Sunday, April 20, 2008

Losing the moral high ground

While I thought that State Rep. Monique Davis' rant against atheist Rob Sherman was beyond the pale and certainly a disrepectful one towards the idea of the separation of church and state. Rob Sherman's response apparently wasn't the best either. I wasn't offended exactly but I thought that use of this term was innappropriate. Read more from Eric Zorn...
On Monday evening, well into the comment frenzy over the story about the verbal attack that Ill. Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) made on atheist activist Rob Sherman, reader "Tony" made note of a passage from Rob Sherman's Web site where Sherman had written:

Now that Negroes like Representative Monique Davis have political power, it seems that they have no problem at all with discrimination, just as long as it isn't them who are being discriminated against.

I appended a note to the comment saying that the use of the term "Negroes" struck me as out-of-bounds because it gives racial offense and deliberately so. By using it, Sherman forfeited the high ground that he occupied in his tiff with Davis.

I then sent an e-mail to Sherman noting these objections. I've interviewed him scores of times in the past 22 years and never detected even a hint of racism or bigotry, so I regarded his use of a once-standard but now unacceptable word to be the result of a moment of rhetorical clumsiness or tone-deafness that he ought to rethink.

Sherman replied to my note:

["Negroes" is] what the group was called when they were being discriminated against, but now that this same group has political power, discrimination is OK, as long as it's not them that's being discriminated against. That's the reason for the use of the term.
Invoking Civil Rights-era terminology to sharpen an attempt to draw an ironic (and dubious) analogy between persecuted African Americans and persecuted atheists is not a polemical stunt I would recommend to anyone.
Negroes is not a proper term, that the main thing most of us should know. I don't think it's offensive, but by using this term Mr. Sherman may not have helped himself. I could just accuse Sherman of being a suburbanite who's a bit out of touch with race-relations. And yeah I could have been a bit more creative when I said that.

BTW, Rob Sherman just like Monique Davis prior has become Keith Olberman's worst person in the world because of this. Not sure that's a good thing.

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