Diversity and the reign of fear

(Note, January 30th: this entry has been fine-tuned since it was posted Sunday morning.)

The other day Gingrich attacked Romney as the “most anti-immigration” candidate (or “anti-immigrant” candidate—the accounts differ), because Romney is not as pro-amnesty as Gingrich. I criticized Gingrich strongly for that. But now, showing once again that the two candidates are equally unprincipled, Romney has attacked Gingrich for having said in Florida in 2007 that people who only speak Spanish have consigned themselves to a “ghetto.” On Fox News this morning, the silly Chris Wallace kept going after Gingrich over this supposedly terribly offensive statement. Gingrich explained that he wasn’t referring to Spanish speakers, but to anyone who exclusively speaks any of the 200 languages other than English that are now spoken in this country. English, he said, is the language of the economy and commercial success (he did not call it the language of our culture, since the contemporary mainstream view is that the only thing that defines America is the economy), and someone who doesn’t speak English has cut himself off from the prosperous American way of life.

Now why was Gingrich’s statement offensive? Presumably because to say that people who don’t speak English are putting themselves in a ghetto is to denigrate their language as a “ghetto” language. It is to imply that they are culturally inferior. But if it’s bad to say that it’s bad for people in the United States not to speak English, that means that it’s good for people in the United States not to speak English. But, in reality, people in the U.S. who don’t speak English tend—just as Gingrich said—to be excluded from participation in the mainstream American economy and relegated to inferior status. Wouldn’t it then be offensive for a politician to declare that it’s perfectly ok for members of certain groups not to know English in this country, and wouldn’t he be raked over the coals for that?

So if you say that people should not limit themselves to a foreign language, you are putting them down; and if you say that it’s fine for them to limit themselves to a non-English language, you are still putting them down.

Yet no one—least of all the candidates who are accused of being anti-immigrant or insensitive toward Hispanics—ever points out the logical impossibility of not offending minorities under the rules of the game in diverse America—because that, too, would be offensive to minorities. In fact, it would be far more offensive than the first two possibilities, resulting in one’s being, not just attacked by a political opponent and questioned by Chris Wallace, but excluded altogether from mainstream American political life.

I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode, “The Cigar Store Indian,” in which Jerry is interested in a woman who is an American Indian, but can’t for the life of him avoid saying things that touch on American Indian sensitivities. He becomes increasingly fearful of her increasingly tyrannical displeasure with him, until he is almost paralyzed.

Here are some scenes from the episode (of course, seeing it on TV is far better than reading the script—the script does not convey the girlfriend’s threatening demeanor and Jerry’s terror):

[Street outside Winona’s]

WINONA: It’s just that it’s a very sensitive issue for me.

JERRY: And well it should be. I think if you spent any time with me at all, you’d see I’m very sensitive to these matters as well. You wouldn’t be hungry by any chance, wouldya?

WINONA: (smiling) I guess I could go for a bite.

JERRY: You like Chinese food, ‘cos I once went to a great Szechwan restaurant in this neighbourhood. I don’t remember the exact address… (he spots a mailman crouched emptying a box) Uh, excuse me, you must know where the Chinese restaurant is around here.

The mailman stands, turns and is revealed as Chinese. He takes offense.

MAILMAN: Why must I know? Because I’m Chinese? You think I know where all the Chinese restaurants are? (adopts hackneyed Chinese accent) Oh, ask honolable Chinaman for rocation of lestaulant.

JERRY: I asked because you were the mailman, you would know the neighbourhood.

MAILMAN: Oh, hello American Joe. Which way to hamburger, hotdog stand? (storms away)

JERRY: I didn’t know that…

WINONA: You know, it’s late. I should probably just go home.

JERRY: I, I had no idea.

* * *

[George’s parent’s house]

George and Jerry are returning the table.

GEORGE: Looks pretty good.

JERRY: Yeah, did a good job.

They put the various ornaments back on the table.

GEORGE: Yeah. I don’t think they’ll be able to tell.

JERRY: You know, I don’t get it. Not allowed to ask a Chinese person where the Chinese restaurant is! I mean, aren’t we all getting a little too sensitive? I mean, someone asks me which way’s Israel, I don’t fly off the handle.

GEORGE: So, anyway, what’s uh, what’s the status with, uh…

JERRY: Ah, she kinda calmed down. I talked to her today. In fact I’m gonna see her tonight.

GEORGE: Oh, great.

JERRY: Yeah, but I’m a little uncomfortable. I’m afraid of making another mistake.

GEORGE: Aw c’mon.

* * *

[Winona’s apartment]

Jerry sits on the couch. Winona enters with their jackets.

WINONA: So, where are we gonna go eat?

JERRY: I thought we’d eat at the Gentle Harvest.

WINONA: Ooh, I love that place, but it’s usually so crowded. Can we get a table?

JERRY: Ah, don’t worry. I made reser… (catches himself)

WINONA: You made what?

JERRY: I uh, I uh, I arranged for the appropriate accommodation. And then, Knick tickets, floor seats.

WINONA: How did you get these?

JERRY: Got ‘em on the street, from a scal… (catches himself again) A uh, one of those guys.

WINONA: What guys?

JERRY: You know, the guys, that uh, they sell the tickets for the sold-out events.


* * *

[Jerry’s apartment]

Jerry is pouring glasses of Perrier in the kitchen while Winona looks around.

WINONA: I like your place. It’s very unassuming.

JERRY: Well, why would I assume. I never assume. Leads to assumptions.

WINONA: (laughs) Oh, by the way. That TV Guide I gave you, I need it back.


WINONA: Well, I’m doing a report on minorities in the media, and I wanted to use that interview with Al Roker.

JERRY: Well, it’s too late. I gave it to Elaine, and she’s already on her way to give it to George’s father.

WINONA: Jerry, I really need it back. It, it is mine.

JERRY: You can’t give something and then take it back. I mean, what are you… (catches himself)


JERRY: A uh, a person that uh…

WINONA: A person that what?

JERRY: Well, a person that gives something and then they’re dissatisfied and they wish they had, had never uh…


JERRY: …give, given it to the person that they originally gave it to.

WINONA: You mean like, an Indian giver?!

JERRY: I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that term.

Of course, Winona was being an Indian giver, yet she is ready to cut Jerry’s head off (whoops), not because he called her an Indian giver, but because he pointed out that her behavior was wrong. It is she who introduces “Indian giver” into the conversation, as the well known term for that kind of behavior, and somehow this becomes an indictment of Jerry, even though he desperately declines to use the term.

In liberal society, you cannot avoid offending minorities. There is no legitimate criticism—or even, as in the case of Gingrich’s remarks on the importance of learning English, helpful suggestion—that cannot and will not be construed as an offense.

- end of initial entry -

Hannon writes:

The “Cigar Store Indian” program comes across as hilarious even without the visuals. I’ve seen that episode a few times and it is spot on. Such humor reminds us that notions of community, tribe (oops) and nation (oops again) are very real in the group and collective psyches. I suspect our ability to laugh at such things provides protection until the storm begins to clear. It is a survival mechanism.

January 30

Irv P. writes:

I loved the reference to the “Native American” Seinfeld episode. The funniest part had nothing to do with your post, but it’s worth reminding you about. Picture Kramer riding in the cab with he and the cigar store Indian hanging out the window and screaming to Jerry and the girl while he pounds his mouth woo,woo,wooo,wooo. Very comical!

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 29, 2012 11:56 AM | Send

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