I’m coming a bit late to the blogspat between Robert George and Steve Gilliard over a racially offensive item Gilliard put on his blog. Gilliard went after Maryland Lt. Gov Michael Steele, a black Republican who is now running for the U.S. Senate, because Steele wouldn’t condemn Gov. Robert Ehrlich for holding an event at an all-white golf club. His method of attack was extreme racial caricature: the blog item, titled “Simple Sambo Wants to Move to the Big House”,” featured a doctored photo of Steele as a minstrel in blackface, with such language as, “I’s Simple Sambo and I’s running for the Big House.” (The photo and most of text have now been removed; see explanation at the end of this post. Update: Michelle Malkin has the original “Sambo” image here.)
George lambasted Gilliard for “trading in racist imagery” to “mock and denounce [Steele's] very existence as a black man who chooses to be Republican.” After more publicity from Andrew Sullivan, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Tim Kaine, a Democrat, withdrew his ads from Gilliard’s blog, prompting Gilliard to fulminate against Kaine and Sullivan and then against George. Gilliard and George, by the way, are both black.
This is not the first example of racist rhetoric being used against black Republicans. In 2002, for instance, singer and actor Harry Belafonte referred to Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice as “house slaves.” And it’s a pretty despicable tactic. Commenting on Belafonte’s remarks, Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page wrote, “Name-calling is the last refuge of the intellectually bankrupt. In this case, it shows a certain moral bankruptcy too.” If so, Gilliard has been in Chapter 11 for quite a while: he’s yet another Ann Coulter clone (differences in gender, race, and politics notwithstanding) who thinks rudeness equals wit and that people of opposing viewpoints are not to be debated but ridiculed, slammed and demonized. He has already made up his mind that conservatives hate black people, so what’s the point of dialogue?
Gilliard evidently thinks that no one should have a problem with his use of malicious racial stereotypes because he is black. He also thinks it’s outrageous that some people evidently thought he was white, since no white liberal or progressive would dare employ such racial caricature against a black man. (Yet it’s all right for him to peddle this imagery to his readers, including ones who aren’t black.) But actually, Gilliard may be off-base about that. Ted Rall, who over a year ago drew a cartoon that had Condoleeza Rice referring to herself as Bush’s “house nigga,” is white. So is Jeff Danziger, who depicted Rice as Gone with the Wind‘s Mammy saying “I don’t know nuthin’ about no aluminum tubes.” While Danziger was referring to a movie character and probably wasn’t thinking of race, his cartoon was at the very least racially insensitive.
It seems fairly clear to me that such racial putdowns are more likely to be used against black conservatives, in the same way that some progressives think sexist slurs against right-wing women are all right — because, being politically incorrect, they don’t share in the protected status of victim of racism/sexism. (If anyone has examples of racist imagery being used to mock liberal/left-wing black public figures — other than on openly racist websites — please send them in.)
And speaking of sexism: if Steve Gilliard feels that he’s free to use racist images and language because he’s black, may we assume that he is also female, since he has no compunction about mocking conservative women in blatantly sexist terms? About a year ago, Gilliard wrote about the wedding of journalist and serial plagiarist Ruth Shalit, using the event as an occasion to make fun of Shalit. There’s certainly plenty to make fun of; writing for The New Republic and plagiarizing from Washington Post columnist David Broder is right up there with committing robbery just outside a police station. But Gilliard’s mockery has a specific twist. He mentions that after being fired by The New Republic, Shalit was hired by Salon.com to write about advertising but lasted there only a short time before getting caught in another scandal. Then, Gilliard writes (my apologies for the language):
Now, why did Shalit have such a charmed career? Because she and her sister Wendy were, for lack of a better phrase, fuckable. Nobody cared what Shalit wrote as long as they could hop in bed with her. Now, to be fair, this has nothing to do with Talbot, who was 3000 miles away from his writer, but it sure cut her slack in Washington. While Wendy made a point of her virginity, Ruth, well, that wasn’t the issue with her.
Lack of a better phrase, indeed.
Note the impeccable logic. Ruth Shalit’s hiring by Salon shows that she had a “charmed” career, and it was charmed because she was willing to hop in bed with men who were willing to promote her career … except that the man who hired her for Salon was 3000 miles away. For some reason, Wendy Shalit is smeared by association as well, even though Gilliard tells us that she “made a point of her virginity” (actually, I believe she merely urged young women to forgo premarital sex but refused to discuss her own personal life) and thus clearly wasn’t doing any bed-hopping.
This is vile stuff, and vile in a peculiarly sexist way. (Shalit was, in fact, a talented journalist, just an ethically challenged one.) And there is, of course, the political factor: according to Gilliard, “Ruth Shalit in her New Republic career, was a race baiter. She wrote a long, nasty and racist article for the New Republic, on I think DC.” Actually, the 1995 article was about racial politics at The Washington Post and asserted that the push for “diversity,” while laudable in some ways, had created a lot of tensions and problems. While it contained some embarrassing errors, the former president of the American Journalism Review wrote that it touched on some real issues, and called it “a layered and textured piece.” To Gilliard, any discussion of problems with preferential hiring is obviously racist.
To sexism, add a strong whiff of Jew-baiting. Gilliard’s swipe at Shalit is titled, “Plagerist (sic) marries, turns husband into a jew (sic)” — a reference to the fact that Shalit’s husband converted to Judaism. It is also accompanied by an antique photo captioned, “Jewish Wedding. Plagerist (sic) Ruth Shalit had one of these.” Somehow, I doubt that Gilliard’s “you’re allowed to use slurs against your own kind” rule applies in this case.
As for the “Sambo” affair: the “Sambo” image is now gone from Gilliard’s site and replaced with this. Why? Apparently, the picture Gilliard had Photoshopped with blackface was copyrighted to The Washington Post, whose lawyers promptly contacted Gilliard. Gilliard replaced it with a public-domain photo. Only this time, he didn’t “minstrelize” it but superimposed it on an image of money. “Now, some people might mistake this as regret,” Gilliard writes. No, of course not.
Update: More from Jeff at Protein Wisdom. Astoundingly, some black leaders are openly saying that racially tinged slams are all right if directed at Republicans.
Speaking of sexist slurs against right-wing women: back in my college days, I heard a male student who prided himself on being pro-feminist quote, with great gusto, some comedian’s joke: “Have you noticed that all the women in those anti-abortion marches are so ugly, no one would want to f*** them anyway?” To this day, I regret that I didn’t ask him if he would have told (or laughed at) the same joke if it was directed at women in anti-rape marches. And I’m pro-choice.