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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Censoring the Lessons of History

Anthony Weiner
Today's manufactured outrage of the day, brought to you by the New York Post:

Anthony Weiner has come under intense fire from Jewish leaders for invoking Nazi Germany while criticizing the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program.

“Last year, more than 700,000 in New York were stopped — the overwhelming majority of them were young men of color. Ninety-seven percent of them did nothing wrong,” Weiner told largely black congregants in Staten Island’s First Central Baptist Church Sunday.

“And the mayor stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute, statistically this’ and ‘statistically that.’ Well, you can have 100 percent statistical reduction in crime if you stop everybody.

“You could have 1938 Germany, because everyone has to show their papers.”
Apparently, it's terribly offensive to compare a minority population subjected to police state tactics to another minority population subjected police state tactics. Although, I get the feeling that NYP, being a tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, is grossly overstating the situation, cherry-picking their outraged Jewish leaders (who were likely Weiner opponents to begin with) and ignoring the ones who support him. It seems to me that the lessons of the Holocaust are lost if they're never applied. And to attack anyone who draws a historical parallel to one of the modern world's greatest crimes is to guarantee that those lessons are never applied -- and therefore, never learned. No one's saying "stop and frisk" is the Holocaust -- or even that it's anything approaching genocide -- merely that it's totalitarianism.


And the thing is, Weiner's right. When 97% of the targets of racial profiling turn out to have done nothing, then you really have to admit that the profiling is a failure. To continue the profiling anyway, despite the obvious failure of the program and despite protests from the targeted community, is a practice that has a long history and a name -- institutional racism. No, it's not exactly the same as the Holocaust -- and that's not what Weiner was saying anyway -- but it's way over on that side of the spectrum. When you single out one population as the cause of society's problems, you're heading down a road that does not go to a good place. That's the lesson the New York Post would rather we just ignore, because it's more important that Anthony Weiner lose than to recognize the humanity of the black community in New York City.

If you're like me, you've noticed that the right has drawn an "us vs. them" line between themselves and the black community. Always ready to demonize any group for political gain, Republicans have let their racist flags fly. They can't openly despise Latinos anymore, Islamophobia just doesn't pack the punch it used to, and homophobia seems to have become taboo overnight. Who are the GOP without someone to scapegoat, to sow division with, and to hate?

So we come 360 degrees. The "new n*gger" is the old one again. Over at Politico, National Review's Rich Lowry echoes the Washington Post's Richard Cohen -- while amping the stupid up to eleven. Like Cohen, Lowry argues that racial profiling is just great and that Zimmerman was right to do it, while completely undermining that argument by saying it wasn't about race.

That's right, racial profiling is no longer about race. Up is down, left is right, night is day. The gist of both columns is that George Zimmerman should get some sort of freakin' medal for being the guy who had the courage to be afraid of black people. If Trayvon Martin didn't want to be racially profiled, he shouldn't have walked around at night being all black. What did he expect?

Meanwhile, the lesson Rush Limbaugh has taken from the Zimmerman trial is that it's now OK to say "'nigga' with an A on the end." And thanks to Rush for that, actually. Because it demonstrates so directly what everyone else on the right are saying so obliquely -- that the Zimmerman verdict somehow made open racism OK.

These are the kinds of "lessons" people learn when you rope off one section of history as off limits. It's not a violation of decorum or respect to say that people are starting to act like a certain notoriously racist society. Nor is it a violation of Godwin's law. You really do get to compare institutional racism to institutional racism. Especially when that racism is politically motivated.

I know the outrage against Weiner is phony. Hopefully it'll have the shelf-life of most phony outrages and die before the end of the day. But censoring a historical lesson for the sake of winning one election campaign is supremely cynical -- and dangerous.

It's a parallel that people dearly need to hear, so let it be said.


[photo by Boss Tweed]

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