**language warning...I'm quoting some offensive terms here. I won't sugar-coat the offensiveness of the terms, because people should be shocked when they hear it, and shouldn't try to make things nicer than they really are.**
It's hard to tell if people contemplate the irony of the things they say or realize, after they have said them, how ridiculous they sound.
A Boston police officer who sent a mass e-mail referring to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. as a "banana-eating jungle monkey" has apologized, saying he's not a racist.
"I regret that I used such words," Barrett told CNN affiliate WCVB-TV. "I have so many friends of every type of culture and race you can name. I am not a racist."
later in the article:
Barrett used the "jungle monkey" phrase four times, three times referring to Gates and once referring to Abraham's writing as "jungle monkey gibberish."from Barrett's attorney
"Officer Barrett did not call professor Gates a jungle monkey or malign him racially," Marano said. "He said his behavior was like that of one. It was a characterization of the actions of that man."
Where to start?
How can a person use a term like "jungle monkey" and seriously believe it has no racial implications? I would venture to say that it is highly doubtful that Barrett has ever used that term in describing white people whom he has arrested, or considered arresting. It's a racially charged term.
Officer Barrett is not alone in his I'm-not-racist-because-I-have-black/ethnic-friends attitude. Many people seem to think that merely knowing someone of a different ethnicity, and being friendly and civil to them, constitutes an impervious shield against accusations of racism. Perhaps, they equate being racist with lynchings and segregation, things they would never be involved in, so having contempt in the way they speak about people seems like no big deal compared to the severity of what has occurred in America's past.
My father was a terribly racist person. It was difficult to have any conversation with him that touched on race in any way. It usually resulted in him saying outrageous things and me futilely trying to make him be reasonable. After a while, he would revert to the "two kinds of black people" argument, which consisted of saying that there were Niggers and there were black people. Some black people were hunky-dory, normal, upstanding people, all the others were animals or Niggers. (I only use those terms to relate what really is said by some people, not because I endorse using those terms. I recognize how offensive they are and cringe to even relate them.)
Of course, my dad only ever seemed to encounter Niggers, and never seemed to know any of these normal black people which he insisted existed. They must have lived in some mythical land far away from him.
I'm not proud of my dad's attitudes. I found it disgusting and always hated any time the conversation veered into the realm of race. With his "two kinds of black people" defense, my dad assured himself that he wasn't really racist.
When I read Barrett's comments, I hear my father's drivel and justifications for being an offensive jerk.
My dad is an extreme example of the prejudice lurking just under the surface of some people. He possessed no filter between what he thought and what he said. For many other people, the same sort of contempt and negative attitude toward minorities isn't expressed so bluntly and strongly. I remember my mother telling me when I was a young girl that black people were dirty and didn't keep their houses clean. My mother was a neat-freak, so this was a damning statement in her eyes.
What's funny is that I had a black friend in college who would say the same things about white people; that they were dirty and didn't keep their houses clean. I think it's fair to say that either race has equal numbers of messy and clean people. I'll remain silent about which one of those categories I fall into....though I prefer the term "lived-in" to messy.
My mother would also say that she wasn't racist. She did have black friends and was, by far, more tolerant than my father could ever think of being but her family was mostly Southern and harbored definite prejudices towards minorities, some of which rubbed off on her.
It is interesting to note that the "I have black friends" defense, which is supposed to convince us that Crowley or Barrett are innately free from prejudice, can go both ways. Gates is genetically bi-racial, was married to a white woman for 25 years, has children who are bi-racial, and is currently married to another white woman. However, many people who claim that Gates was racist in his statements wouldn't accept his relationships as proof that he wasn't.
Our attitudes go deeper and can be subtle, or blunt, while we simultaneously engage in relationships with other people. My father was my father. He was a racist jerk sometimes...many times, but he was still my father. Officer Barrett may be "friends" with people from many different ethnicities, but it doesn't discount his words and attitudes. A person can concurrently be friendly with a group of people while also looking down upon them or having a certain contempt for their background.
I do wonder how many "friends" Barrett will have after they discover what he's written. I predict a sudden shrinking of his circle of diverse "friendships".