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Human Interest Stories Reveal the Worst in Us

Posted: 02/29/2012 12:58 pm

Recent news cycles have been dominated by the rise and fall of pop music icon Whitney Houston and the Horatio Alger-like exploits of basketball sensation Jeremy Lin.

Houston's downfall, before her death, had been well chronicled over the years, including the reality show, Being Bobby Brown, where a portion of her dysfunction was on public display.

Conversely, the Lin story comes at a time when the NBA desperately needed a shot in the arm. The undrafted, twice-cut point guard for the New York Knicks who received no scholarship offers after high school is projected to soon have the most popular selling NBA jersey in the world.

These two seemingly incongruent human-interest stories unexpectedly coalesced to reveal the worst side of human behavior.

Shortly after Houston's death, two radio DJs in Los Angeles referred to her on air as a "crack ho." The malefactors, John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, were suspended for 10 days by KFI in Los Angeles. They also have apologized for the comments.

Lin, who thus far has been the feel-good sports story of the year, was smeared by ESPN, which promoted an article on its mobile devices by pairing an image of Lin with the headline "Chink in the Armor."

Anthony Frederico, the editor responsible for publishing the offensive headline, was subsequently fired. He, along with ESPN, have since apologized for any harm done, arguing that the title carried no racial motivation.

Meanwhile, sports columnist Jason Whitlock chimed in with a tweet about Lin that was racist and fatuous.

What is it about the culture that such statements can be made and it is only afterward that the perpetrators see the error of their ways?

Such ex post facto illumination suggests the contrition exhibited is based more on the reaction to the statements. A lack of public outcry most likely would have sent the unfortunate message of business as usual.

These statements that most would abhor must be examined beyond the individuals in question and to the collective behavior of humanity.

Even if the aforementioned derogatory statements about Houston and Lin were made under the shroud of severe ignorance, it demonstrates an incomprehensible lack of good taste.

At what point in our public discourse does good taste factor? Do reasonable persons determine good taste only after our desires for the sensational have irretrievably crossed the moral line?

Maybe poor taste is an oversimplification. Could this phenomenon be the byproduct of a collective desire to only know our story, while eschewing all others?

America is a country of stories. Every group, with one notable exception, has a story that explains how they or their ancestors arrived. For some, the story goes through Ellis Island; for others, it may be in the bowels of a slave ship.

What most of us have in common is that our story includes various levels of dehumanization.

Our lack of curiosity about the stories of others contributes to an arrested development that, in some cases, renders us unable to see their humanity.

What harm will one last parting shot to Houston's troubled past do? Was it a mystery to anyone that she was on drugs?

Hey, "Linsanity" is getting old. Why not push the envelope just a tad for something new? After all, everyone knows there is no racial intent.

We still have work to do on issues of race.

Those who make stupid remarks are left only with a lack of intent to stand as their alibi. Intent is irrelevant to the person to whom the statements are directed.

A better attempt by all to know the stories of others might alleviate the need to rely on a such flimsy excuse after the fact.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of the forthcoming book: 1963: The Year of Hope and Hostility. E-mail him at byron@byronspeaks.com or visit the website 1963hopeandhostility.com

 

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