Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Rush Endorses Tramm's Racist Sentiments

At first I thought Media Matters was going overboard in implying that Rush Limbaugh was making questionable statements about Black people while handicapping the new Survivor series that will divide four tribes along racial lines. (via Atrios)

As I read Limbaugh's comments, it seemed clear that he was intending to be humorous by making bets on which tribe would win based on well-known racial stereotypes. For instance, he said the White team might bring vials of diseases and oppress the other tribes. Obvious humor.

Given that, I thought his insinuation that the Black tribe would be disadvantaged if there were a lot of swimming tasks was rather topical and good because he was making fun of Tramm Hudson's stupidly racist remark that Black people can't swim because he knew a Black guy once who couldn't swim.

If only he had stopped there, the whole bit would have been defensible as humor.

But then a caller challenged him about his swimming comments, and Limbaugh tried to back it up with a study that shows young Black males are more likely to drown in swimming pools.

Which means he wasn't making fun of Tramm Hudson, he was agreeing with Tramm Hudson.

From Media Matters:

But the study on which the HealthDay article was based did not address the swimming abilities of African-Americans in general. HealthDay reported that "[r]esearchers don't know why black kids are at higher risk of drowning," that "[m]ost of the black [drowning] victims ... drowned in public pools," and that "[t]he study didn't examine whether the victims had taken swimming lessons or whether the pools were supervised by lifeguards." Additionally, the article noted that according to the study, "people from poorer families were more likely to drown" -- "regardless of race," and that one author of the study suggested "[f]uture research" will be done to "examine whether swimming instruction reduces the risk of drowning."

A good defense would be that, for the purposes of the joke, it doesn't matter why young Black males are more likely to drown, just that they are. And he would be right. I think most people enjoy jokes about stereotypes, as long as they're good-natured.

But after being challenged, Rush took the time to clarify that he wasn't making fun of a racial stereotype, he was making fun of a racial fact. In that way, the target of his humor became Black people themselves, not a stereotype about Black people.

Limbaugh went out of his way to prove the caller right because it's not a racial fact that Black people can't swim.

Racism is the unscientific belief that races have particular abilities or inabilities based on inherent characteristics. It doesn't require hate, just an unscientific belief.

Had Rush left it at a humorous treatment of a stereotype, that would have been one thing. Even a simple "Yeah, I know Black people can swim, but they are more likely to be unable to for whatever reason; so the joke about their disadvantage in swimming still holds" would have rendered the joke harmless. Hell, it would have rendered it a joke.

But when, in all seriousness and with a self-righteous defensiveness, he used a study to bolster his assertion that Blacks can't swim, a statement about the race itself which is not even supported by the study, he tripped stupidly into a racist assertion.

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