racism is not cute

I took my time replying to some of Bob Krumm’s posts, because I wanted to be sure what I said was measured and civil, and so that I could decide specifically what I wanted to say. Bob’s post here has appalled me. He tells the story of encountering two men of “obvious Middle Eastern descent”, which of course doesn’t really mean anything, so we’re left to assume what he means here is “brown”. They asked him where Al Gore’s house was. Bob, assuming they were terrorists, gave them wrong directions, and proceeded to run home and call the police to report their license plate. As justification, he provides:

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m biased against Middle Easterners. But I will admit to being skeptical of young Middle Eastern-looking men doing curious things with security implications.

Security implications. Bear in mind, we’re talking about two guys driving around in Belle Meade, here. I’m not going to hash out all the reasons that imagining that two guys driving around the richest, most touristy neighborhood in Nashville asking for directions are terrorists is silly and childish, as it’s fairly obvious. I can’t figure out if the tone of Bob’s post is supposed to be a confessional – as if we’re supposed to pat him on the back and commiserate with him and say, “it’s okay, Bob, you’re not racist – most middle easterners really are terrorists, so it was an easy mistake!” or if he really thinks he prevented something and is congratulating himself.

I’m not going to mince words here – I want my opinion on this to be very clear: Bob, you’re a racist. Sounds terrible when I say it like that, doesn’t it? Racism is a pretty terrible thing. I’ve noticed that I have bandied about words like “bigotry” and “xenophobia”, and to be sure, in many cases those words are appropriate as well, but the word that describes this story that Bob so proudly conveys is “racism”. The reason I avoided that word is because in civil discussion it’s a pretty serious accusation to make – calling someone racist. But bear in mind that I am of the opinion that everyone is racist to some degree or another, and that to ignore or deny that is foolish.

The really disturbing comment that got me was in the comments of that post, where a commenter mentions that the guys were “Couple of rich tourists, probably.” (uh, yeah?), to which Bob’s reply was:

“Winter, You were right, “probably”. But “probably” wasn’t a risk I thought worth taking.”

Not only is this racist, but it’s a little creepily authoritarian. It wasn’t a risk you “thought was worth taking”? No offense, but who the hell are you? Careful, folks, Big Brother Bob is watching. In earlier posts, Bob asserts that “If P&O had sold its American port operations to Maersk, a Danish shipping company, I’d have little objection”, because “hans and frans won’t have bombs”, and before that, “I’ll make a deal with the Arabs. If they can go until the year 2193 without another attack against Americans, I won’t object to them being in charge of our ports of entry.”

The Arabs. Let that sink in for a minute. These are racist statements, and I am not going to pull any punches in acknowledging them as such.

There are a lot of interesting dynamics to this debate about the UAE and the security ports. A lot of people, made aware of the situation, are now coming to the reasonable conclusion that maybe it’s not a good idea to have a foreign country, or worse, a giant corporation, administering any of our ports. This is a valid discussion to have, but it’s important to note that no one raised any objections when the ports were controlled by a British company. The outrage has xenophobic and racist roots, and to ignore this phenomenon is dangerous.

Bob’s digressions, however, are not reasonable objections – they are objections rooted in xenophobia and racism, and that’s a little messed up. I like Bob – I think he’s otherwise a civil and pleasant guy, and I hope he takes this criticism in stride. But I am utterly disgusted by this dark side we’ve recently been introduced to, and I wasn’t about to let it go without comment, particularly given Bob’s aspirations for public office.