Hasty Generalizations of Racism: Ugly and Unfair Attacks on Republicans and Tea Partiers

–Richard E. Vatz, Ph.D.

About two weeks ago, I was waiting in a “7 items or fewer” line at Wegmans in Hunt Valley, Maryland, a store I frequent with some regularity. The woman in front of me had 18 separate items [I counted them] and a variety of difficulties in finding the money in her purse to pay for it. She was waited on for over 7 minutes. After she was finished paying, I said to the person at the register, “Do you all [sorry for the questionable spoken grammar] not discourage people who have so many items from using this line? It really is bad policy.”

The woman who took 18 items to the 7-item limit line was still within earshot and said, “Mind your own business. You’re from Pikesville [part of Baltimore 12 miles or so from this Wegmans, always associated with a Jewish population], aren’t you?” I told her I wasn’t talking to her. The cashier smiled, but said nothing.

What should/can one make of this little drama? How about the following: “Hunt Valley, Maryland is a hotbed of anti-Semitism;” “Wegmans tolerates religious prejudice in its stores;” and/or “a Jewish man cannot escape vile anti-Jewish remarks in Baltimore County or Maryland?”

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These inferences constitute what some logicians call “hasty generalization,” or the taking of an atypical example and depicting it as being representative.

Bob Herbert, a New York Times columnist writes, “In Washington on Saturday, opponents of the health care legislation spit on a black congressman and shouted racial slurs at two others…[Rep.] Barney Frank… was taunted because he is gay.”

Immediately following this citation of facts, Mr. Herbert interprets them: “At some point, we have to decide as a country that we just can’t have this: We can’t allow ourselves to remain silent as foaming-at-the-mouth protesters scream the vilest of epithets at members of Congress — epithets that The Times will not allow me to repeat here.“ He goes on: “…it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.”

This is classic hasty generalization. It is impossible to get thousands of protesters without including some schmucks (to use a term that some of my buds in Pikesville, but few of my fellow residents in Cockeysville, use), people who only by anatomical criteria qualify for “human race” categorization.

Where else have I seen such despicable human beings?

About seven plus years ago when running for Lieutenant Governor in Maryland, (current Republican national Committee Chairman) Michael Steele was depicted as “Simple Sambo” by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s site. The same committee illegally obtained Mr. Steele’s credit report. Maryland Democratic State Senator Lisa A. Gladden supported using vicious racist slurs against Mr. Steele since “party trumps race,” and, even more offensively, then-Democratic Maryland Del. Salima S. Marriott’s made the horrifying statement that comparisons of Mr. Steele to a slave were deserved because he was a conservative. In the 2002 Maryland Gubernatorial debate, attended by Mr. Steele, Oreo cookies were thrown his way to imply he was a fake African-American.

Two or three Democrats, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings to be sure and Kweisi Mfume, then-head of the NAACP, spoke out against the racist treatment of Michael Steele, but there was not a word of criticism by any of the major political Democratic office-holders in Maryland.

Now, that’s not a hasty generalization; it is an accurate statement of Maryland’s Democratic Party.

Now, finally, let me add a bit of context to my above analogy of the religious remark I experienced at Wegmans. I have lived in Maryland for over 35 years, and this was the first anti-Semitic remark I have ever experienced. The woman at the register probably said nothing because she hadn’t been trained to deal with such a remark, and who knows what she should have done, if anything, regardless?

I had and have no right to accuse any large group — Marylanders or Hunt Valley residents or Wegmans employees — of condoning anti-Semitism, per this experience. My experience was atypical.

The Maryland Democratic quiet countenancing of racism against a Republican African-American? For that limited application, the evidence is pretty clear that the answer is “yes.” For general racist accusations against Republicans or Tea Partiers, sorry, but those remain hasty generalizations. The vast majority of conservatives find racist and/or anti-gay remarks or behavior to be utterly contemptible.

Professor Vatz teaches “Persuasion” at Towson University

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