Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mark Steyn's white pride

The racist Right is never satisfied simply to argue a case: when a Black person is involved, it's important to cut the uppity nigra down to size.

We now know that the police officer involved in US scholar Henry Gates' arrest simply made stuff up. Whether he was racist, consciously or unconsciously, Sgt. James Crawley didn't like being told off, and he abused his authority.

But Steyn, naturally, thinks Gates, that "Ivy League bigshot," that "blowhard grievance-monger," was the villain of the piece, and he uses this occasion to hack away at the über-uppity nigra Barack Obama as well. A twofer. And in a haughty couple of paragraphs of his poisonous column, he sees fit to attack Gates' credibility as a scholar, which is a bit rich coming from a former disc jockey who dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen.

In an attempt to nullify Henry Louis Gates' lifetime of major achievement, the far-right polemicist and intellectual wannabe mocks his better thus:

As to the differences between the professor's and the cops' version of events, I confess I've been wary of taking Henry Louis Gates at his word ever since, almost two decades back, the literary scholar compared the lyrics of the rap group 2 Live Crew to those of the Bard of Avon. "It's like Shakespeare's 'My love is like a red, red rose,'" he declared, authoritatively, to a court in Fort Lauderdale.

As it happens, "My luv's like a red, red rose" was written by Robbie Burns, a couple of centuries after Shakespeare. Oh, well. 16th century English playwright, 18th century Scottish poet: What's the diff? Evidently being within the same quarter-millennium and right general patch of the North-East Atlantic is close enough for a professor of English and Afro-American Studies appearing as an expert witness in a court case. Certainly no journalist reporting Gates' testimony was boorish enough to point out the misattribution.

No journalist was necessary, in fact: Gates himself did the job. On November 11, 1990, the New Republic's "Notebook" column took Gates to task for testifying in the obscenity trial that Steyn mentions:

Which leaves only the matter of Henry Louis Gates Jr., the critic who has risen to snatch cultural defeat from the jaws of cultural victory. Gates testified that 2 Live Crew's genital obsessions are to be justified as art, more specifically as parody. He observed that Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Joyce also used "lewd words," though he failed to observe that lewd words were not the only words that they used. Gates instructed the jury on metaphor: "It's like Shakespeare's 'My love is like a red, red rose.' That doesn't mean your love is red and has petals. No, it means your love is beautiful." Thus, the verse "Suck this dick, bitch, and make it puke" doesn't mean, if we understand Gates correctly, that the poet has a penis whose similarity to a throat should not be lost upon a woman who reminds him of a dog. No, it means--well, what it means is perfectly clear. There are few sights sorrier than the sight of an intellectual in solidarity with the street. And Gates's comparison of Shakespeare to 2 Live Crew comes at a time when the national college dropout rate for blacks is 70 percent. What effect does this black teacher think he is having upon the 30 percent who remain, who have left the extraordinary obstacles behind them and finally opened their Riverside Shakespeare? And all this time these kids thought they were in college to raise themselves up.

In response, Gates wrote the following letter, published in the New Republic on December 3:

Concerning your Notebook item on the recent Mapplethorpe and 2 Live Crew obscenity trials (November 12): when I was asked if there were instances of lewd language in Western literature, I cited a few obvious figures (Chaucer, Shakespeare, Joyce). This observation shows that lewd language isn't ipso facto proof of obscenity. That's all it shows. In no way did I "compare" 2 Live Crew to Shakespeare. Indeed, when the prosecutor asked me if I meant to compare the two, I explicitly rejected this absurdity. (You should have nailed me for my real gaffe--misattributing Robert Burns's best known line, incredibly enough.) [emphasis added]

I did argue that Luther Campbell's outlandish display of black macho made sexism look silly and repellent, not attractive; the jury agreed with my "Archie Bunker" defense and voted to acquit. In the Cincinnati trial, Janet Kardon, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, found aesthetic value in the "centrality of the forearm" in a Mapplethorpe photograph of a couple "fisting." Faced with such expert testimony, the jury voted to acquit. So the system worked, right?

Wrong. This is a system in which First Amendment protection hinges on the interpretation of critics and curators--a sorry state of affairs. According to Miller v. California, material that a community finds prurient and offensive (by "local standards") is not entitled to First Amendment protection. Exceptions are made only if the material has serious artistic, literary, political, or scientific value (as determined by "objective" standards: hence the juridical role of the "expert" witness).

The political climate for freedom of expression in this country is equally pessimistic. Campus activists seek to ban offensive "hate speech" instead of combating it the old-fashioned way--with more speech. Jesse Helms uses the same language as these liberal activists to draft his legislation.

People will continue to debate the racial and sexual politics of Mapplethorpe's portraits: Does his "fetishistic" focus on the massive genitals of his black subjects propagate insidious stereotypes of black male sexuality? People will continue to debate the racial and sexual politics of dirty rap performers: How can you tell parody from the thing parodied? And while the ultimate justification for Kardon's and my testimony may be that the First Amendment prevailed in both cases, ours is hardly the last word on the subject. But isn't it nice when you can decide for yourself? --HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.

Ironic, isn't it? In his rush to give the white cop the benefit of his flawed judgement, Steyn throws an ally under the bus--for here was Gates, embracing the First Amendment, making arguments that would normally have Speech Warriors™ like Steyn on their feet applauding. Race, however, apparently trumps free speech for Steyn, and the yahoos are lapping it up like cream.

But then, I've never really taken Steyn's word for anything since, far more recently, he lied about Canadian Human Rights Commission employee Dean Steacy, accusing him of criminal activity in the pages of Maclean's magazine. PC notions like "evidence" and "proof" don't seem to be part of Steyn's vocabulary, at least when it comes to CHRC staff, Muslims allegedly breeding like rabbits, and Black folks having the nerve to earn major academic reputations, stand up to officious cops in their own houses--and even become President of the United States.

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