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Sacking liberalism

Culture | The Reggie White uproar suggests that conservatives could set up a big tent of their own

Issue: "New attacks on taxes," April 18, 1998

When Green Bay Packer defensive end Reggie White was invited to address the Wisconsin state legislature, the idea was to honor the state's football hero. But instead of taking five minutes to mouth the platitudes usual on such an occasion, Mr. White, an ordained Baptist minister, took literally what politicians claim that they have, a bully pulpit. He delivered a 50-minute sermon to the squirming lawmakers on America's social problems. In the aftermath, he was being denounced even by diehard Packer fans; editorials were being written against him; his endorsement deals were threatened; and he lost his shot at a commentary job he had auditioned for with CBS.

What did he say that was so controversial? To the shock of many in the state of Wisconsin and sportswriters virtually everywhere, he said that homosexuality is a sin. He also spoke about racial reconciliation, in the process saying that different races had different gifts from God. For this, Mr. White was condemned as a homophobe and a racist.

Journalists are taught from the beginning that "dog bites man" is not news-the occurrence is so natural, ordinary, and expected that there is nothing newsworthy about it. One would think that a Baptist minister preaching against sexual sin would be in that category. But in the current cultural climate, especially among the media elite, those who do not approve of homosexuality in this day and age are marvels of unenlightenment, prodigies of barbarism. This is big news, clearly "man bites dog," in the parlance of journalism.

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Mr. White's speech to the legislature was treated as misbehavior, on the order of Dennis Rodman's transvestite antics or the various assaults, drug arrests, and rape charges that have become so common on the sports pages. Besides homophobia, Mr. White was charged with racism. A major theme of his speech being racial reconciliation, he lauded the different "gifts" that God had given the different races. Black people, he said, are gifted in spirituality; Hispanics have strong (and big) families; Asians work hard in academics; whites are good at organization and making money. Together, he said, human beings in all of their diversity make up the image of God.

These are racial stereotypes, howled the pundits! You just can't say that kind of thing anymore, said the analysts around the watercoolers. Professional sports has no room for such racism, said the radio call-in shows.

But what about the doctrine, firmly insisted upon in the academic world and among black activists, that it is impossible for a black person to be a racist? Racism is supposedly an act of power and oppression. The victim of oppressive power-a member of a racial minority that has historically been the target of racism-cannot, therefore, be a racist. Even if the black man has been allowed by the white racist culture to enjoy a measure of apparent success, including presumably multimillion-dollar NFL contracts and the adulation of football fans everywhere, he remains a victim.

This principle has been widely used to excuse the overt antisemitism of Elijah Muhammed and the anti-Korean violence in the Rodney King riots. Why aren't the liberals using it used to excuse Reggie White?

As for the alleged racial stereotypes, set aside that Mr. White was not being hateful toward these races but affectionate, that he was calling for the races to appreciate each other and to get along, hardly the message of a racist. If Mr. White were indicted for racial insensitivity and sentenced to have his consciousness raised by a racial awareness seminar-as often happens in academia and the business world-he would be taught essentially the same stereotypes!

The multicultural movement thrives on precisely these kinds of cultural generalizations-and often ones that are much worse and, in fact, genuinely racist. Crackpot notions such as blacks being "warm" because they come from warm climates and whites being "cold" because they come from frigid Northern Europe are commonplaces in multiculturalist indoctrination sessions.

Some of Mr. White's critics say that he is entitled to his beliefs, but that it was inappropriate to voice them before such an august and official audience of state lawmakers. It violated the principle of the separation of church and state, and it failed to respect the religious and moral diversity represented by and in the state assembly.

Anita Hill has been winning praise for her recent book significantly titled Speaking the Truth to Power. Liberals never admit that they are the ones in power, whatever their political fortunes, holding unquestioned sway in the culture-making institutions: the fields such as education, academia, the media, and the arts that shape the culture as a whole. Ms. Hill gets accolades for accusing a black conservative of sexual harassment, while she wimps out in defending President Clinton for allegations that were much, much worse. Why shouldn't Mr. White-or any other American citizen-have the privilege of speaking his mind to his representatives, including speaking the truth to power?

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