Racist Devils

October 02, 2006

There are a couple of really good columns dealing with recent inappropriate comments. Both columns remind us of the importance of being careful what we say. The first piece is by Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe and is entitled "The devil made them do it." It is in response to comments by Hugo Chavez and Jerry Falwell (now there's a pair!). Here are a few highlights:

But have you noticed that when we talk about demonizing our enemies, it's getting awfully literal?

Hitler used to be the all-purpose, generic bad boy. There's an endless list of people who have been compared, not always favorably, to the Führer.

... Now the devil is getting his due.

... But the polarizing language of good and evil, us and them, God and Satan frames a clash of cultures at home and a clash of civilizations abroad. The vocabulary of absolutes freezes the way we think and act. The black and white narrative suggests that anybody who doesn't side with us has gone to the dark side.

... When we resort to nonnegotiable language, we've entered the world of absolutes. And when we fall into the clash of cultures at home and civilizations abroad, all hell breaks loose.
The other piece is a Washington Post column by Jabari Asim that is entitled "A Poor Choice of Words." It deals with racist comments by politicians, especially the use of the N-word. Here are a couple of highlights:

Our nation's history of racist beliefs and practices stick so tenaciously to the epithet that even quoting it in a news column risks turning off readers. Tiptoeing around it sometimes causes more problems than it prevents, however. If I may paraphrase Mark Twain scholar Shelley Fisher Fishkin, if one is not willing to expose racist language, how can one effectively critique racism?

... Whether or not one uses the N-word isn't one of those "distraction" issues like flag burning; it's a character issue.

Like a fondness for nooses and Confederate flags, it reflects a misplaced nostalgia that should rightly raise alarms among wary voters. If either candidate is found to have uttered the word, he should own up to it and testify that he has since found enlightenment. What did Trent Lott call his woeful song of praise to segregation a few years back? "A poor choice of words." Yeah, that would work.
Both of these columns offer some good reminders about the importance of being very careful about the words we use. Too often we resort to polarizing or hateful speech that pushes people away. Sadly, these examples often involve Christians. We must set a better example!