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Monday, October 11, 2010

The rod in thine own...

As many of you know, I've recently been reading Glenn Beck's new "novel," The Overton Window. If you're curious, I'm about two thirds of the way done and am finding it to be... um... an experience. Regardless, however, one theme that has already jumped out at me is the very self-conscious way that the authors* of that book want to deny charges of racism. Now, let's leave aside for a moment the issue of whether or not the TEA parties or Beck himself are racist. I don't know and, really, am not interested in addressing that point just now. It is, however, easy for me to say that given that I'm a white male and, thus, can probably assume that my direct experiences of being a victim of racism are effectively nil. Anyway, the question might naturally arise: why is it that some folks on the right find themselves being the recipients of racism charges?

To help answer this question, come our helpful friends at Conservapedia who decided to report on a recent incident in California where a would-be school shooter was forcefully detained by some construction workers who were nearby at the time. It's a pretty interesting story, actually:

A construction worker who helped detain a man accused of opening fire at a Carlsbad elementary school spoke out about his experience.

Carlos Partida was working at Kelly Elementary School on Friday and helped subdue Brendan O’Rourke, who is accused of shooting two children at the school.


"I ran to my car and just met him right by his car. He pointed the weapon at me [and] I thought he was going to shoot so I just decided to try to hit him," he [Partida] said.

When the O’Rourke went down, Partida and two other construction workers tackled him. Partida then pulled a .357 magnum from the man's hand.

"It was a big revolver gun... [and a] pretty big gun," said Partida. "It's so amazing how everything came about."

Now, first off, this is a heroic tale. It's frankly heart-warming to see people react with such courage to a terrifying ordeal like this, and it frankly makes me feel like my faith in mankind is justified. I'm honestly reminded of the attack on the white house back in 1994 that was also stopped by random citizens who happened to be present. So, the question arises, how did Conservapedia cover this story? Well, see for yourself:

Or, in plain text:

Man Tackles Gunman at Elementary School. Carlos Partida, (Mexican origin), held down gunman after two young girls were shot and injured. A gunman dressed in black opened fire at Carlsbad (near San Diego) on Friday afternoon, wounding two students before being tackled by construction workers, officials said. [emphasis original]

And the thing is, I wonder, why the determination to point out that Partida is of "Mexican origin"? This is particularly curious in light of the fact that neither the article that Conservapedia links to, nor the one that I quoted above, identified Partida as being Mexican or Mexican-American. As far as I can tell, his "origin" is entirely assumed by the person who posted the news bit. And even if he is of Mexican extraction, the further question is- who cares?

Allow me to be direct: the relevant, and news-worthy, information is that he and some other men stopped a gunman from killing kids. That's really the only thing that's relevant. His ethnicity might be interesting to some folks, but doesn't really matter- certainly not enough to put in a headline. At least, that is, unless you think of Mexicans as being the sort of people who wouldn't risk their lives to save kids from a crazed gunman. If, indeed, you do think of Mexicans as being craven and worthless, then his ethnicity is absolutely a valid part of the headline, for much the same reason that "Man bites dog" is news. And this is probably the conclusion that many of us on the left might reach looking at this news bit: Conservapedia reported it this way because Conservapedia is prejudiced. But as it turns out, the story is even more complex.

You see, the news item was posted on Conservapedia by one Joaquin Martinez, who claims to be from Campeche, Mexico. So, assuming that Martinez is legit,** this looks more like a case of Martinez crowing about the success of one of his countrymen in doing something good. You know, assuming that Partida actually IS from Mexico or of Mexican extraction in the first place.*** Regardless, we might salvage the "racism" assertion by suggesting that Martinez is so hot to emphasize the extraction of Partida so as to demonstrate to his fellow Conservapeons that Mexicans aren't shiftless disease-ridden losers**** but I don't want to make that assumption when simple pride in one's own country can produce the same response. Thus, an apparent case of prejudice transforms into something else with the simple addition of a bit of context.

Now, I'll admit at this point that I set you, my dear readers, up a little bit in this post. I framed the argument like I was going to show why conservatives get accused of racism by demonstrating how conservatives are racist. And hell, some of them definitely are. The thing is, though, that in at least some cases the accusations of racism emerge because we, as their opponents, are misunderstanding the context of what they're saying. Or, to be more blunt, sometimes they get accused of racism, because we get lazy. And don't worry, I include myself in that- my first reaction of the Partida headline was discomfort at how Conservapedia was emphasizing his national origin. It seemed to me that their prejudice and intolerance were bleeding through. The thing is, my impression had to change once I knew more about who it was who had done that emphasizing. Does this mean that Conservapedia isn't prejudiced? Oh, hell no. They're so prejudiced it's actively painful. No, my point is only that sometimes what looks like prejudice may be something else, and sometimes they may get called prejudiced because we're too lazy to know what we're talking about.

So, in short, let's by all means call a spade a spade, but in the process let's make sure that what we're accusing of being a spade isn't a club instead.

* And yes, I do mean authors plural. This sucker was a team effort. But we'll talk more about that later.

** I raise this point only because Conservapedia has long wrestled with parodists. You can see Rationalwiki's profile of him here.

*** I feel the need to emphasize this point because one of my closest friends is an immigrant from Panama who became a naturalized American citizen. When we were both young, however, he was often assumed to be Puerto Rican because he has a Spanish name and most Hispanic Americans in the area were from Puerto Rico. So, in short, just because a lot of immigrants to California are from Mexico does not mean that a dude with a Spanish name is necessarily from Mexico. For all we know, the dude was born in Portland.

**** We all remember when Fox News was constantly talking about how illegal Mexican immigrants were bringing diseases into the U.S., right?

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