The National Review has fired longtime contributor John Derbyshire over a recent article, The Talk: Nonblack Version. Drawing from a resurgence among Blacks concerning “the talk”–a conversation with African American children conducted by their parents or guidance figures about how to navigate their way through the United States turbulent environment of white supremacy and rejection of Black identity. Derbyshire’s piece, which is intended to give white kids advice on how to navigate through America with the existence of Blacks was met with opposition from Blacks, whites, and even his conservative colleagues.
After the backlash, John Derbyshire was fired by The National Review. Of course, this political act/business decision was greeted with cheers and touted as a win–a small victory for leftists by dethroning another conservative nutcase, and a victory for those who constantly fight against racists and other bigots. But, I’m not so sure the firing of a racist commentator/columnist is all that great of an idea. Is it possible that getting rid of racist commentary is contrary to our own movements toward positively shaping the world?
When it comes to ridding the atmosphere of what we perceive as negative ideals, there are some surefire ways of doing it. In recent history, it was done by making calls to firing those who puke words onto the pages we read, our various monitors, and television screens, and even organizing boycotts. These tactics force publishers and producers to make the persons (re)presenting the ideas disappear, and question and reject similar views from making it to press. It all sounds great when those views are ones you oppose. But, it is the same rationale and tactics used to keep even your ideas, or ideas that could change the world positively, from being amplified for the world to hear/read and ponder.
The fight to keep certain viewpoints out of range or away from earshot is a staple in conservatism. The reason the world continues down its long road to destruction is because certain views are kept out of the mainstream discussions. The reason millions die due to starvation, the reason we are constantly inundated with war, the reason millions are crippled in poverty, the reason racism and classism are alive and flourishing is because the voices of those who truly offer insight into are castigated by a portion of society. People who speak out against the above atrocities are shut up, fired, and their ideas are locked away. The institutions that provide any kind of platform for those who speak against the ills of society are reluctant to air any of those views due to fear of backlash similar to the response after publishing John Derbyshire’s article.
It is not only the media outlets, but entertainment institutions, institutions of education, and many others who feel the pressure to not allow so-called radical ideas to see the light of day. Due to there being so much pressure from any side over issues and so-called accountability, ideas stay narrow. We’ve created a little box of ideas that are acceptable or worthy of consideration. And, if your ideas do not fit into that box, then you and your ideas will be found on society’s collective chopping block floor.
After winning the Oscar for Best Documentary at the Academy Awards, weeks before initial strikes to invade and occupy Iraq, Michael Moore said in his acceptance speech, ““We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in a time where we have fictitious election results, that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.” Before Moore could even finish his speech, the music was turned up, and he was rush off stage. The act of silencing Michael Moore over comments about an illegal war that ended up resulting in the killing of over a million Iraqi people was justified, because it was deemed unacceptable and too radical; it went outside of that mainstream box set up and upheld by many.
Something similar happened to the Dixie Chicks, when at a performance Natalie Maines commented, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Not long after there were the organized boycotts of the Dixie Chicks, and radio stations decided to ban the group from rotation prompting an apology only a few days later: As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect. We are currently in Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a result of the perceived rush to war.
People who oppose another’s views attempt to cause detriment to the person who vocalizes or writes such beliefs. Today, a person’s livelihood depends upon their job or career. So, firing is always a way to achieve some sort of payback for making comments antithetical to someone’s own beliefs. We see this often when voters call for resignation of elected officials–or push to have them elected out of office–and, Roland Martin’s CNN suspension over comments about David Beckham’s Super Bowl underwear commercial. As a matter of fact, a man by the name of Sunni Khalid, a managing news editor at NPR station WYPR-FM, was fired for his own TRUTHFUL comments. Khalid stated, “I, for one, have had enough of this pandering before the Israeli regime,” he wrote. “The war-mongering toward Iran has, once again, distracted the world from Israel’s brutal military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.”
Enthusiasts who view these sorts of handlings of comments are sure to censor themselves so that they do not meet the same fate as people who have out-the-box comments in the past. Even students are feeling the heat for expressing themselves. Jada Williams, a Black eighth grader at School #3 in Rochester, New York, was forced to leave the Rochester City School District due to ill-treatment by staff after writing an essay openly discussion her ideas on race in the context of public education. She wrote, “Most white teachers that I have come into contact with, over the last several years of my life, failed to instruct us even today.” In her award-winning essay, a comparative analysis of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, she drew parallels to her own experience saying, “I feel like not much has changed, just different people, different era, the same old discrimination still resides in the hearts of the white man.” Almost immediately, this “A” student was transformed into a “D” student by school staff. Because her views did not fit into the prescribe box, her livelihood was attacked by those who disagreed, since success in school is viewed as a determining factor in success at life. It was also an attempt by staff to show other students what would happen to them if they attempted to step out of the box.
No matter how anyone looks at the John Derbyshire incident, it remains true that it a tactic directly linked to shrinking of the box of public discourse. It provides the foundational structure for disallowing different ideas to be amplified and shared with everyone. Derbyshire was fired the same reason as Sunni Khalid; he said something that does not sit well with others. But, we should allow others speak their minds. Not only does firing someone for what you may call bigoted or anti-humane justify the firing of people who convey what you may call right, just, and absolutely needed in public discourse, it leaves no open window into the minds, thoughts, and ideas of people who help to cause and propagate the atrocities of hate around the world. It leaves you at an advantage when it comes to combating the ideologies that reign in a world of white supremacy. When John Derbyshire writes “Only one black in six is more intelligent than the average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the average black,” we get a pier into some of the white minds of 2012. Instead of concluding without such sound evidence, we can see clearly that many of the ideas from 60 plus years ago are still prominent in the minds of many. After the firing of Derbyshire, his type will be much more reluctant to share such valuable information with us. If this continues, no longer will we be able effectively challenge those ideas and use it to combat racism and bigotry.