Wednesday, June 10, 2009

When A Racist/Sexist Is President Of A School Board

Comedy often serves as a cover for many to express their racist or sexist ideas.  When minority groups complain we are often told that we are either being to sensitive or simply don’t have a sense of humour.   It is not amusing to dehumanize another and only those operating with privilege believe that they have the right to belittle another for the sake of amusement. 

image The Buffalo News reported about the e-mails that Board President Robert J. Weller has been regularly forwarding to other board members. According to Weller, “All the messages were sent from a personal e-mail account and on his personal computer, not a school e-mail account or school-owned equipment.

The e-mails included the following according to The Buffalo News:

  • A photo of Barack Obama, depicted making a campaign promise to deliver jobs to “everyone who can work.” In the background of the doctored image is a group of African-Americans running away.
  • A mock news release from the Detroit Police Department that claims the department will replace German shepherd police dogs with “coon dogs, due to the fact the city is not having any problems with Germans.”
  • A doctored photo of Chelsea Clinton holding up a T-shirt that reads, “My mom is getting her ass kicked by a Negro.”
  • A list of a dozen male chauvinist “jokes,” including an explanation that women have smaller feet to allow them “to stand closer to the kitchen sink,” and a woman’s broken watch shouldn’t be fixed because “there is a clock on the oven.”

“They can accuse all they want to,” Weller said, “but I didn’t do anything other than what everybody else in the world does.”

The messages fall under his freedom of speech, he said, adding that he did not author them, but merely forwarded them. Weller, who said he thought fellow board members “could use a joke and lighten up once in a while,” also said, “at least I don’t discriminate. . . . I got a whole list of people I send to.”

Adamant that he’s done nothing wrong, Weller had a message for his critics: “Tell ’em he who’s without sin [should] cast the first stone.”

Even if others in society are racist or sexist, it does not give Weller the right to spread his particular brand of hatred across the internet.  It is not funny or amusing and his obstinate refusal to either apologize or resign is proof of the privilege that  is embedded to white male bodies. It is further irrelevant that Weller did not create the “jokes” in question because by forwarding them he tacitly approved of their messages and ignored the potential to cause harm both to the viewers and those that were the subjects of his offensive commentary.

Once again we can see that freedom of speech is being invoked to defend the atrocious behaviour of a bigot.  Looking specifically at his commentary image regarding “coon dogs”, it is clear that the intent is to dehumanize Blacks.  Each time that there has been a genocide or systemic violence against any group the first step is to ensure that they are not viewed as human by the rest of society.  This kind of language has always lead to violence and to hide behind the mantra of free speech as though such discourse exists without cost is reprehensible.  Men like Weller cannot see the link because they have always been at the top of the race and gender hierarchy.  When you don’t have to pay the cost for hate speech in dead bodies, rape and blood, one can afford to be ignore its potentialities.

It is even more distressful that this man is in a position of authority.  Working in education means that he will have the ability to insert influence over what children are taught and even if he does not display such covert examples of racism and sexism, it is certain that because he holds these views that such messages will covertly be passed along.   Children do not inherently see gender or race differences as less than; it is through interaction with adults that they learn to value bodies differently.  It is not enough for a man like Weller to undergo race and gender sensitivity training when he holds a position that has the ability to effect future generations.  If we truly believe that children are precious we need to guard against potential harm and that includes allowing men like Weller to have any influence over their education.

H/T Kathy Spillman via e-mail


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