In reading Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s claims that White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly is a racist because he compared her to an “empty barrel making the most noise”, an outrageous accusation to which MSNBC hosts Joy Reid and Lawrence O’Donnell attempted to give further credence by offering as “evidence” that General Kelly is an Irish American from Boston, I am reminded of the story of the astronomer Percival Lowell. In the 1890’s, Lowell grabbed headlines by announcing the discovery of “canals” on the planet Mars. Lowell asserted that the “canals” could only be the product of intelligence and therefore there must be life on Mars. One of his fellow astronomers stated that yes, the canals had to be the product of intelligence; the open question was on which side of the telescope the intelligence resided? The same can be said of MSNBC’s commentary, yes there is prejudice but on which side of the microphone is it on?
We could all wish for more temperate speech from both sides of the aisle in discussing our national issues. That we are having a debate over the body of a brave fallen American soldier concerning what was/was not said in a condolence call on his death in his country’s service is a sad testament to the current state of our country. However, spurious charges of racism only contribute to the climate of divisiveness and cheapen the evil of true racism. That MSNBC should promote the serious accusations of racism without fulfilling its basic journalistic responsibility to check the facts is deplorable. A cursory examination of facts would show that the metaphor of “empty barrels making the most noise” has a long and egalitarian history; it was used by Shakespeare and Jonathan Swift (though Swift being Irish must, by MSNBC reasoning, be a closet racist). I would point out that perhaps Congresswoman Wilson and MSNBC may also wish to consult St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians for another variation of General Kelly’s metaphor “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Do Congresswoman Wilson and MSNBC think St. Paul was a racist? Perhaps he gets a pass for his family coming from Tarsus as opposed to Tyrone.
This would all be an exercise in linguistic and historical trivia if MSNBC through their commentators O’Donnell and Reid had not decided to “double down” on Congresswoman Wilson’s absurd claim of racism and offer as “substantiation” that General Kelly was an Irish American from Boston. As Congresswoman Wilson purported to do, I checked the dictionary and looked for words that describe the belief that person actions are predetermined by ones ethnicity. The word that came back was “Racism”. Of course apologist will be quick to point out that MSNBC’s remarks cannot be prejudicial; after all they have the imprimatur of Lawrence O’Donnell of Boston. I will remind them of the response of the English icon Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, when accused of being Irish by virtue of his birth in Dublin; “‘Being born in a stable does not make one a horse.”
We note with grim irony that in years past the Hibernians have drawn to the attention of MSNBC multiple instances of unambiguous bigotry for which no reference to a dictionary is required, merchandise with phrases such as “Everyone Loves a Drunk Irish Slut”. There has always been a conspicuous silence form MSNBC and its commentators twitter feeds on such defaming and misogynistic statements; perhaps because there is no political capital to be made in denouncing them. It is interesting to note that MSNBC commentators have frequently denounced profiling, except apparently when it is engaged in by their commentators concerning Irish Americans from Boston. It is hard to imagine that the scurrilous generalization of “Irish Catholic neighborhood(s) where women were bullied, not honored” would not draw the outrage of MSNBC if the subject was any other than Irish Catholics and the commentator other than MSNBC’s own Joy Reid. We wonder if Ms. Reid made such a sweeping disparaging generality replacing “Irish Catholic” with any other ethnicity/religion would she not be immediately taken to task and denounced by MSNBC management.
Racism is a serious charge, it should not be cheapened or use flippantly as a mere rhetorical device as has been done by Congresswoman Wilson without risk of blunting its inherent evilness. As to the hypocrisy of MSNBC backing up claims of racism while engaging in their own brand of bigotry; they owe all Irish Americans, and specifically those from Boston, an apology.
Neil F, Cosgrove
National Anti Defamation Chairman, Ancient Order of Hibernians.