When Hate Speech Isn't Hate Speech

By Murdock, Deroy | Insight on the News, December 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

When Hate Speech Isn't Hate Speech


Murdock, Deroy, Insight on the News


The furor over alleged bias at Texaco and Avis has raised America's ethnic thermostat to an uncomfortable level. Once again, the specter of whites abusing blacks is in the headlines. What's not in the news, as usual, is the issue of black-on-black racism.

For a museum-grade example of this phenomenon, grab a copy of the November issue of Emerge. This slick monthly, which calls itself "black America's newsmagazine," enjoys an audience of 161,420 readers, some 90 percent of them black. Its cover illustration of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas depicts "Uncle Thomas" as a "Lawn Jockey for the Far Right." This is a racist symbol of the highest order. As Emerge editor George Curry explains, "The lawn jockeys on plantations were used to let other owners know when a slave had escaped."

It gets worse. Accompanying the article on Thomas is another drawing by artist David Beck. It shows Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia relaxing in a leather chair as Thomas, wearing a toothy grin almost as bright as his white gloves, sits at Scalia's feet shining his shoes.

Thomas is not alone. On Nov. 15, black Rep. William Clay, a Missouri Democrat, denounced departing black Rep. Gary Franks, a Connecticut Republican, for his "foot-shuffling, head-scratching `Amos and Andy' brand of `Uncle Tom-ism."' Clay called black conservatives "Negro wanderers" whose goal is "to maim and kill other blacks for the gratification and entertainment of ... ultraconservative white racists."

California Democratic state Sen. Diane Watson, who is black, said this about fellow black Ward Connerly, chief advocate of the California Civil Rights Initiative: . "He has no ethnic pride. He doesn't want to be black.... He married a white woman."

Some years ago, black conservative Thomas Sowell was rumored to be up for a seat in Ronald Reagan's Cabinet. Thomas Atkins, the general counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, claimed Sowell "would play the same kind of role which historically the house riggers played for the plantation owners."

How can blacks maintain the moral high ground against whites (and others) who perpetuate racist stereotypes while inflicting them against our own?

Emerge's heinous illustrations Rive the green light to other racists to use crude images to defame even more blacks. On what grounds will Emerge complain if a white-owned publication depicted, say, Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary as an airborne Aunt Jemima or Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson as a latter-day Steppin' Fetchit? …

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