On “Good Morning America” the other day, co-host Diane Sawyer recounted how co-host Robin Roberts took her to task for offending her by using the, according to Roberts, racist phrase “slaving over a hot stove.”
When I got my jaw back up again from where it had collided with my knees, they had already begun enlightening (oops, could be racist too!) us all as to where the hell THAT came from.
And there was no rejoicing.
Ms. Roberts is a black woman. Or a Black woman. (I have a hard time with the politically correct “African-American”: rationally and geographically correctly, P. W. Botha and Muammar Khaddafi and Nelson Mandela would all be “African-American”. Leading to much confusion.)
Anyway, giggly white woman Ms. Sawyer gigglingly told us of her incredulity at her own boorishly insensitive behavior—Horrors! The bitch! How could she??!!—and promised faithfully not to do it again, nevermore to offend her co-host with such racist remarks.
At which point I rolled my eyes so hard they ended up in Paraguay, and said in a mighty voice, Bosh, Diane!, and, Get a grip, Robin!
We were ALL slaves once, people! Black persons don't hold a monopoly on enforced and brutal historical servitude. May I remind you of Hebrew slaves in Egypt and Palestine. Celtic slaves in Viking countries. Norse slaves in England. Anglo-Saxon slaves in Gaul. English and Scottish and Irish slaves (under the prettier name “indentured servants”) in our own thirteen colonies. Greek slaves in Greece (hi, Aristotle, you slavist sexist pig!) and Turkey. Chinese slaves in the gold fields of California. Europeans, Africans and Middle Easterners, from all over the Empire, slaves in ancient Rome.
Every race has been enslaved, all over the world. And ALL ALL ALL have also been slaves to and among THEIR OWN PEOPLE. It’s what folks did back then. Slavery is in the Torah and the Bible and the Koran. The Founding Fathers owned slaves and saw nothing wrong with it.
Slavery is not new, and it will never be old. Just look at the present-day large-scale trafficking of slaves in, yes, AFRICA! Kettle, meet pot. You’re both black. (And no, that’s not a racist comment, just a bit of, oooh, black humor.)
Black Africans have probably suffered the most en masse, and more recently, from institutionalized slavery, sure, but they (and their descendants) are by no means the only ones who suffered. But slavery in this country is OVER. Mr. Lincoln said it was. Yes, there’s racism still around. But if people continue to find racism in everyday phrases, then it’s NEVER going to be over. So suck it up, and move on.
And lest you should think I have no right to say such things since my own people have never suffered so, at least not recently, I have four words for you that were everywhere encountered by my great-grandparents looking for work: No. Irish. Need. Apply.
So "slave” is not a racist word, and for Roberts to get her knickers in a twist over an idiomatic phrase that’s been around for ages is blinkered, hyperparanoid and, yes, stupid.
“Slaving over a hot stove” is not a racist remark. (Though it might be a sexist remark, since women are usually the ones found in close working proximity with hot stoves.)
Neither is “black as he’s painted”, “blackboard”, “a black day for us all”, “denigrate”, “blacken [someone’s] name”, "the pot calling the kettle black" or any of dozens of other such constructs, all of which I have heard people of Black African descent crying “Racism!” over.
"Black" is not a racist word. As for the N-word, I daresay Roberts has used it herself. Oprah Winfrey’s friend Gayle King definitely does, since she said as much on her radio show. Black people will tell you that THEY can use the word of themselves with impunity and no baggage, because, hey, they’re Black.
Well, that is the biggest truckload of rationalized specious crapola that I have ever heard. Only Black people can say it to one another and use it publicly? Perpetuating the nastiest word around and, coincidentally, contributing significantly to the vile perception that Blacks are no more than that word? Sure there, folks. Nothing like being complicit in keeping your own people down, is there.
(Oh, and don't forget the Brits, those bastions of civility and sensitivity, who until very, very recently (the 1970's) saw nothing wrong with describing a lovely dark-brown color in shoes or coat or purse as "nigger brown".)
And yet Roberts, who may or may not use the N-word among her racial brothers and sisters, and jibs at "slaving over a hot stove," feels perfectly free to make blonde jokes about Sawyer and address her as “white chick.” Well, hey, just how hypocritical is SHE?
For the love of Pete! (Gosh, hope I’m not offending Pete, whoever and of whatever race he might have been!) Come ON, people! What the hell is the matter with you?
If Persons Of Black African Descent don’t like being called “Black”, and since many people hold “African-American” to be more correctly inclusive (see above) than Black people would admit to or care for, then maybe we need a new word to describe them—the acronymically correct POBADs, perhaps?—and maybe they need an idiom-etymology course or two.
And what about Black people who don’t happen to be of African descent? Or is it racist to assume that all Black people came out of Africa at some point? Well, geez, didn't we all? (See "Eve", DNA-proven African mother of everybody.)
I’m really out of patience with people seeing Balrogs in the woodpile: racism where none exists or ever did. There’s enough GENUINE racism around to keep us all on our toes and running for cleanup. And if we don’t devote our energies, including our minds, to eradicating it, not harping on it and imagining it, it’s NEVER GOING TO GO AWAY.
So, Ms. Sawyer, you have nothing to apologize to Ms. Roberts for. Well, at least not that, anyway.
And Ms. Roberts? Lighten up, will ya? Or do you think that’s a racist remark too?