Friday, February 09, 2007

If Only They Were Afraid To Talk To Anyone At All

I promised in an earlier post that I’d write about what those intellectual heavyweights Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck had to say about Joe Biden and his awkward semi-compliment to Barack Obama, and as you might have already guessed it was pretty entertaining—if the idea of grown men saying things that would embarrass a seventh-grader strikes you as entertaining.

As reported on the Think Progress website, in the process of leading a discussion about Biden’s remarks, O’Reilly said this to one of his guests, whose name I didn’t catch:

“Now you got to feel sorry for us white folks here, because I’m telling you now I’m afraid to say anything. You know, you’re an articulate guy, doctor, but I’m never going to say that. You’re a smart guy. Is that bad if I say you’re a smart guy? … Yes, absolutely, instead of black and white Americans coming together, white Americans are terrified. They’re terrified. Now we can’t even say you’re articulate? We can’t even give you guys compliments because they may be taken as condescension?”

Yeah, I know. Where to begin?

O’Reilly is guilty of pretend-indignation. He pretends he doesn’t understand the difference between condescension (expressing amazement that a black person is articulate) and a genuine compliment. “Is it bad if I say you’re a smart guy?”

Come on, Bill. It’s all about context, and stop acting like you don’t know it. The times when it’s okay to tell a black person he’s a smart guy are exactly the same times when it’s okay to tell anyone the same thing.

“Hey, Bob, you’re a smart guy—settle this bet for us.”

“You bought Microsoft at $5? You’re a genius!”

“Say, Ted—brilliant work on the Henderson account.”

Otherwise, the subject isn’t going to come up very often. Yet judging from his words, O’Reilly is constantly having this internal struggle: “Oh, no—this guy’s black and I’m white. Must…resist…Tourette’s Condescending Compliment Syndrome…”

Most people are just content to have normal grown-up conversation. That includes the “white people” O’Reilly presumptuously claims to speak for. (Honestly—suggesting that anyone should “feel sorry for white folks” because he's a case of arrested development?)

But let’s get Glenn Beck’s two half-cents in here, too. In the course of a similar discussion on his CNN program, he said

“I don’t have a lot of African-American friends, and I think part of it is because I’m afraid that I would be in an open conversation, and I would say something that somebody would take wrong, and then it would be a nightmare. Am I alone in feeling that?”

Well, Glenn, I’m pretty sure you’re not alone. But I don’t think there are a whole lot of mature, rational, intelligent people in the boat with you.

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