I have always been fascinated by American race relations. Ours is a history that has always been colored by race, no pun intended. Being bi-racial probably gives me more objective standpoint than most, but no one can claim pure objectivity. We’re all victim to our upbringing, environment, and even genetic tools of intellect we’re born with.
Barack Obama’s election was supposed to be dawn of the post-racial society, but instead I believe that it has been a powder keg for racial tensions that have been brewing in all of the decades since Civil Rights breakthroughs of the 1960’s. It seems as though race is the backdrop to every other scandalous news story: The Trayvon Martin case, the Donald Sterling debacle, and now the firing of radio show host Anthony Cumia of ” The Opie and Anthony Show” on Sirius/XM.
I really wanted to write about the Trayvon Martin uproar when it was at it’s height but hesitated because it was so divisive. The story grabbed the nation by the throat. Everyone had an opinion on it. An instinctive opinion, in that everyone seemed to identify with either Trayvon or George Zimmerman almost immediately without clear evidence before them. I was not immune to these feelings, but the idea of it really bothered me. This is not how the world was supposed to work. In my seminal years, we knew who the bad guys were: Adolf Hitler, Darth Vader, Jeffery Dahmer. You know….bad guys! I had a difficult time wrapping my mind on how many people can look at the same event from the same angles and see not only different things, but directly opposing narratives.
I heard that an unarmed black teenager was gunned down and killed by a grown (white Latino) man, and that the shooter wasn’t charged with a crime or arrested. That is very little information, but even if there were a bunch of other factors in which Trayvon had some hand in escalating the situation, the initial statement is still factual but not contextual. That story is peculiar, to say the least. It has the outward appearance of being unjust. But I feel that it’s my duty as someone, who would like to believe that they are a well-rounded thinker, to try and see this from someone else’s view point. What are you seeing that I am not?
Inevitably, these debates become unyieldingly political. The instinctive tendency to identify and sympathize with one side usually falls on political lines. This tells me that political affiliation has to be somewhat genetic or somehow so deeply embedded in one’s subconscious, that we have no choice in our response mechanism. The opinions are knee jerk reactions, not well thought out conclusions made after poring through legitimate evidence. We listen to pundits and read sources that share our values and reaffirm our positions. We are rarely challenged in a calm, unthreatening way so that a reasonable opposing debate can be had.
If you are unfamiliar with the Anthony Cumia controversy, you can read the tweets he was fired for here. He claimed to be attacked by a black woman in Times Square for taking her picture by “accident”. Then, 5 black men verbally came to her aid. The phrases used were “Animal”, “Savages”, “Dogs”, “They aren’t people”. He made references that he was attacked because he was white, and how violence was part of “that community”, and that he was civilized as a “white gun owner” for not shooting her (he was carrying a gun), and even mentioned slavery being a common scapegoat for troubles within the black community.
This is one in a long line of perceived bigoted remarks going viral and torpedoing the careers of several public figures including Michael Richardson, Mel Gibson, Don Imus, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Donald Sterling, Isaiah Washington, Paula Deen and many more whom I can’t even remember. One thing that those on the right say is true: We do live in a “gotcha” culture, where the press and the PC Police are trying to catch public figures in gaffes or being caught on tape just stating their privately held views. The media is trying to sell papers, get web hits, and ratings, and there are a lots of liberals sitting around waiting to be offended.
Should Anthony Cumia have been fired? Should any of these people have been punished to the extent they were? Here’s the thing: we have freedom of speech granted to us in the 1st Amendment, but we do not have freedom from consequences of said words after they leave our mouths. I’m sure Sirius/XM has certain employee conduct rules while on the job or not, and I’m sure character plays a part with whom they employee. THEY get to decide who works for them. Not me. Not you. Even if we disagree with their decision. I didn’t think Imus should have been fired. I didn’t think Alec Baldwin should have either. But I don’t get to make those decisions.
What Cumia suffered from most was hubris. His emailed wasn’t hacked. He wasn’t being filmed by TMZ. He wasn’t secretly being taped. He took the initiative to put his thoughts out on his own Twitter for sole purpose of communicating it to his followers. It wasn’t a mistake. It’s how he feels. If you’ve listened to the show, you would know how that he has always felt this way. He was arrogant and dumb enough to think he could say whatever he wanted, and that there would be no consequences for it. I used to listen to his show back when they were on local New York radio back in the late 90’s. I loved it. I thought they were hilarious, better then Stern. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I discovered Cumia’s racial proclivity when I found this argument on Youtube between Anthony and comedian, Bill Burr. Bill calls him out for his blatant racism.
The real question is WHAT IS RACISM? It’s the question no one is asking because everyone thinks they know what it is. I know I think I do. To me, a racist is someone who has a broad dislike or feeling of superiority over another another race with a blanket application to the thought process.
But in modern America, overt racism has essentially been outlawed for white people. At least in the public sphere. Cumia broke the unspoken rule. Literally, those thoughts are meant to be unspoken, unless you are in safe company with those who share those same views. You don’t have to be Einstein to know that if you have some views that could be viewed as racist, that you better keep them to yourself. These thoughts and feelings have been suppressed for so long that there has been some type of mental break in white America.
With Obama’s election, the rise of the Tea Party, some white men are angry as hell, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. And the elephant in the room is the white male. Cumia was unapologetic about what he said. It’s almost as if it has been killing him all these years not to scream it from a rooftop. I get the feeling many white men have their frustrations, although probably not as extreme and vile as Cumia. And because they aren’t allowed to express themselves, the definitions of racism change. The definition of a racist has become a guy in a white hood lynching blacks in films like “Mississippi Burning” or “A Time To Kill”. It’s something in the past. “I don’t force blacks to use a separate bathroom or sit in the back of the bus. I never owned slaves. I have a black friend or 2. How could I be racist?” Even Donald Sterling, who said some of the most blatantly racist things I’ve ever heard, didn’t characterize himself as a racist. And I don’t think he was lying. I believed that he believed he wasn’t racist. Anthony Cumia doesn’t believe he is a racist. But if these guys aren’t racist, than who is? Is it only the KKK, Neo Nazis or militant black separatist groups like the Black Panthers or The Nation of Islam?
Conversely, politically correct culture has gone overboard. White men or women or anyone for that matter should have platforms to express themselves honestly without fear of being thrown into racist exile. In most cases, hate and violence comes from fear, and fear comes from ignorance. People fear what they don’t know. And you can’t always blame them for that.
I view racism as a character flaw; a lack of consideration and empathy. I think everyone has a little of it in them. It’s lazy thinking. It’s easier to lump an entire group of people into one stereotype, cutting and pasting your judgement of character, rather than judging each person as an individual, not representative of a larger whole. Sometimes you have to check yourself for shitty thinking, and sometimes we have to check other people. We have to educate them in a compassionate way. The problem is when the Rush Limbaugh’s and Louis Farrakhan’s of the world tell their constituency that it’s ok to be a dick. It’s no different Gordon Gecko exclaiming, “Greed is good”.
We also need to get rid of the term, “Reverse Racism”. Theres is no such thing. Just racism. Blacks can hate whites. Chinese can hate Japanese. Indians can hate Pakistanis. White people don’t own American racism. They were just really awesome at it for a long time and had all of the power. I know a lot of white people want racial parity and equality of expressiveness. “Why can they say ‘nigger’, but we can’t?” We aren’t there yet gents. As I often do, I’ll conclude by quoting Chris Rock, because it elegantly explains why black people and white people are not yet on even footing in regards to what’s ok to say.
“Those with the most shit, get to say the least shit. Those with the least shit, get to say the most shit.”
Your blogs are thought provoking. Sometimes I want to sit down next to you and poke your brain with my finger. The East misses you darlin’!
Excellent article Doc. I think you offered a different perspective and I agreed with a lot of your views. I will like and share this.
As a bi-racial dude who considered myself a “fan” of the Opie and Anthony show (because of their segments with Patrice O’Neal), I wasn’t really sure how I felt about this. Regular listeners have been saying Anthony’s been getting much more comfortable with racist remarks since Patrice passed unfortunately.
You put this beautifully though. I’m of the mindset “let people say whatever the fuck they want, words can’t hurt me” but he was going over the top on this one. Anthony’s Twitter rant was really some next level vile but I didn’t want to catch myself being a hypocrite for almost instantly wanting to “surpress his freedom of speech.” Originally, I understood it was an angry rant, so I gave him the benefit of just being angry and saying some shit he eventually regret. From what I’ve seen though, there appears to be NO signs of him apologizing, so hey, I guess that’s his true feelings.
And to me, as a bi-racial guy who’s lived in the Jersey and about an equal amount of time down South, I’ve realized that Ant’s way of thinking and speaking is a problem that many white guys, in the Northeast specifically, have no clue they do. They speak about race in such a nonchalant way because they don’t have that “line in the sand” or the “boundary” set for them and someone needs to chin-check them on it. White people down South know where that line is. After all the abolishment of slavery and desegregation, those lines were made VERY clear to both whites and blacks in the South. They know that racism is a taboo thing in the public scope. White people from the North seem to think “oh us?! We didn’t have slaves. I never whipped black people or held them hostage, so I can’t possibly be a racist.” It’s that built-in excuse that permits them to say whatever they think (the old “I’m not racist, but…” statements).
I’m also glad that you posted these specific videos, because honestly, I’ve pinned Bill Burr to be a bit of a racist from his previous statements too. After hearing him in this discussion, I think he’s just falling back on the “I’m an asshole so fuck everybody” rather than Blacks specifically and I respect that. This really made me see him in a different light. I know you’ve gotta remember his rant on that Opie and Anthony comedy tour in Camden! He’s just doesn’t give a shit, but I’ve realized it’s just the mindset of a lot of those Boston-NYC area comedians (like Louis CK, Burr, Marc Maron, Dennis Leary, Greg Giraldo, Jim Norton, etc).
Thanks for touching on stuff like this, man. The Hard R lives on!