Monday, March 20, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Racism is nothing to play with

February 3, 2023

It’s Black History Month! Illegal in Florida! And soon: Texas!

Robert Kahn

By Robert Kahn

Deputy editor emeritus, Courthouse News

Guilty, your honor; I confess. I’m a sucker for animal videos. Elephants, cats, beavers, I love ‘em all. Especially elephants.

But check out this one, of a little girl kissing her pet owl.

I sent it to my neighbor, who responded: “That is so sweet! I love seeing kids being kind to animals. Gives me hope in humanity.”

What a great thing to say.

We all have faith in animals, but it takes extraordinary acts of kindness for us to have faith in humans.

And I can see why.

With animals, you know pretty much how they’re going to act, unless they’re sick with rabies — a rare disease, thanks to science and vaccinations. But these days in the United States, half of us seem to have rabies: the symptom being mental derangement and the urge to bite — anyone, anything, anywhere. Just lash out and slaver sick slick saliva into the wounds.

Vladimir Putin’s got all the symptoms. So do Narendra Modi, Xi Jinping, and half of the United States Congress.

As I recall …

I’ve been writing for newspapers for 40 years, though my first staff job was in 1988. One of my first assignments was to cover a press conference by Michael Dukakis, then running for president against Vice President George H.W. Bush. 

After 3 minutes of Dukakis, I thought: “This guy is boring as hell.”

After 6 minutes, I thought: “This guy is really smart.”

He answered every question from a skeptical press with real-life examples of how he’d dealt with the problem.

But I knew as well: He’s done.

Because if it takes 5 or 6 minutes to grab people’s attention when you’re running for president, you’re outta there. “Let’s bring on our next contestant!”

Mind you, this was in the early, early days of the internet. It had fewer than a million subscribers then in the United States, probably fewer than 100,000 regular users. Nobody sought it or depended on it for news.

The 1988 presidential campaign is remembered today, if at all, for George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton ad, which was denounced, correctly, as racist, or, if not overtly racist, for appealing to racism — playing upon it …

… as if racism were something we could, or a candidate for president should, “play upon.”

(For the record, I do not believe that either of the Presidents Bush were/are racist. I’m actually a bit of a fan of H.W., for ending the war in Salvador as soon as he took office. Though I am not a fan of his son.)

My Magnetic North for humor is, and always shall be, Mark Twain. Mencken called him “the Lincoln of our literature.” Twain was acerbic, uninhibited and well-informed. But one thing that Twain was not, was mean, even when he introduced the young Winston Churchill as a “war criminal,” to the U.S. illuminati at a dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York in 1900. Twain was not a fan of England’s Boer War in South Africa, and he had a point.

I may be wrong about this, but if any one person made the world fall in love with the United States, aside from George Washington, it was Mark Twain.

But he never demeaned anyone. He made fun of everyone, sure. But he chose his targets carefully, and never kicked sand in anyone’s face just for the “fun” of it.

This, along with many other things, shows how far our country has fallen, in the world’s eyes, and — it should be — in our own.

To demean and insult one’s so-called “opponents,” to sling vile names at them, to stir up violence against the downtrodden, has become right-wing Republicans’ first option. It’s a sign of sickness in that party, and they have infected the entire nation with it. There is no vaccine for this.

Since when has insult become the coin of our political realm? You know when, and so do I.

Subscribe to our columns

Want new op-eds sent directly to your inbox? Subscribe below!