A Ku Indeed!

Lynching Tiger: The Ethics of Racism

Posted in Ethics, Life by Chris on January 11, 2008

You’ve got to admit, Kelly Tilghman’s comment about how the young golfers, in order to move up in the world of the sport, should take Tiger Woods into a back alley and “lynch him” was monumentally stupid. At times like this it really makes you think — although people can always “slip up” and say something they really didn’t intend on saying, in such highly charged contexts such as race you would think that people would be extra careful to think before they speak. Especially before using “lynching” in the context of talking about a black person.

What I think is more interesting here, though, is something that Al Sharpton said about the controversy. When it was suggested that Tilghman has no history at all of making racist or at least racially insensitive comments and as a result, that the commentator should be cut at least some slack, Sharpton responded by saying it is the word and not the history of the speaker that matters. He said:

What she said is racist. Whether she’s a racist — whether she runs around at night making racist statements — is immaterial.”

Given my own interest in virtue ethics, which holds that there’s a difference between saying that something is a good act and someone is a good person –specifically, virtue theory suggests that “the good’ pertains to people, and then only derivatively to actions — I was intrigued by Sharpton’s suggestion.

Is racism an action or is it a description that belongs to a person? If Silghman really does have no history at all of making such statements and truly harbors no racist attitudes in her character, does that make what she said less racist? Similarly, would it be worse is a known racist said the same thing? Or is the racism “level” of a comment really fixed, independently of the character and history of the speaker, as Sharpton suggests?

Advertisements
Tagged with:

24 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Just Some White Guy said, on January 11, 2008 at 1:34 am

    I find this absolutely rediculous. The fact that it is getting international attention makes me sick. Racism will never end if we cannot determine what a non threatening remark is. This newswoman has no intention of harming any african americans nor does she promote lynching. This race card bandwagon needs to make it’s last stop. Real Racism is rampant on television! What about the hundreds of disposable black sitcoms on t.v. that constantly use the word cracker and whitey on B.E.T. I don’t see any white people standing up for themselves. Maybe that’s because we let it go, we don’t make a big deal of it on national television. Maybe if african americans do the same racism will eventually melt away. I highly doubt this will happen though because we have a world filled with “it’s because i’m black isn’t it” black people.

  2. Chris said, on January 11, 2008 at 1:56 am

    White Guy,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Whether the situation is being overplayed or not (which it may be), one thing is pretty clear — it was a patently stupid remark, given the fact that blacks in this country for a long time had an unfortunate historical connection to ‘lynchings.’ And the relationship was not a happy one, clearly.

    Also, although I think it is dumb to call people cracker and whitey, and poor judgment to allow it on network TV, it seems naive to equate this with doing the same thing in reverse, given that whites have, historically, being in a position of power over blacks. Given that whites as a group have never been threatened by blacks as a group, it’s pretty easy to explain why whites are seemingly ‘big enough’ to “let it go.”

  3. Bil said, on January 11, 2008 at 2:15 am

    Dear “just some white guy”

    You have got some nerve, I wish you could experience just a fraction of what regular law abiding black people have have had to put up with for the last few hundred years.
    the way you talk its pretty clear you you have had this “pompus , get my way all the time, spoiled white boy mentality” all your life.
    until you have the experience of what a black man goes through throughout his life, I suggest you keep your pampered tail up in your little white castle.

  4. John said, on January 11, 2008 at 3:16 am

    Oh come on you guys. White Guy might be wrong in the way he used his words, but he is absolutely correct. I’ll start with Chris. I understand your argument completely about how whites have the power and blacks don’t ( in a nutshell). White Guy understands this, but he doesn’t buy into such an excuse, and neither do I. So using your model white people today must pay for something that was done many many years ago. That sounds fair. Al Sharpton is a poverty/racial pimp, that is quite clear to me. Him going around with this “holier than thou” attitude breeds racism in young whites that otherwise would feel none. This whole DOUBLE STANDARD thing is wayy out of hand. And Bil, if you want to get to some people who have suffered, and MUCH MORE than blacks in America, it’s the Jews. Now how many times have you heard a Jew complain about this? (WWII ring a bell?) I can honestly say I never have. And you’re talking thousands of years, not hundreds. And this comment, ““pompus , get my way all the time, spoiled white boy mentality” all your life.
    until you have the experience of what a black man goes through throughout his life, I suggest you keep your pampered tail up in your little white castle.”, you assume he is some rich white boy because he expresses his thoughts in a way you don’t agree with. You literally just ASSUME all this, make a logical debate, your words do nothing to advance anyones thoughts.

  5. John said, on January 11, 2008 at 3:20 am

    Forgot one thing. I by no means side with this anchor making such a comment. It was in extremely poor taste. He should be suspended and reprimanded. It just really gets under my skin when Al Sharpton feels he has the power to ask for firings of other people. Unfortunately, since corporations and news networks give him the title of “President of Black People”, he has this power.

  6. Ash said, on January 11, 2008 at 3:22 am

    When Tom Wolfe wrote the Bonfire of the Vanities he succinctly captured Al Sharpton as the Reverend Bacon. I believe its more prudent to ask why Sharpton would utilize rhetoric in divorcing Kelly Tilgham’s character (affable and benevolent) from her statement. I know what David Horowitz or some other “diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights” would have to say.

  7. Chris said, on January 11, 2008 at 3:52 am

    John,

    First of all, I didn’t say anything supporting Al Sharpton. I said, if you read my comment above, that the situation may in fact be overblown.

    That said, does this mean that white people have to “pay” for what was done many years ago? It depends on what you mean by “pay”.

    Does it mean that whites should be especially careful about saying certain things around blacks, because whites have been associated with doing horrific things to blacks historically (and not _that_ historically, I’ll add)? Sure. Why not?

    I’m not sure why this seems so burdensome. It seems perfectly reasonable to me. I’m not talking about reparations, I’m talking about moral sensitivity. Some comments given this fact will be especially insensitive coming from a white person. I’m not sure why that’s such a hard thing to accept.

  8. Chris said, on January 11, 2008 at 3:55 am

    Ash,

    This was actually (apart from the side conversation going on here) my main question. Still, I don’t think the divorce of character from actions is rhetoric. The position has a very long history behind it, and a respectable one at that. I’m not sure that it works for racism (though it might, that’s what I’m inquiring about), but for other things (like ethics) there are a lot of people who take it be the philosophically stronger position.

  9. John said, on January 11, 2008 at 4:04 am

    I know you do not mean reparations or anything of that kind, but many whites have payed for comments that were taken out of context. Sharpton has said many racially charged comments and has been documented many times using racial slurs. So what is his excuse? His ancestors were slaves so he can say anything he wants I guess. I understand being sensitive and using your words wisely as a white person, I subscribe to this way of thinking. It just angers me when such a blatant double standard is getting worse and worse.

  10. A young African American said, on January 11, 2008 at 4:18 am

    WOW! I’m speechless. Al Sharpton is not the problem. White America is not the problem. People dismissing history like it has nothing to do with present day is the problem.

    To answer the author’s question [since I do hold a Masters degree and I want to keep this as scholarly as possible], I think a racist comment is “fixed.” I say this because Ms. Tilghman was malicious, but as a broadcaster she should be held accountable. Words are powerful. Words can oppress. A slip of the tongue is not an excuse.

    The problem in how America was built. Most African Americans are not immigrants and didn’t arrive voluntarily. Slaves were seen as and treated like chattel. Due to this, in American history, words like lynch still drum up memories of the not so distant past. Blacks were lynched. Blacks were murdered. Families were shattered. Lives were crushed. This past can’t be dismissed because, whether you believe it or not, Blacks are still feeling the ramifications from this horrid past.

    It is easy for Al Sharpton to be attacked. He is the only one keeping broadcasters and public figures in line, and addressing the underlying bigotry still present in America. The last I checked, we have free speech, however, with consequences. So, Ms. Tilghman should be repremanded for her speech…just like Rev. Sharpton is being chastised by an angry group of Whites for his advocacy for Blacks.

    He is only being targeted because he is 1 of only 2 African American figures who can gain national media attention. If some Whites are so angered by the use of racially charged language, and feel offended by shows on “BET”, by every right…please…march, picket, protest. Don’t knock African American’s needs for accountability, get your own! After 400 years of oppression, I think Blacks just might have earned the right to demand someone should be fired. It’s long over do. We are sick-and-tired of being offended without justice. Too long we endured it.

    But hey, my comments doesn’t mean much I suppose. I’m just an educated, 26 year old Black woman who hopes when I start a family, my children will live in a more racially sound America. Not an America in which grown people will get online and finger point. Not an America where people who read my post will be filled with so much anger they will try to cut down my words and feelings. Our history is to blame, not Al Sharpton.

    Thank you reverend for speaking up for those of us who can’t get on the news and say how we feel.

  11. John said, on January 11, 2008 at 4:19 am

    To try and answer the question, I do not think Kelly Tilghman is a racist, a conclusion I reached by looking at her past and person. If a known racist said this same comment my reaction would be of a completely different nature. People make mistakes all the time, being in broadcast can make a poor comment look much worse than it actually was. I see Sharpton as a racist, so I judge/scrutinize his comments harshly.

  12. A young African American said, on January 11, 2008 at 4:19 am

    WOW! I’m speechless. Al Sharpton is not the problem. White America is not the problem. People dismissing history like it has nothing to do with present day is the problem.

    To answer the author’s question [since I do hold a Masters degree and I want to keep this as scholarly as possible], I think a racist comment is “fixed.” I say this because Ms. Tilghman was malicious, but as a broadcaster she should be held accountable. Words are powerful. Words can oppress. A slip of the tongue is not an excuse.

    The problem in how America was built. Most African Americans are not immigrants and didn’t arrive voluntarily. Slaves were seen as and treated like chattel. Due to this, in American history, words like lynch still drum up memories of the not so distant past. Blacks were lynched. Blacks were murdered. Families were shattered. Lives were crushed. This past can’t be dismissed because, whether you believe it or not, Blacks are still feeling the ramifications from this horrid past.

    It is easy for Al Sharpton to be attacked. He is the only one keeping broadcasters and public figures in line, and addressing the underlying bigotry still present in America. The last I checked, we have free speech, however, with consequences. So, Ms. Tilghman should be repremanded for her speech…just like Rev. Sharpton is being chastised by an angry group of Whites for his advocacy for Blacks.

    He is only being targeted because he is 1 of only 2 African American figures who can gain national media attention. If some Whites are so angered by the use of racially charged language, and feel offended by shows on “BET”, by every right…please…march, picket, protest. Don’t knock African American’s needs for accountability, get your own! After 400 years of oppression, I think Blacks just might have earned the right to demand someone should be fired. It’s long over do. We are sick-and-tired of being offended without justice. Too long we endured it.

    But hey, my comment doesn’t mean much I suppose. I’m just an educated, 26 year old Black woman who hopes when I start a family, my children will live in a more racially sound America. Not an America in which grown people will get online and finger point. Not an America where people who read my post will be filled with so much anger they will try to cut down my words and feelings. Our history is to blame, not Al Sharpton.

    Thank you reverend for speaking up for those of us who can’t get on the news and say how we feel.

  13. A young African American said, on January 11, 2008 at 4:27 am

    Oh..and whether Ms. Tilghman is a racist is not the point…she should have know better. Saying ‘I’m sorry and I’ll never do it again” may have appeased Tiger Woods, but there is a whole entire community of people to answer to. Is Al Sharpton a racist? I wouldn’t know. I have never met him. I just know he advocates for African Americans. Maybe if we had more public advocates in the black community who could gain national media attention, John and others couldn’t name call and focus their energies on Rev Sharpton. But hey, they can believe what they want…whatever will help them sleep at night.

  14. John said, on January 11, 2008 at 4:31 am

    So YAA, you say the problem is not with white America in your thesis, but then go on to have two paragraphs devoted to comments regarding the actions of whites. This is a little contradictory to me. I am not trying to “finger point”, I feel Al Sharpton adds to this problem of racism in America. Didn’t you say people in the media “should be held accountable”.

  15. Million said, on January 12, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Wow, looks like your post hit a nerve CP.

    I’m not going to provide a solution to this discussion, but I feel like I have a piece to provide. There is a difference between being held responsible for the actions of one’s ancestors and living with the consequences of them. Let me explain.

    My ancestors probably owned slaves. They may have been KKK members and perpetrated racial violence too. But I didn’t and am not responsible for their actions. In fact, I am completely appalled by what they did.

    Being their descendant, however and understanding the context of my time, it is my responsibility to ensure that I remain especially sensitive to the actions of those who came before me. It’s my responsibility to ensure that the negative actions of the past don’t continue forward. I have to live with the awful legacy of a racist American past.

    Yes, I’m not responsible for the actions of my ancestors, but I am responsible for myself, and – no matter how I may dislike it – who I am is shaped by what came before.

    As a white man, I shouldn’t unnecessarily feel guilty for things that were done before I was born, however I should feel guilty if I perpetrate those same stereotypes and racisms. Like someone born black, I have to live with the consequences of actions taken by those before me. It just so happens that these consequences won’t show up as a type of skin color.

  16. The Truth said, on January 12, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    What if someone said that if you wanted to defeat Joe Lieberman for a seat in senate they should take Joe and burn him in a gas chamber? How would people respond?

  17. Chris said, on January 12, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    The Truth,

    A similar example had crossed my mind as well. Of course, this would be especially offensive if the speaker were German and living in Germany at the time.

  18. Chris said, on January 12, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    AJ,

    Yeah, it’s a nerve touching topic. I suppose the problem nowadays is that both sides feel like victims, so they are trying to out-victimize one another. Blacks feel victimized for the obvious reasons. Whites feel victimized due to affirmative action, political correctness, and so on, and so feel that they too have righteousness on their side.

    Although I think that white folks can make some points that make sense (does it make sense to tall white people crackers on TV?), I still believe that that equalizing the two kinds of “victimizations” is, if anything, an experiment in superficial naivety (at best).

  19. The Truth said, on January 12, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    Chris,

    What if someone said that today. What if someone said this on MSNBC this evening. Would people scream antisemitism. I’m certain they would. What do others think? The analogies here are The Golf Channel and MSNBC/lynching and the gas chamber/ and Tiger Woods and Joe Lieberman.

    So the point is simply that those who are claiming that her remark should not be seen as racism should rethink that argument, unless they want contradict themselves in similar cases.

    By the way, i enjoy your posts over at “In Socrates’ Wake”. I posted as “The Professor” in the last twenty minutes.

  20. The Truth said, on January 12, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    AJ,

    My point is not about victimization, but being consistent in calling both acts racist. Period.

  21. amber said, on January 14, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Newscasters should not suggest that an athlete or anybody be killed.

    Race should not even be relevant!

    Suggesting a racial killing in jest is just awful.

    What she said was completely unacceptable and she should probably be fired since her job is communicating, and she totally failed, unless maybe if she could prove that she learned her lesson. Actually I think she doesn’t even deserve a second chance.

    What she said was racist in itself and she is in the wrong.

    Most everybody doesn’t have a regard for history. Generally, we take all the work and the suffering that finally enacted change for granted and it just gets forgotten in the modern shuffle which is a shame.

    Subtle racism or other discrimination is so terrible, which is evident especially because social disadvantages still exist for minority groups.

  22. Million said, on January 15, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    The Truth,

    It’s interesting that you point out what you do, because I have always seen racism as a product historically connected to victimization. I don’t doubt that each can exist independently of one another, however I think it’s hard to argue that a victim of racism can be compared to a victim of gross and painfull injustice directly caused by racism.

    Racism may be racism, but there are varing shades of it’s dark fanacticism; just as there are shades of it’s unfortionate consequeces. I happen to think the real question here is what those shades should entail.

  23. John said, on January 15, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    You kidding me Amber? She should be fired and NEVER given another chance, I’d hate to be your boyfriend? What about black leaders that have said similar things and never got any backlash? What black leaders would you fire if you applied the same harsh grading criteria? Please ANSWER. As for the subtle racism, it is not just minorities that feel racism, whites are capable of being victims of racism (believe it or not). I know white business owners in San Antonio that have felt discrimination dealing with Hispanic business owners, a group that makes of the majority of San Antonio’s demographic.

  24. eyeingtenure said, on January 15, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Racism is in the intent. Pure and simple.

    http://awaitingtenure.wordpress.com


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: