Friday, May 27, 2011

Tiki-Bashing in Glass Houses

I'm ready for the push back when I say this - but is Tiki Barber getting treated too harshly for his thoughtless comment in comparing his situation to Anne Frank?  Maybe - maybe not.

Let's dial the clock back to January 2008.  I wrote a piece on my blog about the first female anchor on the Golf Channel - Kelly Tilghman.  What was she famous for?  Saying that the only way young golfers could keep up with then No. 1 player in the world, Tiger Woods, was to "lynch him in a back alley."  The Golf Channel was going to blow off the gaffe at first claiming she and Tiger were friends and that the young woman didn't mean anything by the remark.  But after push back from civil rights organizations, black talk radio, and other major media outlets the Golf Channel suspended her for two weeks.  Of course, she was able to return in time for Tiger's 2008 debut at the Buick Invitational - so, no real punishment.

Anyway, the whole point of the punishment was to acknowledge that the words were hurtful and inappropriate.  Nevertheless, polled website visitors and found that 68% believed the suspension was too harsh.  Now that brings us back to Tiki Barber.  Everyone agrees his words were thoughtless and inappropriate.  "Holocaust trivialization continues to spread and finds new ways and expressions that shock the conscience," Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said. "Tiki Barber's personal behavior is his business. But our history and experiences are ours and deserve greater respect than being abused or perverted by Tiki Barber.

I just wonder where people like Mr. Foxman were when 68% of people wanted to give Ms. Tilghman a pass on suggesting that golfers lynch Tiger.  The holocaust of slavery is just as real as that of the Jewish people.  It resulted in the enslavement, kidnapping, rape, murder, suicide and torture of millions of Africans for hundreds of years.  And the effects of that holocaust are trivialized daily.

Did Tiki mess up?  Yes.  Are other people messing up too?  You better believe it.  We've got teachers auctioning off black children as slaves in classroom demonstrations.

 Another teacher selected two black children, taped their hands and feet together, and made them crawl under a desk to demonstrate what it was like to be on a slave ship.  When the parent of one of the girls got upset, this was the teacher's response: "My take is that Mrs. Shand has missed a golden opportunity to teach her daughter a couple valuable lessons. First, slavery happened – get over it. Second, we rightfully do not do these sorts of things any more and lots of folks of all colors died so that that is the case. Third, be eternally grateful you live in the United States and not in Africa where people routinely wind up floating down rivers in pieces. But apparently Mrs. Shand is not in to teaching her daughter all that much and is more in to teaching her how to be a victim."

Somehow, I don't think the Anti-Defamation League would think much of teachers putting little Jewish children in closets and the teacher telling them to pretend it was an oven and that they were about to be incinerated.  Or to pretend they were being shackled and being sent to separate concentration camp - never to see their parents again.  Better yet - how about the teacher says, "Get over it, we won the war so you didn't have to grow up in Nazi Germany.  Thank your lucky stars!  Stop acting like a victim.  You're just being a drama queen."

All of these horrors were very real.  And they are very frightening to think of them even now.  I watched the documentary Freedom Riders with my 8 year old a couple of weeks ago.  He had a very hard time comprehending why these young people needed to ride buses to the South.  And why they kept coming back when they were being beaten so viciously as police officers who were supposed to protect them just stood by and watched.

These holocausts, both Jewish and black, have legacies that live with our children.  We will not forget and we cannot let our children forget.  Why?  Because there are those who would trivialize our struggle.  There are those who would like us to forget.  But that will never happen.  That would be like throwing away a part of our family history.  It is what made us the resilient people we have become.  We are survivors - we are not victims.

It took black people hundreds of years to overcome slavery and Jim Crow in the United States.  It turns my stomach every time I hear someone say a black person is waiting for the government to give him something.  Black people have been on this planet since the beginning of time, and I dare say we will be here when this planet is no more.  So believe what you want about black people, but we are preparing our children for the future - whatever that may hold.  We don't rely on anyone to give us anything.  Everything I own, I worked for - just like everyone else I know, regardless of their color.  I try to give my children the best possible education I can.  And every parent wants that - for their child to have a better life than they did.

So, am I saying that Jewish people should get over Tiki's comments?  Absolutely not.  What I'm saying is that America should be equally shocked and appalled when people make callous and thoughtless racist remarks.  I think people ought to be held accountable.  Newt Gingrich recently suggested a poll-test in U.S. History for native-born American citizens to vote.  Now even Tea Party Congressman Allen West wouldn't stand for that.  But where was the outrage that a modern day political figure in 2011 would suggest that we go back to a Jim Crow-era poll literacy test that was designed to keep black people from voting?  And Newt Gingrich is a former college history professor, so he knew darn well what he was suggesting and who it was bound to effect the greatest.

If you're going to claim moral high ground on issues, be consistent.  Don't sit on the high ground only when it suits you.  Sit on it because that's where you're comfortable.  Sit on it because that's where you intend to live.  Sit on it because that's home.

So, if you want to throw rocks at Tiki Barber, that's fine.  But gather up a big bag of rocks because there are a lot more people you need to be slinging them at.

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