Once again last week the American public was confronted with an episode of public racism, when video surfaced of Seinfeld alum Michael Richards using ugly racial epithets to berate African American audience members who had heckled him during a stand-up comedy routine. Inevitably, along with the well-deserved condemnation of Richards’ disgusting behavior came the predictable denunciations of American society as a hotbed of racism.
The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson wrote that, “[A]s a society, we still haven't purged ourselves of racial prejudices and animosities. We've buried them under layers of sincere enlightenment and insincere political correctness, but they're still down there, eating at our souls.” That’s a serious charge, and more than a little bit over the top. The fact that some individuals indulge in unforgivably racist behavior doesn’t make American society, as a whole, racist – any more than the continued existence of rapists and wife-beaters means that Americans collectively are harboring secret animus against women.
If anything, many Americans go to great lengths to make amends for the serious racial injustices of the past. And if Robinson were really serious about condemning “insincere political correctness,” there’s plenty to examine when it comes to the controversy shaping up over the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee.
It’s been extensively reported that incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi may decide to pass over Congresswoman Jane Harman, a moderate who’s well-respected for her expertise, in favor of the next most-senior committee member, impeached and convicted former Judge Alcee Hastings (who happens to be African-American). Certainly, Pelosi dislikes Harman personally. But what bears special note is the reported rationale for her willingness to consider Hastings to replace her as committee chairman.
When Jane Harman, the committee’s current ranking Democrat, returned to the House from an unsuccessful run for Governor of California, she was restored to full seniority – which meant that a junior member, who happened to be African-American, was removed from the House Intelligence Committee. As a result, Pelosi is reportedly under pressure from African American congressmen to choose Hastings because of a promise, according to the November 21 Los Angeles Times, “not to slight either blacks or Latinos when plum slots came up on the Intelligence and Homeland Security committees.”