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Is Juan Williams Hidden Inside Us?

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Juan Williams was honest about his personal feelings concerning Muslims and air travel in his now-infamous Fox News Channel interview. Perhaps we need an exit poll to see how many American travelers have the same secretive fear as he hidden inside them. The problem with polls is that many people do not answer questions given by strangers truthfully. Rather, they give the answer they think they should be giving. I would bet that if many travelers were honest, many would express similar fears self-admitted to by Williams, whether founded or unfounded.

Honesty should not be punished, it should be embraced as a way to identify bias. We have a society where people speak only through the lens of political correctness. We have a media nation that makes decisions about what can and cannot be said merely because of listener ratings. The most dangerous kind of bigotry is the kind that is not acknowledged. Concealed bigotry is as insidious as overt discrimination. If you ask anyone on the street if they are biased, I guarantee that most people will say no, when in fact they are about something.

Here Juan Williams expressed his inner personal thoughts and fears about traveling on a plane after 9/11. I fear he articulated what many feel when flying but won't admit to in public. Haven't we all commented on the use of judgment and resources when we go through a security line at an airport. "What the heck are they doing pulling me out?" When I get pulled out of a line to be randomly checked I wonder: "Do I really look like a terrorist? A middle-aged women Italian Catholic woman from New Jersey? Do they really think I plan to blow up the plane in my Chanel shoes -- which I am still paying off on my credit card?" Haven't you ever thought to yourself in that situation: Why aren't they looking at that guy over there instead of me as a prime possible offender? I can tell you that that the 'guy over there" usually does not look like us.

Many people lie about their professed honesty. For example: potential jurors in court cases assert that they can be fair, even when they know otherwise. The legendary civil rights and criminal lawyer William Kunstler, in order to teach listeners a lesson, used to tell a story about selecting potential Caucasian jurors in a case involving a defendant of a different race. A shorthand version goes something like this: "If you were on a camping trip and there was only one toothbrush that you had to share with an person of color, would you do so?" If a prospective juror answered 'no,' he knew that person was honest. He preferred an honest juror with flaws to a prevaricator. As a trial lawyer, I would rather have a juror who is honest about his or her feelings than dishonest because of some hidden ulterior motive, political correctness or some other conjured reason. When I teach police officers, lawyers, and others involved in the legal process, I tell them I would always rather have juror who tells me the truth about their biases, rather than conceals them. If I am representing someone of Middle Eastern descent at a trial, who some may incorrectly equate with being a Muslim, I would be much more comfortable with the juror who acknowledges the kind of internal fears or personal bias about Muslims that Juan Williams freely admitted to because that person can be educated.

Juan Williams did not engage in a vituperative rant against a specific ethnic group as did Rick Santorom through his recent rage fueled invective against Jews. Juan Williams did not accuse Muslims as a group of being terrorists as some recently have done. Juan Williams did not incite violence.

I prefer to be aware of the concealed biases of news analysts, especially if they may reflect a larger feeling held by others. Only then can we identify and remedy issues that divide not only our country but also the world. His recent firing from National Public Radio (NPR) as a result of this Fox News appearance, inhibits honesty and as such does a disservice to identifying and correcting prejudice, including such that may be lurking inside us.

 

Follow Linda Kenney Baden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kenneybaden