Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nasty and mean with a side of stupid

There is still far too much of this kind of thing going on in America. Here's the nasty and mean part:
Dave Burk, who teaches [high-school] consumer education, is accused of making the comments by his students during an Oct. 5 lecture on tax money involving the National Endowment for the Arts.

"How would you feel about your tax dollars going to pay some black fag in New York to take pictures of other black fags?" Burk allegedly asked, according to student Jordan Hunter.


Hunter, who reported Burk to the administration, wants Burk fired.

"If he wants to talk about a poor place to put our tax dollars, I think his salary is a poor place to put our tax dollars," said Hunter, who is gay.

Hunter said several other students have contacted him, saying Burk repeated the same phrase in all his classes.

New York bashing is fairly standard conservative fare. Even the most moderate Republican has no problem bashing New York, Berkeley, San Francisco, and, now, Chicago on the floor of Congress (though they would demand instant censure for any Democrat who made the same kind of comments about "the Heartland"). Gay bashing is also fairly standard conservative fare, though some conservatives have broken ranks and most office-holding Republicans aren't honest enough about their fear and hatred to say "fag" in public. Bashing modern art is standard conservative fare. It's the other part of the formulation that should raise eyebrows. Mr. Burk didn't seem to think giving tax money to a "fag in New York" raised enough outrage, upped the ante to "black fag in New York."

In the conservative mythos, New York represents a foreign, immoral place that looks down on the self-proclaimed "real America." The fear that someone, somewhere is looking down on them, and the anger that that thought engenders, is the core element of the politics of resentment. Artists share the same foreign and immoral status as the cities in which they live. Hollywood and modern artists are seen as conspiratorial forces seeking denigrate all that is good and pure in "real America." Fag is a caricatured other meant to evoke fear and revulsion. There are enormous literatures for both of these.* Tying the them together is a no-brainer for a twentieth century conservative because all three are acceptable, and perennial targets for conservatives.

This brings us back to black. Black represents a third acceptable target: the undeserving. Deserving is an important qualification in the conservative conception of compassion and charity. An impoverished widow with children is more deserving of charity than an impoverished mother who was never married. A raped virgin is more deserving of compassion (and possibly an abortion) than a sexually experienced woman who is raped. Deserving usually involves a strong element of moral judgment. It also involves a strong element of class and regional prejudice. Urban poor are less deserving of compassion and charity than rural poor. People who start out poor are less deserving of compassion and charity than members of the middle classes who slip into poverty. What is usually left unsaid, but implied, is the race of the urban, coastal, and chronically poor--the undeserving poor. What was the race of Reagan's Cadillac driving welfare mother? She wasn't white. Burk broke a strong taboo by saying out loud that the despised other stealing the taxes of hard-working real Americans is black.

The racist angle is almost lost in the story and comments. That surprises me. The headline for the story is "Geneva High School teacher accused of anti-gay remark" with a subtitle of "Gay high school student wants him fired." The only mention that the racist aspect is the first sentence: "A Geneva High School teacher is being accused of making anti-gay and racist comments in his classroom." The comments on the story also focus almost entirely on gay slur, with the the commenters split between "no prejudice is acceptable" and "it's PC run amok, the little faggot should stop being such a crybaby." There has been a noticeable increase in white resentment since the election, but most of it has been couched in dog-whistle terms like Reagan's Cadillac driving welfare mom. Has open racism in America managed to become so pervasive in a mere ten months that when someone complains about "some black fag [taking] pictures of other black fags" that no one notices the black part?

I probably went on too long about that. Here's the stupid part:
Burk's attorney, D.J. Tegeler, said Monday he was not personally aware of the terms Burk used to his classes, but that Burk apologizes for any offense.

"Mr. Burk is cooperating fully with both the principal, the dean of students and the school board," Tegeler said. "Mr. Burk's biggest problem is he does not want to intentionally offend anybody and if he did, he apologizes."

This the the classic non-apology. Burk's attorney is not saying his client is sorry he said it; he's saying he's sorry if anyone was offended. If no one was offended, does that mean he's not sorry? It puts the onus for the whole situation on the offended for being offended. It's like the old joke about getting a child to apologize: "John, tell your sister your sorry for calling her stupid." "Okay. I'm sorry you're stupid." That isn't an apology.

Tegeler adds a new level of stupid to the formula when he says "Mr. Burk's biggest problem is he does not want to intentionally offend anybody." Shouldn't not wanting to offend anybody be a good thing? Burk wouldn't have a problem if he was more confident in his offensiveness? Tegeler clearly has the right stuff to be a Washington insider. He should say goodbye to Geneva, Illinois and get himself a job as spokesman for a Senator--preferably a white, heterosexual one with no artistic ability.

* Artists and gays also involve the whole issue of fear of pollution, culturally and bodily, but I've already gone way too psychological and social sciencey here.

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