Does Mel Gibson represent anybody?

Mel Gibson’s periodic meltdowns serve as fodder for columnists’ essays on the state of race relations. The comments attached illustrate both the lack of a grasp of what is going on and a strong desire to simplify issues and stick our collective heads in the sand.

First, the fact that Gibson’s conversation was private and so falls under the rubric of “when haven’t we all said something dumb” fails the IQ test. The point is, when Gibson thought the cameras were off, he let go with what he really thinks. You can use the stereotype of Black buck rapists because it works. The assumption on his part is that it will work with his girlfriend. Where would he get that assumption if not from conversations he has had with many people? He is not an American, so he had to learn that that is the quintissential American threat – a big, Black buck.

Next, he is only one person and so cannot possibly represent anything about America as a whole. The point of the article was that we seldom get to hear what people say in private and, due to Gibson’s celebrity and stupidity, we got a peek. To ignore this eruption is to dismiss the underlying assumptions alluded to above: I can say this b/c it will resonate. The writer of the column suggests Gibson’s utterances may be representative of what a lot of people say in private.

Then we have the canard about African-Americans and other groups being proud of their heritage but Whites cannot express such pride. As a school teacher, I never once encountered a group of White kids who wanted to start a “White club” whose motives were not to set themselves up a superior to other groups. When they objected that the Black or Hispanic or Native American groups were exclusionary, I had to point out to them that all of those groups had members of other ethnicities in them as was firm district policy. When I added that that implied that their group would have to be open to other ethnicities as well, they lost interest.

Seldom did we get to the overall point that ethnic groups have had ethnic pride celebrations all the time and all over the place: Poles, Portuguese, New England French, Greeks, Italians, and so on. It is only when Blacks try to express pride in their group that some Whites get upset and want to counter it. I point out that none of those groups want to esablish and claim superiority but just celebrate their group’s contributions, whereas the White groups want to claim sole proprietorship of the American identity. And finally, White and Black are racial terms, not ethnic identities. Blacks use Black only because Whites in this country have set up the dichotomy White vs Black. To now turn around and blame that on Blacks is the crassest ahistoricism

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