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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Free Speech and Civil Rights - A Series

There's nothing like a "progressive" to inject hate into a political discussion. The trick is to pick your targets carefully and and make them a object of shame.

This has been the longtime tactic of the civil rights community. Is there truly a person out there that doesn't inwardly censor their thoughts or speech to one extent or another. The threat of being labeled a racist has had serious consequences for the careers of the great and small. I'm thinking of Howard Cosell and Al Campanis in the sports world.

  • In 1987, Al Campanis made a few ill phrased remarks on the abilities of blacks to be baseball managers. Whether they came from deep convictions, ignorance or just a poor choice of words, the miracle of media and politics went to work and a 40 year career was ended in two days. For anyone who even remembers his name, this may be the only bit of information that they recall about him, nothing regarding a career of working with Blacks (Jackie Robinson), Jews (Sandy Koufax) and Hispanics. In the world of race relations, there are few 2nd chances.

  • As similar occurrences happened with lawyer turned sports broadcaster, Howard Cossell, whose tendency to tell it like it is made him both successful and famous and ultimately ended his career. I never like Cossell, but that didn't seem to hurt his career. He spent many years badgering, befriending and broadcasting Muhammed Ali before becoming a founding member of the Monday Night Football team. His fatal slip of the tongue was “Look at that monkey run!” referring to a black football player, despite the fact he had used that same phrase many times referring to black and white players as well as his own grandchildren. No matter, a long and distinguished career was tarnished and will forever have an asterisk by his name.

Being Black does not protect you from the political correction police. After speaking on the subject of the demise of the black family, Bill Cosby was vilified as an "Uncle Tom" by the radical activist community. In this case, Cosby must have known in advance the consequences of speaking the truth. I heard (on NPR) of a comedian travelling the country spoofing and ridiculing Cosby. I'm not sure why Chris Rock gets a pass for discussing the same subject in a much more coarse manner, probably because he doesn't do it during a civil rights commemoration as did Cosby.

The message is clear though, stick to the party line or face the consequences. Anybody who has worked in corporate America has been through "tenderness" training. The overt message is be polite and considerate to everyone regardless of race, religion, orientation or otherwise. The underlying message is "you are just an employee and whatever you say can and may be held against you, especially if it puts the company in danger of a lawsuit or bad publicity". The result being an utter lack of public honesty, whispered comments and self censorship. No one wants to jeopardize a job with a frank opinion, no matter how well meant.

More on this later.

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