Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Civil Rights Roundup: 07/16/08

Your daily dose of civil rights and related news

Is our natural inclination when seeing others in distress indifference?

Montgomery County, Maryland just became America's first jurisdiction to pass a law protecting the workplace rights of nannies.

Immigrant students in college (here legally, I might add), face severe harassment and discrimination on campus. The focus, unfortunately (since I rather like the state), is on Somali students at the University of Minnesota.

The US might finally lift its ban on HIV-positive immigrants.

The Wall Street Journal has another one of those really dumb editorials trying to claim the GOP is the better party on race because it historically was anti-slavery. Everyone knows the facts on this: In the 19th and early 20th century, Republicans were primarily the civil rights party, and Democrats were primarily against it. Starting with FDR, the Democrats began moving left-ward on race issues, causing a division with the southern, Jim Crow wing of the party. Eventually, those people left for the GOP, who welcomed them with open arms. And that's where we're at today. This is not that complicated.

McCain waffles clarifies his stance on gay adoptions.

Massachusetts will allow out of state gay couples to marry after repealing a 1913 law originally designed to limit interracial marriages.

Black and Hispanic state troopers are suing the state police force, alleging discrimination and cronyism.

Facebook ads for women basically just tell them they're fat and ugly. My girlfriend noticed this, which is why I'm currently "in a relationship" with a person of indeterminate gender.

Women, take note: You wouldn't want your employer think about your vast amounts of experience if that means keeping your hair gray.

BBC: Muslim woman denied citizenship in France, on the grounds that she is insufficiently assimilated (actually, that does strike me as very French).

The Justice Department has filed a discrimination suit against a condo association accused of refusing to sell to a Black couple with children.

I blogged on this topic once before, but now the NYT takes it on: child brides resisting their forced marriages in Yemen (and winning too!).

Finally, who told this "joke"?
Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, ‘Where is that marvelous ape?’

Why, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain, that's who!


Unknown said...

Isn't a bestiality joke that McCain allegedly told 20 years ago a little out of place in a post about civil rights?

David Schraub said...

I think joking about rape is "related news", don't you?

Unknown said...

No, I think the joke, while off-color, is an exercise in absurdity so the complaint trivializes civil rights.

A better way to relate John McCain's humor to civil rights would be his "Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?" joke.

Anonymous said...

No not really. What does "Chelsey Clinton's ugly" have to do with civil rights? But the ape rape joke indicates Mc'Cain's general sexism and lack of respect for women's rights, because he's trivializing rape (plus it wasn't even a clever joke).

And actually, I'd argue that the point that first article makes is that our nature state ISN'T indifference. Our natural state, if we judge we are safely capable of helping, is altruism. We only become callous when our behavior is modified by our group dynamic.

PG said...

The "clarification" from McCain was pretty lame -- the NYTimes interview didn't ask him about federal legislation to ban adoption by homosexuals/ same-sex couples. So far as I know, there is no such legislation even being proposed. Under what federal authority could it be done? There isn't a nexus to interstate commerce that would get past the SCOTUS precedents from Morrison and Lopez. The federal government could refuse some percentage of funding to states that permitted adoption by gays (South Dakota v. Dole), but it couldn't pull all funding on that basis. At most, the federal authority over Native American tribes could be used to say that no Native American child can be adopted by a homosexual.

Therefore the Times was asking what he personally thought about gay adoption, and the belated federalism dodge is pathetic. For other social issues (teaching evolution, same-sex marriage, etc.), he referred to the states; for this one, he says "I don't believe in gay adoption."

As for the WSJ editorial, it's sad that Republicans still are trumpeting being against slavery as a major moral victory. It was an essentially Republican-only Congress in 1862 that created racially segregated schools for Washington, D.C., and subsequent Republican-led Congresses that appropriated money for same. If a party's racial progress stops at the enslavement of human beings, forgive me if my applause is a bit sarcastic. However, I think there must be more to the regional shift to the GOP than just race.

Joe, I think the problem was that it was not a joke about bestiality, but a joke about rape, particularly one that went along with the "it's OK, she enjoyed it!" myth. A joke about bestiality would be irrelevant to a post about civil rights; a note about McCain's attitude toward women and the seriousness of rape is relevant. If there is a link in here that is irrelevant to civil rights, it's the first one.

Unknown said...

Well, PG, I hardly think John McCain thinks rape isn't a serious issue, and, as I intend on voting for Al Franken in the MN Senate race, I don't think jokes in poor taste (de gustibus non est disputandum) really go any length in disqualifying one for office. (Also, all but the tamest, lamest jokes engage with some sort of taboo subject, in my experience.) YMMV.

Noxheart, that joke is more relevant because it's not absurd at all, and quite straightforward (I actually think the ape joke has considerable ambiguity). First, it's taking the young (16-17 at the time) Chelsea Clinton in front of a national audience and ridiculing her looks (goes to sexism of unrealistic body image, etc.), and then we have the punchline: "Because her father is Janet Reno," the obligatory right-wing aversion to women with power... they Have Deviant Lifestyle.

PG said...

I hardly think John McCain thinks rape isn't a serious issue

John McCain thinks that "more training and education" will solve the problem of employers' paying women less money for doing the same work. That's putting the onus on the victim of mistreatment instead of enforcing the law the requires equal pay. The ape joke is a manifestation of the belief that even if a woman doesn't consent to sex, she can enjoy it. See also the McCain bundler who joked that if rape couldn't be avoided, one should lie back and enjoy it.

This goes back to David's post on how some people will recognize only a brutal assault by a stranger as rape. McCain undoubtedly thinks that the acts he recognizes as rapes are serious. But if she enjoyed it, hey, why not?

As for the relationship between humor and taboo, I completely agree that it exists, which is why I said there wouldn't have been so much of a problem if it had been merely a bestiality joke. Bestiality is highly taboo and still criminalized (even in the Netherlands!). Consensual incest also is taboo and criminalized. Playboy fantasies about sex with robots apparently also are taboo, at least among Republicans. All of these are valid subjects for humor.

The joke Franken allegedly proposed in which Andy Rooney would say that he used his sedatives in order to drug co-workers and rape them was not about saying that the co-workers would enjoy the rape; it was coming up with something that seemed completely improbable for Andy Rooney -- like having a skit in which Dennis "Department of Peace" Kucinich shoots down people in the line of succession to the presidency so he could get to the White House.

I'm not clear on where there is ambiguity in the ape rape joke. The setup is that the woman is horribly assaulted; the punchline is that she actually enjoyed it. Is there a different punchline one can get from the joke?

Unknown said...

Well, since McCain characterized the behavior as rape... I'm not sure we can infer a "hey, why not?" philosophy. In fact, it's a joke we can take a lot of different meanings from. Perhaps it's a joke about the ethics of animals and sex... can an animal give consent to a human? (We'd all say no, that's bestiality.) What if the animal enjoys the experience? Can animals give consent to other animals? Can we characterize animals as rapists? What if we turn the tables and it's an animal initiating contact with the human?

Or, maybe it's a sort of animal rights joke. Maybe we place such a premium on human characteristics that even malicious rape and assault is seen as "magnificent" because it's human behavior.

In short, I see a lot of ambiguity beyond some obvious political blog shock value implications.

Also, if there's a rape joke that's acceptable because it has Andy Rooney acting in a completely unexpected way, what's so out-of-bounds about one where the victim reacts in an unexpected way?

As for John McCain (and our friendly neighborhood Supreme Court) not standing up for equal pay, well, *there's* something substantive for a civil rights post. (Not so much the gotcha, guilt-by-association links to fundraisers. That bundler for McCain is every bit as irrelevant in my book as Tony Rezko, which is to say, very irrelevant. The campaigns have ample incentive to raise hell over every one of these gaffes and associates by the opposing candidates, of course... but the irrelevance factor is why I tune them out and why I tweaked David's post.)