“I’m not a racist, but…”

Muslims on a plane: Juan Williams gets the shakes? (Photo by Juan E De Cristofaro.)

I once heard a joke third-hand from a friend, a joke I’ve always thought encapsulated so many things about the way underhanded bigotry is expressed in contemporary America:

When someone says, “Look, I’m no racist, but …” what they really mean is, “I’m a racist. Here’s an example.”

Alas, I have not encountered an example yet where this sentence decoding doesn’t hold at least a little bit true. Take Juan Williams’s comments on The O’Reilly Factor, for instance, talking about GWOT, etc.

I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.

That statement and others got the journalist canned from NPR yesterday.

It’s a bit more complicated than the statement, though. Watch the clip. Williams is actually the liberal talking head and appears to have made his “Muslim garb” comment to gain credibility on O’Reilly’s reactionary show — ironcially, in order to make the argument that painting Muslims with a broad brush is undesirable and dangerous.

In other words, he’s effectively saying: Look, Bill, I’m prejudiced  just like you and your viewers. So trust me when I say that there’s still a need to be politically correct.

I take it as a misguided and unwise rhetorical gambit. It failed to make the confusing point Williams was apparently trying for, and legitimized prejudice against Muslims. Take a look.

Update 10/22: Fox has signed Juan Williams for a $2 million, three-year contract.

One thought on ““I’m not a racist, but…”

  1. What a lesson in the distracting techniques that can be made by overbearing people in a ‘debate’, and thanks for reminding me why I am not interested in listening to Fox News. And I agree that Williams’ comments were non-productive. It is a common distracting technique to say that ‘politically correct’ can be equated with hypocracy. The concept of political correctness should really be used to emphasize that certain statements (racist, sexist, etc) can be used in dishonest ways and thus are best stayed away from.

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