John Mark Reynolds- Contributor
Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey
Honors Institute, and Associate Professor of Philosophy,
at Biola University.
Rush, and Uncle Remus
Opinions and paternalism...
[John Mark Reynolds] 10/6/03
Rush was wrong -- or more properly, he was insensitive. Speaking
about Eagle’s quarterback Donovan McNabb, he
don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what
we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think
media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.”
I am a long time listener
to Rush Limbaugh and he is no racist. Liberals are piling on
Rush with delight that is unseemly. If
the worth of a man is measured only by the character of his enemies,
Limbaugh is approaching sainthood. Some of Limbaugh’s critics
worry about racial insensitivity so often conservatives are apt
to mock the whole idea.
conservatives know the best way to deal with overly sensitive
people is not by becoming rude. It is not hard
know the difference between dripping hyper-sensitivity and bad
taste. Only a few ill mannered louts found it funny when some
liberals made fun of President Reagan when he announced he had
Alzheimer’s. That was insensitive. The German government
recognizes a special duty to avoid even the appearance of anti-Semitism.
That is properly sensitive. In our rude culture, where everything
is fair game and manners are mocked, it may sound old fashioned
-- but it is possible to go too far. Rush Limbaugh’s statements
were very insensitive.
In recent history,
African-Americans have been discouraged from playing quarterback.
There are suspiciously few black coaches
in most professional sports. Conservatives do not deny that this
is the case, though they do disagree with liberals about the
proper remedy. Liberals should not accuse conservatives of being
racist or insensitive for this disagreement. Conservatives must
be careful not to sound as if their opposition to certain remedies
to racism is based on the idea that racism is a thing of the
past or is an unimportant problem. Being sensitive to real pain
is not a sign of weakness, it's a dose of George Bush’s
Strong claims demand strong evidence. Limbaugh claimed that
McNabb gets a break from the media because of his race. Rush
had better have some strong evidence to back up that claim or
he should retract it. Real people suffer every day because they
are black in America. Common humanity demands reasonable sensitivity
to that pain. Race should be discussed with care by anyone.
It is not good enough
for Limbaugh to merely defend his right to express his point
of view. He is entitled to his opinions,
but an opinion without evidence in important matters is an irresponsible
opinion. Strong opinions about trivial matters, like who will
win the Super Bowl, require no evidence at all. I still think
the Packers would have beaten those cursed Broncos in Super Bowl
XXXII if they had just run the ball more often. Asking me to
prove it with some logical syllogism would take all the fun out
of opining about sports. However, if I choose to introduce race,
religion, abortion, or any of a host of other meaningful issues
into the discussion, then I better be ready for serious discourse.
Rush brought race into the happy evidence-free world of sport’s
opinion making. He owes his listeners an argument or an apology.
Rush denies that he
is a racist. No sensible person who knows his work would come
to the conclusion that Limbaugh is a racist.
In denying the extreme charge of racism, Limbaugh misses the
point. One can be a boor without being a cad. Rush has been unnecessarily
insensitive, unless he has evidence to support his claim about
Donovan McNabb. For once this misused word, “insensitive” fits
Many people who care
for him will point this out to Limbaugh. Fewer will point out
the mistakes of a more odious-- because
less recognized -- type of racist. These are liberals inflicted
with “white guilt.” This overly sensitive type rationalizes
even wickedness if done by a “minority.” This is
racism by condescension. When I was in elementary school, I had
a teacher who would praise even bad work done by our lone African-American
student. That unlucky young man was still being judged by the
color of his skin and not on the content of his character or
the quality of his work.
The overly sensitive
racist talks frequently, too frequently, about his “black friend.” He is willing to distort
history to cover up unpleasant truths. He tries to relate to
what he imagines African-American culture to be and agonizes
over whether his friend is “black” or an “African-American.” He
often becomes the nanny protecting his “black friends” from
all manner of unpleasantness. He is always thinking in terms
of race. He keeps his “friend” from being exposed
to potentially bad words, ideas, or images.
This paternalism is
rarely condemned and is often praised. Companies that adopt
this posture will even pass up profit to avoid even
the charge of insensitivity. One of the best examples is the
suppression of an American film classic out of fear of being
labeled insensitive. The Disney company continues to keep the
classic film "Song of the South" out of American stores.
"Song of the South" was one of the first of Walt Disney’s
experiments mixing rich animation with live actors. Disney would
go on to perfect the genre in "Mary Poppins." "Song
of the South" is a weaker film, but full of wonderful moments
and music. The classic "Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah" is so good
that it lives on outside of the film.
paternalism is keeping the acting of James Baskett (Uncle Remus)
and Hattie McDaniel (Tempy) out
of public view. By far the strongest actors in the movie, they
form the emotional center of the film.
Though sometimes limited by their roles, neither acts in a demeaning
or undignified manner. Baskett portrays Remus as the sort of
sage that everyone wishes they had for a surrogate father.
The gentle and profound stories of Uncle Remus are now recognized
as invaluable, if imperfect, echoes of a rich African-American
culture. Slaves created stories that fused bits of African, Christian,
and traditional American ideas into a new culture. These stories
will long outlast attempts to ban them. They will be read by
children, and scholars, when more sanitized stuff is gratefully
As to stereotyped
images of race, they certainly exist in "Song
of the South." They are a sad reminder of the way things
were in a certain era of Hollywood. However, I suspect that a
DVD release of "Song of the South" will do little damage
now. The stereotypes are so dated as to be merely sad and not
so harmful. Disney retains potentially offensive material in
other movies, such as the black birds who sing in "Dumbo." The "Song
of the South" is what it is and no one is served by hiding
movie history from viewers.
Where would Disney
stop if they applied this policy consistently? Stereotyped
views of women appear in many films. If Disney can
release "Summer Magic," where girls are advised to “walk
feminine, talk feminine” if they wish to catch a beau,
then they can risk "Song of the South." Old movies
are what they are, for good and bad, and the American people
can be trusted with them.
Disney has a right
to do what it wants with its property, but it is being paternalistic
and overly sensitive with this movie.
Disney should release it and face up to what it was and is. Rush
Limbaugh was not careful enough with his chatter on a sport’s
show. He should own up to it and move on with his fine career.
These troubles with race relations are so hard, that it is tempting
to ignore them or pretend they do not exist. Here Uncle Remus’ wisdom
can help, “You can’t run away from trouble. There
aint no place that far.” Both Rush and Disney should heed
2003 John Mark Reynolds