A couple thoughts on last week's controversy in which Jon Stewart mocked Herman Cain, a black conservative candidate for the GOP nomination. The Los Angeles Times incorrectly claims in this blog post that Cain, in reaction to Stewart's bit, called Stewart a racist. Unless I am mistaken, I do not think Cain called Stewart a racist. This appears to be a classic case of distorting a statement.
Here is what Cain actually said in response to Stewart's comedic bit:
And I said secondly, as far as him mocking me, look I've been called every name in the book because I'm a conservative, because I'm black.
Sticks and stone may break my bones, words are not going to hurt me. I was on that radio show because I happen to be an American black conservative. I labeled my self. I'm an American Black Conservative, an A-B-C. They keep trying to put labels on me. I have been called "Uncle Tom," "sell out," "Oreo," "shameless." So the fact that he wants to mock me because I happen to be a black conservative, in the words of my Grandfather, "I does not care. I does not care."
Cain is calling attention to the likelihood that Stewart, like many people in American society, felt license to take aim at Cain in a disrespectful tone that suggests demeaning cultural stereotypes he would probably not employ when ribbing a black liberal. Cain is pointing out a very real double standard that exists in some liberals' attitudes toward black conservatives. While any reference to slavery or suggestion of Jim Crow years would rightfully be considered deplorable and a low blow when used against a black person who holds liberal views or a black candidate generally, many of the same people who would never engage in such invidious attacks feel no compunction about branding a black conservative an "Uncle Tom." Until liberals who use terms like that to describe black conservatives own up to their double standard, they are guilty of hypocrisy.
Recognizing the inconsistency and hypocrisy in Jon Stewart's using that tone to ridicule Cain is not the same thing, however, as calling Stewart a racist -- something the Los Angeles Times and the equally imprecise Wonkette are incorrectly ascribing to Cain.
Actually, a careful viewing of the video of Cain discussing his reaction to Stewart's bit, I was struck by the fact that Cain does not call Stewart a racist. Unlike many a liberal who use that card when reality may be more nuanced, Cain's response reflected that nuance. He stood up for himself and made it known he did not appreciate Stewart's bit, but he did not overreact. He did not use the word "racist" at all. He did, however, explain the double standard he faces as a black conservative. It would appear outlets like the L.A. Times and Wonkette, rather than introspecting, hid behind the race card and distorted Cain's clear message: NOT that Stewart is a racist, but that the liberal media and many people treat black conservatives differently, and with less decency, than they treat black liberals and other people.
This is a somewhat subtle point, but it is not the same as accusing someone of being a racist. It seems to me that if Cain, clearly a plainspoken man, had intended to call Jon Stewart a racist, he would have done so. He did not. In saying he did, the L.A. Times is guilty of imprecise journalism.
I myself titled yesterday's blog post "liberal racism," and I took it down after reading the Times' blog post and re-watching Cain delivering his statement. I too overreacted to Stuart's disrespectful bit. Because I noted the double standard in Stewart's treatment of Cain, after watching Stewart's bit, I felt angry. Cain's reaction was more intelligent and measured than mine was. After seeing the way Cain reacted, I realized: it shows tremendous security on Cain's part that he did not overreact by calling Stewart a racist; instead, he rationally and honestly pointed out the double standard in a way that could have been a "teachable moment" for people, including Wonkette and the L.A. Times, if they could open their minds long enough to learn something.