Saturday, December 14, 2013

Megyn Kelly Blames Her White Privilege On The Black Girl

Update 4pm Sunday: Sad news. After holding this piece for 30 hours, Andrew Kirell says it's too late in the cycle to publish it, so you can only read it here. Please share it.

This piece was submitted for publication this morning, but is awaiting approval/edits. Here's a sneak peak for Tommy Xtra readers.

On Fox News' The Kelly File Friday night, host Megyn Kelly tried to explain away her emphatic insistence that Santa Claus is emphatically, undeniable, and unchangeably white by explaining that she was just agreeing with Slate's Aisha Harris that our culture depicts Santa Claus as white. Kelly also claimed she was the victim of accusations of "racism," but then proceeded to play several clips of no one accusing her of that. Kelly's commentary was an outrageous example of white privilege, and so was her defiant response to the controversy.

In her response to the controversy last night, Kelly made several claims that just don't match up with reality. She claimed that "Kicking off the light-hearted segment, I offered a tongue in cheek message for any kids watching, saying that Santa, who I joked is a real person whose race is identifiable, is white, just as Harris claimed in her piece, but that we were debating whether that should somehow change."

That's simply not true. Joking or not, Kelly was not simply outlining the debate, she was making an emphatic ruling on it, repeatedly. She had already called the premise of Harris' piece "ridiculous," and later explicitly acknowledged that she had considered Harris' argument, and again offered Santa's immutable whiteness as rebuttal. "I have given her her due on where she was going with," Kelly said, adding "Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change.

"Jesus was a white man, too," Kelly continued. "He was a historical figure. That's a verifiable fact -- as is Santa. I want the kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy, of the story, and change Santa from white to black?"

Kelly seems to think she was mocked for thinking that Santa is a real person, but that's the entire point; Kelly's rigid insistence that Santa Claus just is white is only absurd because we all know he isn't a flesh-and-blood person. The debate is over the "reality" of Santa in the sense that Frank Church wrote about it, in his ability to "make glad the heart of childhood." Faced with someone whose heart is not made glad by white Santa, Kelly's response was: too bad, he just is white.

She also claimed to have been beset by charges of racism, and while that may have occurred in some other forum, none of the examples she provided included that charge, nor did anyone say her commentary was "motivated by racial fear or loathing," as Kelly also claimed. The criticism was of the commentary as an expression of white privilege.

White Privilege is not the same thing as racism, but rather, a product of racism that allows otherwise decent people to support a racist status quo by inoculating them from racism's effects, and blinding them to their own privileged immunity from them. Kelly's insistence that Santa Claus just is white is, as she pointed out in her response, the product of a dominant white culture that simply will not entertain the notion of a nonwhite Santa Claus, as Kelly herself would not.

But the ultimate expression of that white privilege is to go on television before your overwhelmingly white audience, and explain that when you told them that Santa Claus just is white, and that it was "ridiculous" to say otherwise, and that "Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," you were really just agreeing with the black lady who wrote the original piece, and by the way, that black lady is a "race-baiter." Kelly used Aisha Harris as a brush in the whitewashing of her remarks.

Kelly has that privilege because there is zero risk in the proposition, and considerable reward. Fox News' audience doesn't include many people who will be alienated by any of this, and her well-promoted response will likely generate huge ratings. By doubling down, Kelly also provides fodder for more criticism, which will only draw more like-minded eyeballs to her program.

If there are people calling Megyn Kelly a racist over this, I disagree with them, but I also think Megyn Kelly ought to listen to them instead of bristling. Fox News nighttime demographics aside, Kelly ought to ask herself just which kids she was really talking to when she repeatedly assured them that Santa is white, and if she was talking to all of them, how that might have made some of them feel.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Race War on Christmas: Megyn Kelly Declares ‘Santa Claus Just Is White’ and So Was Jesus

It's come to this. Of all the absurdity that has emerged from the War on Christmas™ narrative, there has been nothing so surreal as a hard news anchor weighing in, authoritatively, on the racial identity of a nonexistent person, which is what happened on Wednesday night's edition of The Kelly File. Discussing a Slate article that suggested a more inclusive Santa, host Megyn Kelly repeatedly informed "the kids" (a key Fox News primetime demo) that "Santa Claus just is white," and that "Jesus was a white man, too."

Slate's Aisha Harris wrote a thoughtful piece about the effects of cultural exclusion from such a dominant American symbol of childhood, and suggested that Santa Claus be transformed, not into a black man (good thinking, because Black Santa would get down exactly one chimney before getting shot in the face), but a penguin, "spare millions of nonwhite kids the insecurity and shame" that she remembers from childhood.

Of this thoughtful essay about inclusion, Kelly says "I kind of laughed and I said this is ridiculous. Yet another person claiming it's racist to have a white Santa."

Harris, it should be noted, did not say it was "racist to have a white Santa," but rather that the notion that Santa can only be white "helps perpetuate the whole 'white-as-default' notion endemic to American culture (and, of course, not just American culture)," i.e. it's messed up to say that you can't have a black Santa Claus, as well.

"For kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly continues, "but this person is arguing we should have a black Santa."

Again, Harris actually isn't arguing that at all (not that there would be anything wrong with a black Santa, any more than there's a problem with an endless succession of white Jackson Five's). She wants him to be a penguin.

Some of the panel handles the subject with a surprising amount of nuance, but later on, Kelly answers their agreement by responding "Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure, as is Santa."

There is, of course, considerable disagreement about Jesus' race and appearance, but her designation of Santa Claus as a "historical figure" dooms Kelly's argument.

After Monica Crowley sensibly observes that "a penguin would never work, because penguin cannot lug gifts around the world," unlike pre-diabetic fat men on flying sleds, she agrees with Kelly that "Santa Claus is based on St. Nicholas, a Greek bishop, who was a white man."

Kelly's main objection here seems to be changing Santa, because obviously, there are no differences between these two guys:

As Crowley points out, Santa is partially based on a historical figure, one with whom the current Santa Claus differs significantly. If we're going to be purists, then we should be decorating our trees with the pickled, severed heads of would-be sex slaves, and street-corner Santas should be railing against Arianism as they ring their bells. Of the millions of differences that there are between Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas, why is it that the one trait that must never, ever be changed is that he was white (assuming he was even all that white)?

Because it's just that important, apparently.

We had an expression in my family that went "You keep Christmas in your way, and I'll keep it in mine," and it worked pretty well, but if we're looking to roll out a new, dominant cultural symbol of Christmas, then Santa Claus should be a giant self-aware computer who delivers presents using an army of antlered (possibly red-nosed) drones. Now there's a War on Christmas I can get behind.

Here's the clip, from Fox News' The Kelly File:

(h/t MMFA)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

GOP Strategist Rick Wilson Tweets About Sh*tting in Sarah Palin's 'Whore Mouth'

The ouster of MSNBC host Martin Bashir over commentary he delivered about former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has sparked intense debate online, debate which included Republican strategist Rick Wilson tweeting something far more vulgar about Palin than anything Bashir said in his controversial commentary. Responding to a tweet berating liberals for failing to oppose Bashir's ouster, Wilson tweeted "Yeah, I mean it was just Sarah Palin right? Totes cool to talk about shitting HER whore mouth, amitrite? I mean, really." 
 By rights, anyone referring to Governor Palin's oral cavity as a "whore mouth," and calling her a "whore" by extension, should never expect to get a job in politics again. During our Twitter exchange, I asked if Wilson should expect a fate similar to Bashir's:

The fact is that context matters, and Rick Wilson clearly did not actually mean that Sarah Palin has a "whore mouth," or that he would like to hear more about it being defecated in. Rick Wilson was using satire (not parody) to make a point, which was that many Palin detractors view her with irrational, at times misogynistic, contempt, while also attempting to falsely recast Bashir's remarks as a gender-specific attack. It was vulgar and provocative, but was clearly intended to make a point, not to literally condone the filling of anyone's mouth, "whore" or otherwise, with fecal matter.

 The same could also be said of the commentary that resulted in Martin Bashir's ouster. It was vulgar and provocative, but was clearly intended to make a point, not to literally condone the filling of anyone's mouth with fecal matter. The purpose of Bashir’s commentary was to illustrate, mainly to Sarah Palin, the sick trivialization of her remarks about slavery. Bashir’s goal was worthy, and his means were legitimate, but that’s not the commentary or provocation that I would have used. Yes, it amplified the underlying message, but at the cost of obscuring it.

Palin deliberately referenced American slavery, as conservatives are wont to do, in order to make a trivial point about public debt, and Bashir's intent was to show just what it was she was comparing. Bashir described, at length, the barbaric punishments used on slaves, and in the long tradition of political satire, included a provocation that served to amplify that commentary. Just as Swift didn’t actually intend for people to eat babies, Bashir did not literally wish for Palin to be shat upon, or into.

 It's an important distinction to make, because Martin Bashir didn't lose his job for violating MSNBC language standards, or for offending the sensibilities of his audience, but for running afoul of people who already didn't like him, and who relentlessly sought to silence him. That MSNBC volunteered to capitulate is unfortunate, because they have introduced a chill to an essential form of political and social commentary, and it's an asymmetrical chill. Conservatives don't punish people for saying offensive things, they reward them.

 To be clear, Martin Bashir's commentary didn't get it right; the provocation that he punctuated it with was misguided and irresponsible, and he was right to apologize for it. MSNBC would even have been justified in suspending him for it, had they done so immediately. In forcing Bashir out under external pressure, MSNBC has drawn a target on the back of any liberal commentator who dares to be provocative. [photo via Wikimedia Commons]