The Right to Free Speech, the Right to Publicity and Dr. Laura

Chances are if you're reading this, you don't live under a rock. Which means you already know that recently, conservative radio host Dr. Laura took a call from someone who wanted advice on handling a racist friend of her husband's. Dr. Laura went on to say the word "nigger" on air 11 times, was summarily bitch-slapped by her employers and the media, and resigned to go do something that allowed her the freedom to say whatever she wants to say. Because as an American, she should have freedom of speech.

Yes, she should. But as I like to tell people whose comments are deleted on news sites and on blogs who say, "What, you don't believe in freedom of speech?": The first amendment to the Constitution promises us a right to free speech. It does not guarantee us the right to publicity. Here, look. The language is really simple:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

People have freedom of speech. They don't have freedom from consequences for their speech. They also don't have a right to publicity. In fact, the very same amendment allows for a free press – that includes the freedom to summarily fire a personality because she pissed off the advertisers who keep the lights on.

It's very simple, really. And actually, this post was just an excuse to be able to throw the last two This Week In Blackness episodes up. Because you need to watch them.

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Saturday Night Fever

I finally saw Saturday Night Fever, and was surprised to find that while the music and dancing certainly played a central role in the film, the movie was so much more about class, race, religion and sex in the 1970s than it was about the music.

For a movie to take on rape, abortion, quitting the priesthood, suicide, gang wars and racism the way this film did would still be a bold move. Frank, with whom I saw it as part of a double feature (the first film was Pulp Fiction), said he thought a movie couldn't do something like that today.

After having a couple of days to think about it, I don't entirely agree. I think a movie wouldn't do something like that today, unless it was going to tackle them in the past, the way A Bronx Tale did. Frankly, I think the major studios are chickenshit.

If you haven't seen Saturday Night Fever, or if you haven't seen it with an eye toward the political context, do so.

Lessons in bleeding red

I finally read Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Don't ask me how I got through high school without reading it (or Catcher in the Rye or 1984 or Julius Caesar...), but I finally decided to give it a go. There are definitely some lessons to be applied today.

I've written a little about racism, and then there was the wedding that technically didn't count. And I've mentioned that sometimes sexism manifests in subtle ways.

But it all boils down to one thing: no matter what we look like, who we share our lives with, what we believe in or what sexual organs we're attached to (if any), if you puncture our skin, we bleed red.

Underneath it all, we're all the same. That our young narrator, Harper Lee's Scout, could recognize that, is a sign that it's such an elementary concept, anyone should be able to get it.

Growing up, I learned that America was supposed to be a "melting pot" – a place where we all contributed to each other. As I hit high school and college, the prevailing attitude changed. We're a salad bowl – a place where a diverse group of people can all be in the same place and contribute to the overall aesthetic while maintaining their own individuality.

In other words, we all bring something to the table, and we're all important.

2010 will be the first U.S. Census on which people will be able to check more than one race. I'm not sure if this is a recognition that people identify with more than one heritage, a recognition that not everyone procreates intra-racially, or a way to brag about more diversity in some Congressional districts.

Check out NPR's series on mixed-race Americans for some interesting stories. I'm a little embarrassed, to tell you the truth, that this is even something we're still curious about – shouldn't we just be at the "we're the same" point by now? Do we still need to classify everything – everyone?

Remembering Kristallnacht: How far have we come?

On the night of November 9 and 10, 1938 – 70 years ago today – a state-sponsored pogrom (riot, incursion) killed 92 German Jews and saw somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 Jews arrested.

Synagogues were burned. Jewish-owned shops were vandalized or destroyed. There was so much glass they called it Kristallnacht (Wikipedia), the night of broken glass.

It brought to a head five years of increasingly restrictive anti-Semitic laws, and offered only a hint of what was to come in the ensuing years.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is doing a special exhibit this year.

If, by the way, you haven't been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, next time you're in DC, give yourself four hours there, and a couple hours of recovery time.

This is the exhibit that does me in.

From the time we're young, Jewish people are taught about the Holocaust. We see movies. We read books. We hear from survivors – though even people who lived long, healthy lives after the Holocaust are dying off now.

We take it personally, even all these years later. Working for a weekly newspaper about six years ago, I was sent to cover a school event that featured children of Holocaust victims and children of Holocaust perpetrators sitting on a panel, talking primarily about forgiveness. I sat in the back of the auditorium and pretty much bawled for an hour and a half.

We are taught to never forget. If you forget, it could happen again.

And so the world puts on its blinders, and makes sure that Jews don't ever have to live through genocide again.

We forget about the six million gypsies, homosexuals and others who died during the Holocaust. In the U.S., we're systematically denying the latter group rights (that's the first step, by the way). We didn't believe anything was happening in Rwanda in 1994. We did so little about Darfur. We're certainly not in the Democratic Republic of the Congo right now.

I'm not naive enough to believe we can all just get along and that's that. But when we see genocide, why are we sitting still?

The view from the white corner

The best thing I ever saw Catherine Orland do was manage to not deck Joel Ackerson when he asked her if we still needed women's music festivals. You know, because women are equal and all that.

Simiarly, white privilege is so dead. Umm, yeah. Sure it is, if you say so. Mitch posted this, and you need to watch it. And I'll definitely be following This Week in Blackness now.

Also, if you want to give Tim Wise a hug, you can find him here.

So, I’m supposed to procreate like mad, or…?

By the year 2042, whites are projected to be an ethnic plurality in the U.S., rather than an ethnic majority, a new Census Bureau report predicts.

This is eight years sooner than previously predicted.

And this is news...why?

First off, the way this is being framed is that "whites will no longer be the majority," because 54% of people in the U.S. will self-identify as Hispanic, black, Asian, Native American, Pacific islander or other. Non-Hispanic whites will still be the largest ethnic group, they'll just come in at under 50% of the population.

I guess this is supposed to make me worried about increased diversity or something.

And worse, scream the reports, by the 2020 presidential election, more than half of the electorate will be non-white.

Heaven help us.

The Times article offers a little perspective, but it's all historic in nature. In 1492, when Columbus "discovered" this place where there were already a bunch of people living, 96% of the inhabitants were non-white. By 1900, that number was something more like 10%.

The non-white population jumped in the 1920s and 1930s. Want to know why? Jews and people of eastern European descent weren't considered white by the Census Bureau.

I guess that must have changed when we took over the media and the government, huh?

I don't really think I have to sit here and argue about how we shouldn't fear ethnic and religious minorities, strangers, foreigners, third-party candidates and other un-American people like vegetarians, lactose-intolerant people, those who are allergic to gluten, and (God help us!) people who drive compact cars (wow, I think I managed to cover everyone who either currently reads this blog, has read this blog, or is likely to read this blog in the future). So I won't.

The most disturbing thing about this being widely reported as important news is that we're currently in the middle of The Great Immigration Debate. We already have this fear that people are sneaking into this country to steal jobs from God-fearing white Americans (who are lining up to pick apples and wash dishes, I know), and that if we let our guard down for one second, someone will blow something up and the terrorists will win.

(We'll skip the fact that it was a couple of God-fearing white Americans who blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma, because if we don't, the terrorists will win.)

Here's what I think will happen as the population starts to take on a more even ethnic distribution. I think that whites will finally start to notice that the people in power – at all levels of government, in the business world, among their associates at health clubs and country clubs – no longer look like the people they see when they go shopping, to the movies, to baseball games, and everywhere else.

Will we do anything with that realization? I'm not optimistic. But I am hopeful.

Race and the presidency


from PostSecret 3 Aug 2008

I'm not going to pretend to be uber-qualified to write about race, and I'm not going to go link-crazy here, but race is starting to come out as factor in the presidential race right now, and I feel the need to comment. I'm a white male who works in a mostly white office, so most of the racism I come across is in the media.

People told me during the primary season that they thought if Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee, which it appears he will be (and if he's not, he'll have a lot of explaining to do, since he's campaigning; same with John McCain, by the way – neither of these guys is official yet), people would vote for McCain just because of Obama's race.

Thing is, the people who would vote for president based on race would also vote for president based on gender. It would have been six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other on that count.

The latest polls are out, and guess what?

• People think race is going to be a factor
• Obama is leading McCain by about six points
• Add in Ralph Nader and Bob Barr, and Obama is up by 13 points (five points to Nader, two to Barr)

What does this say to me? Either:

(a) There's a bit of third-person effect going on here. That is, "race doesn't matter to me, but I bet it does to everyone else." Or,

(b) Race does matter, but it's not to whom you think. The people who want an old white guy in office aren't necessarily Republicans or even Conservatives. They don't care which old white guy they put in office, so long as it's an old white guy.

We knew that some McCain voters could defect to Barr. But did anybody honestly think Nader would be sucking votes from McCain?

What I do know about racism is this. If Obama gets elected, there will be extra pressure on him. If he has a lousy presidency, a large group of people who thought they were taking a "very open-minded risk" voting for him will cite it as an example that a black man can't run the country. And if he does well, there will be a group of people who will pat him on the head (proverbially, anyway) and say, "Good boy. You proved us wrong."

None of that makes me happy. It's just the way I see it.

Personally, I'm going to vote for the person this year I think will do the best job in the White House, whether it's one of the four men mentioned here, Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, or one of the other dozens of candidates who will no doubt join the race between now and November.