Friday, July 22, 2011

Is There Racism at NPR?

When we think about racism we think in public policy terms. We think that people who oppose civil rights laws are racist. We certainly believe that people who support segregation are racists. Some of us believe that anyone who rejects affirmative action is racists. Some people believe that if you do not support Barack Obama you are ipso facto, a racist.

Other signs of racism include using vulgar or obscene epithets to refer to members of a minority group. This form of racism involves the way we speak about other people.

Yet, there is still a third kind of racism, a kind that is far more clear to members of minority groups than to those who do not belong to those groups. It concerns how members of a majority group speak to and with members of the minority group. It involves everyday social interactions.

You might have voted for Obama and you might be a fervent supporter of affirmative action, and you might never allow a racist term to pass your lips. And yet, how do you interact with a colleague or a neighbor who belongs to a minority group?

So asks Delise Williams, aka Mrs. Juan Williams in comparing her personal experience of the people at NPR with her experience of the people at Fox News.

As you know, NPR treated Juan Williams shabbily, to say the least. As you also know, when Williams was unceremoniously fired from NPR, Fox News gave him a new and better contract to contribute to their news shows. Thus, Roger Ailes was there when Williams needed a friend.

Ask yourself whether Delise Williams is speaking the truth or is engaged in payback: “The NPR people were hypocrites because they are supposed to be the liberals who are accepting of all kinds of people and inclusive, and they were the most exclusive group in my experience of going to events related to work that I have ever seen.”

She is talking about the simplest form of everyday human interactions. She continues to describe her experience: “Even though politically I’m on the other side, the Fox people, included me much more in the interactions and in the gatherings, and I never felt like I was on the outside....

“The Fox gatherings are much diverse.... They have both African-American and whites. It’s great because when I sometimes go down to Fox and wait for Juan in the green room, they all speak to me as if they know me and are very friendly. I feel very comfortable there. With the NPR people, I did not feel comfortable.”

“In fact, she says, ‘I would never drop into NPR, or if I was going over to meet Juan, I sat in the car and waited for him’.”

I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of the way people treat you when you drop by the green room. The sense that you belong, that people are happy to see you, counts a great deal to human beings, as well it should.

You know when you do not feel wanted. Do you know what it’s like to drop by your spouse’s workplace and to feel that you have to wait outside in the car because people are going to make you feel that you do not belong?

To me this rings true. If you ever watch Fox News, Juan Williams is very often a featured commentator.  He is always treated with respect and he enjoys a camaraderie with the other commentators. People like him and he likes them

It’s worth emphasizing the points that Delise Williams makes, because in our concern with overcoming racism, we often forget that it’s not just about having the right ideas. It’s about how you get along with people, how you treat them in your personal interactions.

For all we know the crowd at NPR did not much like Juan Williams because he did not toe the party line. But, is ideological bias really much of an improvement over racial bias?

When you are on the receiving end, it still feels like you are being shunned. It is a very, very disagreeable feeling.


David Foster said...

I suspect this has at least as much to do with credentialism as with racism....Williams is the holder of a bachelor's degree from Haverford College. I bet if it were a Masters from Harvard or Yale, the NPR attitudes toward him and his wife would have been very different.

More and more, I'm coming to the view that education-based credentialism is the root cause of a whole range of our current problems.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree with your general point, though I have been hearing, anecdotally, from business managers that they find today's Ivy League grads to be vastly inferior to state school grads.

It will be interesting to see how that changes the attitudes toward credentials.

Of course, Haverford is a very high prestige school... I had always thought of it as an Ivy equivalent.

I am imagining that Delise Williams had seen the same attitude before, and that in other circumstances when she saw it, it had to do with race.

David Foster said...

The degree to which credentialism is a factor varies a lot from industry to is generally less in a manufacturing company or a software company than in an investment bank or a management consulting firm, and it tends to be very extreme in the "nonprofit" world.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for the clarification.

flynful said...

Liberals believe that blacks get ahead solely through the liberal's beneficence in creating affirmative action. As a result, they do not believe that blacks are capable of doing competent work. So, they will put (better, suffer or allow) blacks into positions of importance but not allow them to exercise the authority and responsibilities inherent in that position. It has nothing to do with credentials or actual level of competence. Blacks who think for themselves are derided by liberals as Oreos or Uncle Toms and their work product is immediately derided without any actual review. Just one example of this superiority. Harry Reid stated that Clarence Thomas' opinions were somehow inferior (I forget the phrasing) without reading any of those opinions, which happen to be well thought out and well written and, worst of all from the liberal perspective, very original and indicative of an independent thinker.