. But if you go with the flow of our culture you’re going to drift into some dark, skanky places. One day you’ll hear something coming out of your own mouth that you’ll immediately regret. It’s happened to me, it happens to most of us.

Un-raveling racism takes work and insight. You have to question your own assumptions. You can’t just take what the culture hands you unexamined. But it’s not all drudge work, and guilt is not very useful.

Better tools are irreverence, humor, willingness to question assumptions and willingness to listen. It’s not the job of black people to educate white people about prejudice. Being black does not guarantee that you have it all figured out yourself. But when we find ourselves with people who are different, it’s a good idea to listen. You can learn a lot and avoid Dr. Laura moments.

I mean, if she were listening to that caller’s actual question she could have spared herself fifteen minutes of fame she could do without.

LISTENING: Renee, at Womanist Musings has a Womanist perspective on prejudice, open and covert. She knows a thing or two about race and racism.

Dear Doctor Laura

The Huffington Post has a transcript of radio entertainer Laura Schlessinger completely losing her cool with a caller who objects to her husband’s friends racist language. At least she’s apologizing, but it’s kind of a mess anyway.

Below is an oldie but goodie that never fails to crack me up…

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

•When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
•I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
•I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

You can read the rest here, more later, got to go to work now.


In a stunning exclusive, the New York Times reports that “it is official: Barack Obama is the nation’s first black president. A White House spokesman confirmed that Mr. Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, checked African-American on the 2010 census questionnaire.” The Times noted that “Mr. Obama could have checked white, checked both black and white, or checked the last category on the form, ‘some other race,’ which he would then have been asked to identify in writing.”

Conservative pundits immediately criticized the President’s actions. Radio host Rush Limbaugh grumbled that “it is clear that Obama has disowned his white half. He’s decided he’s got to go all in on the black side.” Glenn Beck asserted that “this president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” The Fox News host then concluded, “This guy is, I believe, a racist.” His comments were echoed by Mark Williams, a radio host and prominent leader of the Tea Party movement, who described Mr. Obama as “our half white, racist president.”

Philip J. Berg, an attorney who brought suit against the President challenging his citizenship, declared that “this proves that Obama is a fraud, a phony and…has put forth the biggest ‘HOAX’ in the history of our great nation. He’s made it plain that he identifies most with his African heritage. Why would he do that unless he were, first and foremost, an African?”

More moderate conservatives accused the President of political gamesmanship. “He’s wooing black and minority voters in an election year,” complained an unnamed G.O.P. spokesperson. “He’s trying to show up the Republicans just because they haven’t had an African-American in Congress since 2002. How is that fair?”

Wall Street reacted with massive selloffs, although shares of gunmakers Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co. rose sharply. Sporadic rioting was reported in rural Idaho and Texas.