Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Haley's Blind Spot, And Ours

In conversations with folks about the now-infamous "Citizens' Council" remark made by Gov. Barbour to Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard, many have been surprised that a consummate politician like Mr. Barbour could commit such an obvious gaffe.

But consider this: maybe the Governor just has a blind spot in this area. Doesn't anybody remember the "whorehouse" comment reported by The Commercial Appeal by then-candidate Barbour during the 2003 campaign:

Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour scored points in DeSoto County on Monday regarding support for The Med but raised eyebrows with a comment about Head Start during a tour of Sacred Heart School in Southaven.

"Head Start is a godsend for Mississippi," the Republican told Sacred Heart principal Laura Clark. "Some of those kids in it would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now."

Clark said she understood the context of the remark, though she was surprised by his choice of words.

"I think he was trying to represent an extreme situation," she said. "I wasn't offended by it. I believe I know what he meant."

And just as is happening now, Mr. Barbour's damage control team went into high gear. Again, from the Commercial Appeal's 2003 story:

Later Monday, Barbour's communications director said the candidate - who's a deacon in his church and a Sunday school teacher - meant no disrespect.

"It was just a figure of speech," said Quinton Dickerson "Haley was making a point about why Head Start is so important, especially for children who are in a tough situation."
Oh, ok. "Just a figure of speech." Sorry, but the choices one makes in speech -- conscious or not -- prove one's character by circumstantial evidence. In both the "whorehouse" and the "Citizen's Council" remarks, our Governor has exposed the fact that his worldview is distorted by Mississippi's racist past.

Now, there is a difference between active racism, which acts to hurt or oppress an insular minority group because of their race or ethnicity -- and passive racism, which accepts stereotypes about that minority group(for example, that children of impovershed communities would be better off in a whorehouse). The latter isn't good; but it's not the former, either.

Most of us born into the majority race, or into the more empowered economic sector of our society, have the same blind spot as Governor Barbour. The Governor's positive remark about the Citizen's Council shouldn't be (dare I say it) whitewashed. But neither should we take pains to remove the speck in Gov. Barbour's eye to repair his blind spot, before we've removed the log that blinds our own perspective.

No comments: