Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thoughts on USA Network's creepy "Characters United" campaign.

So there I was, enjoying a simple evening at home watching Law & Order SVU, when I see this thing - a bunch of people who I assume are celebrities of some kind are "pledging" to end racism in America. Well, who can argue with that? Not me. But something about it seemed...off. Weird. Off-putting. I couldn't quite put my finger on it - there was just something that made me sit up on the couch and say, "what the hell are these people talking about?"

Finally figured out what was bothering me, though. The people in this commercial are complaining about an America that no longer exists.

Think of this scenario - you're a foreign visitor to this country. You've never been to America before, and you've never spent any time with any Americans. You know a bit about American history, though, and the racism and bigotry of the past. Then you see this commercial, in which various Americans pledge to "end racism" and complain about stereotyping. What are you to gather from this? Why, of course, that America is full of racist, shallow people who see a person with brown skin and think "gardener" and "taxi driver" - who long for the "good old days" when people of color sat in the back of the bus - who still act like "it's 1959, not 2009." Faced with a proclamation to end racism in America, naturally you would assume that there is racism in America, endemic, insideous, all-pervading. Right?

There's only one problem. I have never, in my life, met a racist like that. Have you? If you have, please let me know. Seriously. I've never met anyone, male or female, black, white, yellow, green or tapioca, who thought it was socially acceptable to mock or degrade someone on the basis of skin pigmentation - much less anyone who hated other people based on skin pigmentation. I've never even met any Michael Scott characters who make inappropriate jokes based on race. Michael Scott is a fictional character. He doesn't exist. Neither does racism.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm generalizing here. I know that there are still some racists in America - some a--holes who hate other people based on race. I just never met them, except in the movies and on TV shows. To be frank, I don't know what the point of this "pledge" business is. It's harmless, I suppose - you might as well start a pledge to end teddy bear infiltration or to end the destruction of unicorns. It's all the same to me.

However, there may be something more disturbing about this whole "pledge" thing - it comes about a bit in the commercial itself, and more so in the website. For starters, we find out that this whole campaign against racism is sponsored and organized by groups like the NAACP and La Raza - groups whose whole reason for being is...race. Racial advocacy groups. And then we look at the charming 50 things we can do to end this mythical racism. Most of these are harmless, maudline stuff - "Don't judge someone instantly," "read a book" and other insightful bits of advice - kind of infantile and more suited to Sesame Street than to a campaign aimed at adults - but whatever. But then there is something like this: "No more red states or blue states." Beware of calls for unity - it usually means unity on someone's terms. Does no more red or blue mean we're going to be all red, or all blue, or purple? (Which is really back to where we started?) Does it mean that I, as a conservative, will get my ideas heard by liberals, or that I must sacrifice all my views for the liberal ones? In short, this little declaration crosses the realms into politics, and I don't like it - especially given the heavy-handed moral judgement of this whole "pledge" campaign. The bottom line is that there will always be red states and blue states - there will always be opposing points of view. Frankly, I don't want to be a blue stater - and I'm sure blue staters wouldn't want to be me, either. Let's celebrate diversity of opinion, not just diversity of race.

Or how bout this one - "Vote for equality". What does this imply? That there's inequality in America. Of course there is - some people are richer, some are poorer. Some people are smarter, some are dumber. That's life. Equality of opportunity is a right, of course, and enshrined in law as it should be. But somehow I doubt that this is what this statement is all about. I suspect it's more of an equality enforced from above - equality of income by taxation, equality of health care by government mandates - in short, equality at the price of freedom. What else could it mean? Discrimination by race is already illegal, as it should be - and frankly, any a--hole who doesn't hire or promote a worker because he's black or hispanic is an idiot anyway and I wouldn't work for him or buy from him. But that's not enough equality, apparently - we should not only start out on equal terms, but end on equal terms, too. So the entrepenour, the inventor, the wealthy man who made his own dough - these are all heretics, upstarts against the universal standards of equality. At least, that's what this says to me.

In short, I find this whole thing a little creepy. I hope I can say that without being called a racist. It feels, somehow, as if I'm being suckered, bamboozled, sold a bill of goods. Am I right? Or just being paranoid?

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