Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Monday, October 13, 2003  

Limbaugh's not so subtle racism

Rush Limbaugh's 'other' trouble interests me for a reason that relates back to my series on 'subtle' racism. People defending him make this argument:

In his notorious ESPN comments last Sunday night, Rush Limbaugh said he never thought the Philadelphia Eagles' Donovan McNabb was "that good of a quarterback."

If Limbaugh were a more astute analyst, he would have been even harsher and said, "Donovan McNabb is barely a mediocre quarterback." But other than that, Limbaugh pretty much spoke the truth. Limbaugh lost his job for saying in public what many football fans and analysts have been saying privately for the past couple of seasons.

Let's review: McNabb, he said, is "overrated . . . what we have here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback can do well - black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well."

". . .There's a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of his team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."

Allen Barra goes on to offer an unconvincing argument that McNabb is a poor quarterback. It relies on ignoring what McNabb does well and overstating anything he is not particularly good at.

However, what is not said is what intrigues me. The argument Limbaugh is making, without being explicit, is the typical blacks are intellectually inferior and physically superior claim often relied on by 'scientific' racists. The claim is that African-Americans perform well in physically demanding positions and poorly in analytical positions because black people can't think. So, according to Limbaugh, Barra and others like them, McNabb and other black quarterbacks are failures, but black linesmen excel.

Will you find an equivalent claim that white athletes who do not perform all that well are stupid? Never. And, there lies the proof the claim is about more than any individual's performance.

Columnist Darrell Smith believes another athlete is running a similar game with another minority.

Professional golfer Jan Stephenson sees that ignorant statement and raises it with a pair of her own, saying Asian golfers are "killing" the LPGA tour.

"Their lack of emotion, their refusal to speak English when they can speak English. They rarely speak."

Then, "If I were commissioner, I would have a quota on international players and that would include a quota on Asian players," Stephenson, an Australian, told Golf Magazine. "As it is, they''re taking American money."

Note that, with Stephenson, the argument is cast differently, but has the same effect: There is something wrong with Asian athletes and they should be treated with skepticism.

Smith explains why this overemphasis on the color of a person's skin - if it isn't white - matters.

Rush and Jan just happen to be talking about professional athletes.

But they could just as easily be talking about doctors, attorneys, students, the job applicant, your new boss, the neighbors who just moved onto your block.

He's really not that good. The big guys are giving them a pass. It's probably some quota thing. She didn't earn that job. Why are they even here? They're taking over.

What Limbaugh did in regard to McNabb is insidious because, not only is the assertion false, it is meant to send a message to the public that claims black people are genetically inferior are accurate. No, he did not utter those words. But, he didn't need to. The state of American race relations is such that the people Limbaugh addresses already know the argument. They can fill in the blanks.

The impact of behavior such as Limbaugh's and Barra's on the people it is meant to harm can be devastating.

It's ignorant. It's lazy. And it's dangerous.

See, this stuff is viral. Pox disguised as fact, confirming and justifying prejudices, affirming to the small-minded what they already think they know, so they can pass it on and pass it on, infecting others with their nonsense.

Telling a black kid who wants to grow up to someday play quarterback -- or be a lawyer or a writer or a doctor -- that he doesn't have a shot, that his guy is a fraud, that his dreams are moot. That's where the virus really takes root.

Limbaugh's ability to spread the racism pox may be limited by his recent admission of having abused drugs for years. The questions about his credibility people should have been asking all along are finally being raised. However, unfortunately, there are many other people just as willing as he is to spread the disease. We must not let them get away with it just because their poisonous claims are couched in 'subtle' language.

posted by J. | 8:40 AM