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You have an opinion, but do you have what it takes to be heard?

Lauren Hogan
Washington, DC

Lauren Hogan

My resume suggests that I'm black. I’m not. But I’m not afraid to talk about race, either.

Having honest conversations

Editor's note: For Thursday morning's post, the contestants were asked to revisit one of their earlier posts and respond to a commenter.

 

Hey, JackRyan82.  Much of what I'd like to say about your comments is probably unprintable.  And I bet you wouldn't have made that Gilmore Girls reference to any one of the other finalists. But you were right yesterday, as was the first commenter: my point of view on race tends to be focused on black-white relationships, to the exclusion of looking at the "intra- and interracial tensions that exist beyond the black-white dimension."  


So here's a snippet of what race relations in contemporary America looks like: Yesterday, NPR fired veteran black journalist Juan Williams because he told Bill O'Reilly he gets nervous when he sees people dressed in "Muslim garb" on a plane.  This was not a smart thing to say -- but it was, from his perspective, an honest one.  And I wish NPR hadn't fired him over it.  As I wrote yesterday, people are already afraid of talking openly about race -- which includes an airing of stereotypes and conversations about why people see each other in certain ways.  Williams didn't say whether or not his feelings make him sad, as Jesse Jackson did when he noted that "There is nothing more painful to me... than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery, then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved." 


As our country gets more complex, our conversations have to become more subtle.  People don't walk around in white robes burning crosses anymore, but what does it mean for a white teacher to vote for Obama and still expect her black kids to do worse in her classroom?  For a 3rd generation Latino to support the Arizona law?  For a black journalist to say he respects Muslims, but is afraid to get on a plane with them?    


That's the race discussion in Obama's America, and these questions should lead to more conversation, not less.  But if the consequences of answering them include immediate job loss, people will be forced to retreat deeper into their own enclaves and echo chambers.  


I hope that's not what happening on these blogs.  But as one of the other finalists wrote this morning, "The freedoms that make a democracy great also make it ugly and messy."  So, JackRyan82, bring it on -- after all, I know you will. 

 

Read more entries from this round. See what the judges think. And cast your vote on Friday.  

By Lauren Hogan  |  October 21, 2010; 12:25 PM ET  | Category:  Blogging Challenge
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Comments

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Nice piece, Lauren. To those who feel Mr. Williams’ comments make him a bigot, I would ask you to consider the following:

If a motorcycle gang was terrorizing your city, randomly breaking into homes and violently assaulting the occupants, is it possible you might feel some momentary apprehension if you heard motorcycles rumbling outside your door late one night? Clearly, you realize the vast majority of motorcyclists are good, law-abiding citizens. But you also know that a subset of that group has chosen to cause great harm to unwitting innocents. That knowledge triggers the survival instinct known as fight-or-flight.

This is not a conscious moral judgment, but a biological reaction that’s been hard-wired into any organism with a cognitive brain. It is only after our rational mind has the chance to evaluate the situation that we can settle our subconscious reaction. In layman’s terms this would be called better safe than sorry. That Mr. Williams reacts this way to a possible threat makes him human. That he voices those feelings makes him honest. I can’t see either as a firable offense.

Posted by: pszyd | November 1, 2010 10:23 AM
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The firing of Juan Williams had nothing to do with his race...the main protagonist of the "race card" was Brit Hume after the fact. It also had little to do with his xenophobic comment in this O'Reilly episode.

It had everything to do with the improper use of the NPR label by Fox News. Both Juan and Mora are introduced as "from NPR" when in fact they are working a 2nd gig...paid stooges as Fox spreads its RW populist drivel of the moment...Fox, the American Pravda!

NPR and PBS contributor/shareholders expect literate and reasoned reportage and debate. That's the "L" word...literate, which Fox News considers a threat to their existence.

Posted by: mfkpadrefan | October 28, 2010 10:41 AM
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KarlHungus1 writes: "Juan Williams is a journalist. Journalists cannot say things like this."

Huh? In a perfect, non-politically correct world, journalists would always feel free to speak the truth as they saw it, which in turn would stimulate honest discussion among the rest of us.

Why do you and NPR apparently fear such a scenario? Have we really gotten to the point in this country's history where it's less important to state the truth than to carefully craft our words in a way that doesn't offend anyone?

Juan Williams was simply describing his own feelings, which mirror those of millions of Americans in the wake of not only 9/11, but near misses by the shoe bomber and underwear bomber. I question the veracity of any American airline passenger who claims not to even consider such things -- especially as we're taking off our shoes and submitting to full-body scans that weren't necessary a decade ago.

Besides, Williams' attitude toward Muslims is no different from the way most of us would feel if our car broke down on a remote road and we saw two dozen burly, tattooed white guys wearing Hell's Angels jackets slow down to take a look. Do you seriously believe that a rise in your adrenaline level indicates bigotry toward motorcycle riders or burly white guys -- or can we agree that a sense of wariness is called for in certain situations?

Posted by: UponFurtherReview | October 23, 2010 8:22 AM
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I've found this post quite fascinating, if for no other reason than the lively debate it has generated. I recall reading an article re: racial profiling when I was a child. I looked for it everywhere and found the quote I wanted: "Common sense becomes racism when skin color becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me." Juan Williams said that. So, Juan Williams is a racist, according to Juan Williams. It's too bad neither he, nor Lauren, nor some of the commenters here, can see that. And while, yes, it is important to allow all types of views into debates, you cannot allow a racist view into one and not call it what it is. As fp26 pointed out, Bull Connor and the KKK would count as legitimate commentators in a discourse on race in Lauren's magic race debate world of goodness. Finally, Juan Williams is a journalist. Journalists cannot say things like this. While he has the freedom of speech to do so, his company definitely has the right to fire him for doing just that, because that statement compromises his integrity as an unbiased journalist. Of course, saying a racist comment also apparently got him a nice pay day from Fox News, but that's neither here nor there.

Posted by: karlhungus1 | October 23, 2010 1:14 AM
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abtaylor1: I find it amusing that you (1) identify yourself as a bigot; and (2) exonerate yourself by proclaiming the title of “multiculturalist.” What does that mean exactly? Do you watch foreign films? Order Chinese? Took Spanish in college?

But either way lets just entertain your proposition. Lets have a dialogue.

Why don’t you share with us how Arabs and Muslims make you feel…

I’m listening.

Posted by: GamalElKhalsan | October 22, 2010 7:12 PM
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Well, since you asked…I think a dialogue about race needs to include more than just (a) extremists and crazies who don’t care that people know that they are hateful and bigoted and (b) people who have decided that they have it all figured out and that they have no bigoted thoughts, fears, or ideas -- or at least none worth talking about. That leaves out a whole lot of people who want to live in a society that accepts and celebrates difference, but who ALSO struggle, as is human nature, with fear and discomfort with difference and with the unknown. If multiculturalists, and I would put myself in that category, could be honest about our own fears and struggles with prejudice, I we’d get more traction. And if we’d be less quick to call for blood any time anyone admits to such fears, we’d be supporting a more honest national dialogue. That doesn’t mean being less vigilant against bigotry.

I don’t want to lionize Juan Williams. I have also found his explanations unsatisfying and inarticulate. In fact, maybe he should have been fired. But I believe that those fanning the flames of hysteria about what he said are helping lock us in to very familiar patterns that don’t help us talk openly about prejudice and how to address it as a problem that lives in us all.

I would certainly not make Juan Williams a conduit for the kind of dialogue that I am talking about. But I think Lauren Hogan is off to a pretty good start.

Posted by: abtaylor1 | October 22, 2010 10:29 AM
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Hi all. Thanks for a great discussion – there are some really good points here. Some things that people say publicly about race and religion are, of course, beyond the pale. Not everything contributes to an open and helpful discussion. Yet if we want to have any discussion at all (meaning people don’t only talk to those who already agree with them), then we have to allow people to say things that bring us into uncomfortable territory.

As William Saleton wrote on Slate yesterday, “it's certainly unsettling to hear him admit that he worries when he sees Muslims in distinctive dress. But admitting such fears doesn't make you a bigot. Sometimes, to work through your fears, you have to face them honestly. You have to think through the perils of acting on those fears. And you have to explain to others why they, too, should transcend their anxieties or resentments and treat people as individuals.”

In the full context of his remarks, I believe Juan Williams – as opposed to say, Angela Merkel – was trying to do that. But because this is a subjective and difficult realm, I understand how people could disagree. Still, let’s keep the comments civil, shall we? And EbonyTower1 (not that it matters) – not only have I been to Southeast, I live there! Hope we’re able to continue these conversations -

Posted by: Lauren Hogan | October 22, 2010 8:41 AM
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I'd also add that neither you nor Ms. Hogan has been able to offer any defense of Juan Williams' cosmically lame attempt to deflect the charges of bigotry that he had to know were coming. It's obvious that since we live in a multi-cultural society, it's VERY EASY for someone who is a minority and believes in the achievements of the black civil rights movement to nonetheless be a bigot.

Nor have you dealt with the larger issue of the dangers of continuing to frame all race issues in America in terms of blacks and whites. Juan Williams' laughable defense (parroted above by Ms. Hogan) is simply one example of this.

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | October 22, 2010 12:37 AM
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Abtaylor1,

I find your (and Ms. Hogan's) defense of Juan Williams particularly perplexing in light of her earlier attack on Angela Merkel, no, actually the entire German nation, for having declared that "multiculturalism has failed" in Germany. I believe that she implied rather strongly that a call for greater assimilation was tantamount to intolerance.

Now, I certainly did not welcome Merkel's declaration and found it quite disappointing. With that said, I was not the one (that would be Ms. Hogan) to condemn an entire nation for the statements of a single politician advocating a shift in social policy (even an unfortunate one). Where were the calls for nuance and context then?

What we are doing here is merely pointing out that Williams' remarks were bigoted AND deeply hurtful to a particularly vulnerable segment of our MULTI-cultural and MULTI-racial society. Would you instead have us "argue that immigrants are welcome here - as long as they speak and act just like us?" (that would be Ms. Hogan's own words). Isn't this exactly what Juan Williams was saying last night when he emphasized that it was Muslims in non-western dress that he was afraid of?

Honestly, ask yourself whether it is at all helpful or constructive to be telling people on national television (and let's be honest about the Fox News audience here - these are people who are probably more susceptible than most Americans to fear-mongering about Arabs and Muslims) that Juan Williams self-professed "non-bigot" and "civil rights scholar", is afraid of Arabs and Muslims, because he thinks they might be terrorists.

Is that part of a "reasonable conversation on race"?

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | October 22, 2010 12:33 AM
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Dear abtaylor1,

You are more subtle than Ms. Hogan in your endorsement of Mr. Williams and his views. While I appreciate your sense of diplomacy, I’ll stand by what I’ve said before that racism and xenophobia are unacceptable and are not what this country is about.

Like Ms. Hogan, you talk about the importance of discussing these issues in a frank and open national dialogue. A dialogue about what? A dialogue in which we question and debate people’s humanity? In which we deliberate about whether Muslims and Arabs are really human just like the rest of us? Dialogue in which we openly debate the merits of xenophobia and intolerance? Putting people’s humanity up for question just to get attention on a news show, a blogpost, or a term paper is something I find quite disturbing.

Again, the only dialogue people like Mr. Williams need to have are with their shrinks. And, frankly, if you feel like his views make sense to you, I’d recommend you drop Dr. Phil a line. He might be able to help.

Goodluck with your dialogue!

Posted by: GamalElKhalsan | October 22, 2010 12:06 AM
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Lauren, I love your bio line. I think you have written with deep insight into race relations. You have a passion to get people into those deeper conversations necessary to make things better. Good!

However the defense of Williams was just plain wrong. Worse than what Williams said is the thought process he would need to go through to reach that conclusion. If Williams was going to die today it most likely would be in a car crash on the way to the airport, not because of a Muslim. It is scary so many Americans are so scared over an infinitesimally small threat.

Posted by: chucky-el | October 21, 2010 10:45 PM
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Dear prior commenters,

Some of you accuse Hogan of being condescending and then go on to bestow upon her a glib, overly simplistic truth that involves putting people into camps of bigoted or pure. Even more troubling, you condemn Hogan for putting herself above participation in race relations while simultaneously tearing her down for having the audacity to simply point out that it is odd and interesting to have people assume she is of a particular race based on the missions of the organizations for which she has worked. While many minorities may have had similar experiences, most white people have not.

Too often we have a hard time admitting our biases, prejudices, or even observations about our racial selves and relationships because we are afraid of the sudden and brutal condemnation that can result. Our national dialogue on race is not equipped to distinguish between the intent of someone bent on creating more fear and hate and that of an admittedly imperfect but well-intentioned person who wants to have an honest dialogue rather than hiding shameful secrets or uncomfortable truths. Juan Williams is certainly more in the latter camp than the former when you read his full conversation with O’Reilly, and to lump him in with those who believe “all Muslims are terrorists” is far worse than anything he said to begin with.

I hope Lauren will continue to talk about race from her perspective. I, for one, am interested in what she has to say.

Posted by: abtaylor1 | October 21, 2010 10:07 PM
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FP26: Thank you for proving to me that the world is not insane.

I just find it troubling (and frankly terrifying) that someone presents THIS (as in THIS POST) as their best shot at winning a contest on blogging. It says a great deal about how tolerant our society has become of racist discourse and xenophobia.

Indeed, people like Juan Williams need to have an honest conversation about race WITH THEIR SHRINK, not with intelligent readers and listeners.

Very disappointing, Ms. Hogan. I hope you follow FP26’s suggestion to “read this out loud to Arabs and Muslims in America.” Maybe then you’ll realize that your pep talk is the problem, not the solution.

Posted by: GamalElKhalsan | October 21, 2010 9:34 PM
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FP26: Thank you for proving to me that the world is not insane.

I just find it troubling (and frankly terrifying) that someone presents THIS (as in THIS POST) as their best shot at winning a contest on blogging. It says a great deal about how tolerant our society has become of racist discourse and xenophobia.

Indeed, people like Juan Williams need to have an honest conversation about race WITH THEIR SHRINK, not with intelligent readers and listeners.

Very disappointing, Ms. Hogan. I hope you follow FP26’s suggestion to “read this out loud to Arabs and Muslims in America.” Maybe then you’ll realize that your pep talk is the problem, not the solution.

Posted by: GamalElKhalsan | October 21, 2010 9:32 PM
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FP26: Thank you for proving to me that the world is not insane.

I just find it troubling (and frankly terrifying) that someone presents THIS (as in THIS POST) as their best shot at winning a contest on blogging. It says a great deal about how tolerant our society has become of racist discourse and xenophobia.

Indeed, people like Juan Williams need to have an honest conversation about race WITH THEIR SHRINK, not with intelligent readers and listeners.

Very disappointing, Ms. Hogan. I hope you follow FP26’s suggestion to “read this out loud to Arabs and Muslims in America.” Maybe then you’ll realize that your pep talk is the problem, not the solution.

Posted by: GamalElKhalsan | October 21, 2010 9:31 PM
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Lauren...let's have an honest conversation about your post. It is egregious. You say you want to deal with race, but end up enabling bigotry with your words. Juan Williams...this is the guy you defend? Really? Do you really think its okay to air bigotry without condemnation? Look, what he said was CLEARLY racist and indefensible. If he was just a private citizen, I'd call him a bigot and move on. But as a journalist, he cannot say stuff like that and be allowed on the air. No way. Yet you think airing bigotry without consequence is a good thing. Yeah, sure, if you're white. Which...oh right...you are. Not surprising. The only people who would mistake you for being black would be Juan Williams and his uncle named Tom. You clearly have never been part of an "other" that has been subjected to racism. You know the reason why we have such a toxic racial climate in this country right now? Because bigots are allowed to air their bigoted views as if they represent a legitimate viewpoint. Islamophobia is a campaign strategy, for god's sake, because of people like you who are fine with letting the "discussion" include bigots like Williams or O' Reilly with no consequence. I'd like for you to read this out loud to Arabs and Muslims in America who have lived terrified lives over the past decade all across this country, and see how many of them pat you on the back - wow, that was so good, I can't believe she's white! None of them will. Now, I'm not saying you're racist yourself (the second half of your post the other day on race made it clear you weren't - though the first half made me wonder), but you clearly have no clue what it's like to walk in the shoes of an "other" in a society which has openly persecuted their kind. Here's a tip...get over your whiteness. You want to work on race? Think about it from the other person's viewpoint...and by other person, I mean the persecuted, not the persecutor. If not, seriously, stop. You're not helping at all with posts like this. By the way, you know who also had honest views on race (like Williams, according to you)? Bull Connor. The Klan. If only we let them be part of the discourse more than they were, I suppose things would be so much better now...oh right.

Posted by: fp26 | October 21, 2010 6:25 PM
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JackRyan82, you are too generous. I'm sure the pundit has never been to Southeast.

Posted by: ebonytower1 | October 21, 2010 6:16 PM
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Your post is the reason why Arabs and Muslims get mistreated at airports and on planes. I hope you don’t take my comment the wrong way, but I find it horrifying that you justify xenophobia under the guise of being analytically objective and frank. Your post and Mr. Williams’ comments are exactly why xenophobia against Muslims and Arabs have become “politically correct” if not fashionable in America. And before you start getting defensive and list the names of your Arab and Muslim friends, let me make one thing clear: I am not accusing you of being xenophobic or racist. Rather I’m saying your post condones (if not promotes) xenophobia whole-heartedly. I hope you take my comments in the same spirit of “openness” and “honesty” that your post is trying to promote.

Posted by: GamalElKhalsan | October 21, 2010 3:39 PM
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I was interested in your entry into this competition because of your race-centered biography.

After reading your blog posts, however, I have to say I'm not impressed.

As a black intellectual, I have to say that you seem like a white person who thinks that every white person is racist - except you.

Get a clue: not all whites are racist or race-obsessed. And plenty of blacks are. See: Williams, Juan.

Posted by: ebonytower1 | October 21, 2010 2:57 PM
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Well, I guess I asked for this! Listen, there's no question that my bio blurb is terrible. But it was never meant to put myself above or beyond reproach – of course I’m not. I see myself very much as an active participant in this conversation, and I promise you that I'm subjected to judgment and scrutiny all the time – and not just by anonymous bloggers on the internet. This has been a challenging, instructive week, and, although I could do with a little less condescension on your part (I get it, you think I’m young and inexperienced) I do thank you for caring enough about what’s put out into the world to take time to comment on it. And, hey, there’s Dogfish Head in my fridge too.

Posted by: Lauren Hogan | October 21, 2010 1:43 PM
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er... here's Williams' comments:

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | October 21, 2010 1:38 PM
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I also find your choice of the Juan Williams firing as the ground upon which you make your stand to be simultaneously distressing and unfortunately apt. I find it distressing because I wonder whether you would have defended Mr. Williams so strenuously had he been white. The words that he uttered yesterday on Fox News were unambiguously the words of a bigot. I would hope that you'd agree that the simple fact that a bigot holds his bigoted views sincerely does not make them valid or welcome in public discourse. Though of course you suggest otherwise.

I find it apt because I think the content of his remarks perfectly illustrates what's deeply wrong with your continuing to treat race relations, or civil rights, or cultural pluralism (or any term you want to use) as a matter solely of blacks and whites. Here's Mr. Willams' statements, as reported by the New York Times:

“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you... I get worried. I get nervous.”

So Williams pre-emptively declares that he can't possibly be a bigot due to his writings on the civil rights movement. This is akin to declaring that since he's black, he can't possibly be a racist or a bigot. This is pernicious nonsense. But if we continue to think about racism and bigotry in solely black-white terms then this seems permissible, even reasonable.

Any and all participants in a "reasonable conversation on race" have to be able to condemn and reject these notions as the outrageous bunk that they are. If you find the notion that "all blacks are criminals" to be outrageous and racist then you must find the notions that "all hispanics are illegals" and "all Muslims are terrorists" to be similarly outrageous and racist. In fact, I have a pretty good sense that you think that of the first two, but for some reason, not the last statement. Why?

You objected to the Arizona immigration law (http://views.washingtonpost.com/pundits2010/contestants/lauren.hogan/2010/10/lets_not_be_like_germany.html). Must be because it amounts to encouraging racial profiling right? Well, what exactly was Juan Williams talking about on the O'Reilly Factor? Oh, that's right. His own private racial profiling. So if the Arizona law is racist, I guess Juan Williams is racist too.

If we're to have an honest conversation, there are certain viewpoints which do have to be ruled out, because they are fundamentally incompatible with the society that enables us to have that conversation. There's nothing to be gained in a conversation about race, if it's held by racists.

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | October 21, 2010 1:37 PM
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Lauren,

I can't look into the mind of Jackryan82, but I can tell you what bothered me about your bio, your initial post, and now your response post. There is a distinct note of condescension throughout - as though you, alone among non-blacks are able to simultaneously see past white racism AND white liberal guilt to the TRUTH.

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | October 21, 2010 1:36 PM
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Let me put this even more bluntly: You write as if the conversation on race were a discussion that other people were having, and that you are just a neutral observer. But you're not. You are a participant, but you refuse to subject yourself to the same scrutiny and judgment you dispense to the other players in the game. And in this context that's worse than hypocritical.

I was going to write that I'm sorry if this is the first time you're hearing criticisms that go to the core of your presentation of self. But actually I'm not. If you were trying out for a real pundit job, you'd be more prepared for the mental slings and arrows that would be coming your way. As it is, I suspect your friends and colleagues have congratulated you on putting forward a viewpoint they find congenial but which you've never really had to defend in a Habermasian public sphere.

Well, welcome to the Interwebs. This is what the ideal speech situation looks like.

Posted by: JackRyan82 | October 21, 2010 1:17 PM
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Lauren, sorry if I upset you. But I wish you would realize just how badly you've offended a number of us with your bio line -- "edited" or not.

I wouldn't have made the Gilmore Girls comment to anyone else, but not because of gender--it's because you seem to live in a world in which you're the voice of Virtue and the rest of us are cursed by vice.

Being honest about race would mean facing up to your own prejudices, as well as condemning what you see in others. But you don't do that. You begin by assuming your moral superiority and then condescend to share it with the rest of us.

So, how about it, Lauren: Have you ever had racist thoughts? Told a racist joke? Been more afraid of walking alone in Southeast than in Northwest?

Posted by: JackRyan82 | October 21, 2010 12:57 PM
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