You may recall the flack talk show host Rush Limbaugh received for his comments about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. In pointing out the amount of media attention McNabb was receiving, Limbaugh said, "The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well." No sooner had those words passed from Limbaugh's multi-million dollar mouth than charges of racism began to fly, and Limbaugh was eventually pressured to resign from his job at ESPN.
While not surprising, the response to Limbaugh was unwarranted. Not once did he hurl a racist insult at McNabb, nor did he call the media racist. He was merely focusing on what he believed to be a slight bias on the part of the media.
One of the best examples of hypersensitivity was the reaction to a brief speech made by Trent Lott at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party in 2002. The senator from Mississippi said, "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." Everyone was in an uproar. The general consensus was that since Strom Thurmond ran for president as a member of a party that had a segregationist platform, it was relatively easy to determine what Lott meant by "these problems."
The ensuing shockwave rattled the highest levels of the minority community. Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (yes, the organization still uses the term "colored"), called Lott's remarks "hateful bigotry that has no place in the halls of the Congress." Shortly afterward, Republicans began distancing themselves from Lott, essentially sacrificing him on the altar of tolerance to appease the god of political correctness.
If the Trent Lott fiasco proved anything, it is that one can be a racist without uttering a single word about race or ethnicity. It also demonstrated that even the slightest, most minute impression of the possibility of racial intolerance is considered an unpardonable crime against humanity.
Naturally, a topic like this cannot be discussed without addressing anti-Semitism, racism's ugly sister. Anti-Semitism is another one of those charges that are bandied about with little forethought or debate. In fact, most of those employing the term are unable to explain what it actually means. By today's standards, anti-Semitism includes everything from jokes about ham to the horrible genocide carried out by the Nazis in the '30s and '40s. Talk about a huge disparity!
Just look at the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's new film, The Passion of the Christ. In a Feb. 6 speech to the Anti-Defamation League National Executive Committee, ADL Director Abraham Foxman said, "For almost 2,000 years in Western civilization, four words legitimized, rationalized, and fueled anti-Semitism: 'The Jews killed Christ'...For hundreds of years those four words - acted out, spoken out, sermonized out - inspired and legitimized pogroms, inquisitions and expulsions." Foxman believes that Gibson's film portrays Jews as a bloodthirsty mob of Christ-killers and fears that it may spark an increase in anti-Semitic behavior around the world.
Many who have attended advance screenings of the movie have noted Gibson's great care in staying faithful to the accounts found in the New Testament - and that, I think, is the problem. Scripture records that the multitude of Jews who had gathered before Pontius Pilate demanded that Jesus be crucified (Matt. 27:22). They even cried out, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matt. 27:25). My suspicion is that the ADL simply has a problem with the gospel itself.
Gibson recently removed the blood curse line from the film's dialog, but that doesn't seem to matter. The controversy is now centering on Mel's father. In an interview scheduled to air on Monday, Feb. 23, Hutton Gibson is quoted as saying that the Holocaust is "maybe not all fiction - but most of it is." Foxman has already made the claim that the elder Gibson is "a classical anti-Semite who is full of conspiracy theories and hate and perversion," so I don't think members of the ADL will be changing their position anytime soon. They certainly won't seek to judge the movie objectively based on its artistic merits. Mel's father is anti-Semitic, which means Mel must be anti-Semitic, which means anyone going to see the movie must also be anti-Semitic.
I cannot help but wonder how we ended up as a nation of hypersensitive, maladjusted, intellectual weaklings. Is it because we have grown so completely bored that we actually have to create problems where they don’t exist just to keep life interesting? Are we so dissatisfied with our own lives that we feel we must destroy the lives of others?
Indeed, when it comes to volatile issues like racism and anti-Semitism, there are real dragons we need to slay. But how can we do that while focusing all of our energy on those areas where none exist?
In an ironic twist, our unhealthy obsession with "tolerance" has only made us more intolerant, and the wedges we claim to be removing from between diverse groups are only being driven deeper. We are even lectured by public service announcements on television and radio that telling a joke referencing someone's race or sexual orientation is tantamount to committing an act of violence.
What kind of future can we hope to have if this continues? How long will it be before we begin to criminalize thought? With as much attention as we pay to the color of our skin, one would think we might notice how thin it has become.