Sunday, December 15, 2002

What makes us bigots

Bigots do something terrible to people of goodwill. Something beyond the obvious.

Racists, sexists, ageists - all those bigoted "ists" - drag others in, assuming, for instance, that they can say something terrible about men to a group of women.

"That's just selfish - typical male behavior."

And I usually don't say anything. Even though I know better, having the decades-long example of my generous husband, father, uncles and brothers. Worse, sometimes I make excuses.

"She's just been dumped. Her husband was a jackass. That's just the way she talks. She didn't mean it."

Closet white racists are more likely to assume they can let their hair down with white people. My black friends say the same is true of black racists. The thing you can count on is that bigots are not trying out their views for the first time in public. They've said these things in private so often and are unchallenged for so long that they get careless.

Out of the closet

Did anybody believe that Mark Furman only said the N-word on tape?

Or that Leona Helmsley really had enormous regard for the "little people who pay taxes"?

Or that Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner, who said Christianity is for "losers," just suffered a momentary lapse of judgment?

Or that Jerry Falwell, who said "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians," can be blamed for 9-11, was the victim of a media witch hunt?

A spirited debate continues in the matter of Augusta National Golf Club. The men of Augusta have the freedom to golf with whomever they choose. Of course. But they are bigots.

Most everybody likes to hang out with people they like. But the test would be whether you know in advance that you could never belong to a club with somebody who is female or Jewish or white or black or gay. If you know before you have met them that you can not tolerate their presence in your dining room or in your sand trap or your neighborhood, then you're a bigot.

We may accept that in the matter of golf. But not in the matter of government. Which brings us to the recent intemperate public remarks of Sen. Trent Lott. Sen. Lott was not ambushed by Mike Wallace. He knew he was going to speak at the 100th birthday of Sen. Strom Thurmond. Maybe he was put off guard by the clubby atmosphere. Sen. Lott probably knew most everybody in the room. Maybe some of them had squirmed through his remarks before.

Because we're mostly peaceable people who don't want to make a scene. We think we might sound sanctimonious. Or thin-skinned.

"He didn't mean it."

"Offensive and wrong," President Bush said unambiguously. We're still waiting to hear from the senator's colleagues in a very important club, the United States Senate. Now would be the perfect time for those who may have been unwillingly drawn in by Sen. Lott's bigoted remarks over the years. You can say it:

He does not speak for us.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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