Category Archives: International

Do Racists Have a Right to Speak?

Thursday night I did a segment on BBC Five Live centered around a guy named Nick Griffin. For those Americans who don’t know who he is, Griffin is the head of the British National Party.

He’s also a member of the European Parliament.

To put it bluntly, Griffin and his party espouse a crude form of nationalism that has been called racist, Anti-Semitic, Islamaphiobic, homophiobic (gee, have I left anything out?), you get the picture.

Nick Griffin

Nick Griffin

Earlier Thursday, Griffin appeared on the BBC program “Question Time”. His appearance sparked angry protests, with about 25 people breaking through barricades at the BBC’s London TV studios. Suffice to say Griffin was taken to task for his views, so much so that he’s complaining about the program, and demanding to come back on in a different format. Ironically, the show drew four times as many viewers as normally watch it, the Jon and Kate effect, if you will.

So what was I asked to talk about on a BBC radio show? The links between Nick Griffin and our own home grown racist-Anti Semite, David Duke. They are linked, through an appearance they made together back in 2000.

David Duke chilling out with Nick Griffin

David Duke chilling out with Nick Griffin

They’re also linked by a shared desire to achieve their racist ends through the acquisition of political power. Duke, you may remember, is the former member of the KKK who went on to become a member of the Louisiana state legislature. He also made unsuccessful runs for President, the House, and Senate. Duke understood. as does Griffin, that wearing Klan robes and reading Mein Kampf  won’t win the kind of support necessary to create the lily white world they want.

So they use the tools at their disposal. They run for political office, and demand fairness and accuracy in reporting their philosophy from a media both claim is dominated by Jews and other liberals. The question becomes to what extent do they have the same right to speak as anyone else? Are protesters acting properly when they demand that Nick Griffin not be allowed on the BBC? Does giving the Griffins and David Dukes a platform in the mainstream actually lend credibility to their organizations and views?

My older brother Clayton (who passed away a year ago tomorrow- RIP) once told me you can’t be halfway for the First Amendment. His position was that the cure for racist speech was better speech to drown it out. I have a hard time disagreeing with this line of thinking. Once you start saying people have no right to express their thoughts, no matter how obnoxious, where do you draw the line?

You tell me. Should racists like David Duke and Nick Griffin be given mainstream airtime?

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What’s With All the Blackface?

So much for a post racial planet.

The Minstrels, 1962

The Minstrels, 1962

Blackface, it seems, is the new black, albeit in faraway places like Australia and France.

An Australian TV show caused quite an uproar when a group calling itself Jackson Jive performed the song “Can You Feel It” wearing huge black wigs and blackened faces.

Then, French Vogue features a 14 page spread in its October issue with a model, also in blackface.

Vogue.larastone.blackface

The Australian performers apologized, but not until after being condemned by none other than Harry Connick Jr., who happened to be a guest on the show.

So what’s going on here? a fair number of equivocators are posing the “what if” scenario. It’s like, what if a black person was dressed in whiteface? Isn’t that okay? What’s the difference? Why is everyone so sensitive? Others try to chalk it up to an American sensibility.

Popular Japanese recording group, Gosperats

Popular Japanese recording group, Gosperats

Australians and the French don’t share America’s history of minstrel shows, and therefore should get a pass on this. Or so the logic goes. Trouble is, in both cases past and present history is being ignored.

Leave aside, for the moment, America’s racist past practice of reinforcing stereotypes by popularizing the minstrel show.

Let’s talk about Australia. This is a place where dark skinned people, the Aborigines, were systematically driven off their land just as Native Americans were here. It wasn’t until 1967, 200 years after Europeans settled in Australia, that Aborigines were even counted as human beings in the nation’s census. They were also the butt of numerous stereotypical jokes in Australian entertainment during much of that time.

As for French Vogue, it should be noted that nowhere in its October “blackface” issue is there a single model of color. Not to mention the difficulty black models still encounter trying to get work (Naomi and Iman notwithstanding). Sure, Vogue has a history of “over the top” presentations on its pages. And sure, with the magazine industry in steep decline everyone’s trying to something to get attention. But this?

If there are points to be made for presenting such nonsense, they escape me. And let’s be clear. This isn’t about political correctness. It’s about knowledge of one’s past, and a basic human sensitivity that seems to elude both magazine editors and television producers. Perhaps now that both the Australian show and French Vogue have been called out, there have been lessons learned, and folks can move on.

minstrel

But you tell me. Will we see more blackface portrayals in the future?

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Too Soon For Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize?

This question should be quite the paradox for opponents of the President. Here they are, nine months into his tenure, demanding their country back and reciting a litany of sins he’s supposedly committed. Now they turn on a dime, and say nine months is entirely too short a time to award him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Maybe this award had something to do with the antipathy so many around the world felt toward his predecessor. Maybe the award is being used as an incentive to get President Obama to back up his words with deeds.

Regardless, he deserves congratulations, and Americans should feel a sense of pride that one of our own has won this prestigious award. Sadly, that won’t be the focus. The media here will give lots of time to Obama haters who will denounce the Norwegian Nobel Committee as a nest of ignorant foreigners who don’t understand what Obama has done to undermine the America they know and love. There is very little Barack Obama can do that won’t infuriate his opposition.

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the 1984 winner of the prize, got it right when he said, “It’s an award coming near the beginning of the first term of office of a relatively young president that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all. It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama’s message of hope.” Now his challenge is to make good on that very message. On some levels, he has much work to do. Winning a peace prize while you’re deciding how many more troops to send to Afghanistan is more than a little ironic.

President Obama is only the third sitting US president to win the award, the others being Theodore Roosevelt (1906), and Woodrow Wilson (1919). Both had been in office for much longer than Obama, but this prize ought to be seen as recognition of the change in American attitude his presidency has brought to the international stage. That may not be good enough for some in the blogosphere and on social networking sites. It’s fully half of all trending topics on Twitter. One supposes it’s good news that people are paying attention.

So what does President Obama have to do to convince those doubters that he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize? How about bringing US troops home from Afghanistan with all deliberate speed? How about being the catalyst for worldwide acknowledgement of the threat of global warming, and actually getting something done about it? How about leading the way in an international round of nuclear disarmament?

President Obama’s promise is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize. Now he must prove that actions speak louder than words. Think he’s up to the task?

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