On Double Standards And #OscarsSoWhite
I recently read an article by actor Donnie Wahlberg I thought well-written and quite insightful. (Disclaimer: I’m a fan of his work on Blue Bloods though I don’t know him personally.) I suspect my political views do not align with the professed “proud, Irish-Catholic white kid, with a last name that sounds Jewish, a Boston accent and a Boston Public Schools education.” It doesn’t matter. Here’s why (and here’s our first lesson):
LESSON #1: AMERICA IS ADVANCED CITIZENSHIP
Given the current American social and political climate after months of #BlackLivesMatter and #OscarsSoWhite and #RachelDolezal and the Twitterverse cry of racism because there wasn’t an all-white version of #TheWiz (yeah, that really happened!), I found it refreshing for a public figure to expound on several racially-charged issues while admitting his gender, race and experience gave him a necessarily different perspective than the people of color at the center of the controversies. Even more impressive, was that Mr. Wahlberg had the class to express his opinions without being crude, obnoxious or insulting (which is the type of behavior that has become so common in this age of social media and Internet commentary).
For months, I’ve read about, listened to, or heard first hand the vitriol expounded by many who seem intent upon quieting anyone whose views champion a cause or people outside their personal reality. If that’s not you, thank God! Whether it’s politics, or entertainment, or the tight-fisted financial profiting off collegiate athletes, opinions will differ. The reasons for those varying opinions may stem from differences in racial experiences or class or gender or aptitude for standardized testing. But (and this is a big “but”), when those differences arise, Americans must be mindful of the double standard.
Whatever your political views and whomever your preferred presidential candidate, remember that who we are as Americans–the melting pot of the world’s countries–necessitates we embrace not only our own but also our neighbor’s fundamental right to free speech, free assembly, unfettered lawful protest (even of the Oscars), and, yep, to vote for those who will lead our red-white-and-blue democracy. In so doing, sometimes, we have to look inwards and determine whether, in our responses to our neighbor’s opinions, we are holding others to a standard higher than or antithetical to the one we hold ourself.
Mr. Wahlberg’s commentary specifically addresses BET, the Oscars, and Donald Trump. But I submit that the philosophy behind his thoughts extend well beyond those issues to others who would polarize us over racial, gender, sexuality or class issues. The core values upon which America was founded–if followed based upon purity of language (the meaning of the words written in our founding documents) rather than the hypocritical lifestyle of the authoring forefathers–does not leave room for close-mindedness, self-centeredness, intolerance, racism, sexism or any other -ism.
LESSON #2: FREE SPEECH REQUIRES ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF OTHERS, NOT SILENCING
I’ve been appalled by the number of tweets, posts, memes, and other social networking communiqués that specifically tell others to “be quiet” or, worse, to actually “shut up.” While we are free to disagree with each other, the attempts to silence those whose speech and opinions vary from our own opinions and life experiences is not patriotism and completely contrary to the beliefs upon which this country was founded (not to mention down right rude and antithetical to the building of strong American communities).
Here, I think apropos the civics lesson in the turning-point campaign speech of Andrew Shepherd in one of my all-time favorite movies, The American President:
“America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, ‘You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.‘
“You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.
“Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.”
Michael Douglas in THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995)
Let freedom ring!
And, Mr. Wahlberg, well done.