Former president Bill Clinton -- during his last term in office -- urged Americans to have "a candid conversation on the state of race relations." OK.
ABC's "Monday Night Football," in a silly attempt at cross-promotion, opened with a sexually suggestive skit involving "Desperate Housewives'" Nicollette Sheridan and Philadelphia Eagles' Terrell Owens.
In the skit, Owens, in full football gear, heads out to play, only to be seduced in the empty locker room by a towel-clad Sheridan. When Sheridan drops the towel, Owens says, "Aw hell, the team's going to have to win without me," and she jumps into Owens' arms. The camera shot the towel-less Sheridan from behind, above the waist.
The broadcast aired at 6:00 p.m. on the West Coast, dinner hour when families and their children gather to watch the game. As with Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction," many saw something they neither expected nor wanted. But ABC immediately apologized. The NFL also quickly offered regrets, calling the incident "inappropriate and unsuitable for our 'Monday Night Football' audience." The Philadelphia Eagles issued a statement: "It is normal for teams to cooperate with ABC in the development of an opening for its broadcast. After seeing the final piece, we wish it hadn't aired." Owens, for his part, said he agreed to participate in the skit because, "I can't play football forever, so I'm trying to work on the Hollywood thing."
What does this have to do with race?
Well, Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy, a black man, threw down the race card. "I am very disappointed in ABC for what took place on Monday night," said Dungy. "I've got a 12-year-old that does his homework early on Monday to watch that, and I was very, very disappointed." So far, so good. But then Dungy charged "Monday Night Football"/ABC with one count of racial insensitivity. "To me that's the first thing I thought of as an African-American," said Dungy. "I think it's stereotypical in looking at the players, and on the heels of the Kobe Bryant incident, I think it's very insensitive. I don't think that they would have had [coaches] Bill Parcells or Andy Reid or one of the owners involved in that."
See, football player Terrell Owens is black. And the seductress, Ms. Sheridan, is a blonde white woman. Coach Dungy for years blasted the NFL for failing to seek out, recognize and hire blacks in positions of responsibility, like coaches. Dungy demanded that the NFL apply the same standards to blacks as others, and to practice inclusion. But apparently the same rules did not apply to Terrell Owens and his willingness to participate in this "interracial" skit. Wasn't it attorney Johnnie Cochran, defending O.J. Simpson, who accused the police of conspiring against Simpson, because he engaged in an interracial relationship? "You're free in America," said Cochran, "to love whomever you want."
So who are the racists here?
When Ward Connerly, a black man who married a white woman, spearheaded California's effort to repeal race- and gender-based preferences, black California State Senator Diane Watson, a staunch proponent of affirmative action, viciously attacked Connerly, "He's married a white woman. He wants to be white. He wants a colorless society. He has no ethnic pride. He doesn't want to be black." Donna Brazile, campaign manager for 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore, called the Republican Party the party of the "white boys." "White boys," she said, has nothing to do with "gender or race, it's an attitude. A white boy attitude is 'I must exclude, denigrate, and leave behind.' They don't see it or think about it. It's a culture."
Look at the treatment of prominent black Republicans like National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Liberal critics pull no punches in using race to criticize them. Political cartoonists Pat Oliphant and Jeff Danziger drew political cartoons accentuating Dr. Rice's black features and depict her speaking in rural Southern dialect. Garry Trudeau referred to her as "Brown Sugar" in his comic strip, "Doonesbury." Cartoonist Ted Rall suggested she was President Bush's "house nigga" and recommended "racial re-education."
John "Sly" Sylvester, a white Madison, Wis., radio host, called Rice "Aunt Jemima" and Colin Powell "Uncle Tom." Sylvester at first offered an apology -- to Aunt Jemima. "It is with a heavy heart that I apologize this morning to Aunt Jemima," said Sylvester, for comparing a "strong, independent black woman" like Aunt Jemima to a "self-serving hack politician." Sylvester later issued another "apology," only it demeaned Rice even more: "I'm concerned that I have offended many African Americans by using a crass term to describe an incompetent, dishonest, political appointee of the Bush administration, I apologize. . . . She has allowed herself to be used as a black trophy . . . "
So, here we are. Clinton got his wish. We absolutely talk about race -- especially when we don't need to.