Sorry, Reggie White, you failed the political correctness test

March 31, 1998|By Tony Snow

WASHINGTON -- Reggie White, an all-pro defensive end for the Green Bay Packers, shocked Wisconsin legislators last Wednesday by delivering an hourlong sermon about morality, sexuality and race.

Although the athlete stunned many by invoking the Lord's name in reverence and declaring that Americans are living in sin, he truly roused the crowd by unleashing a string of characterizations about American ethnic groups:

African-Americans: "When you look at the black race, black people are very gifted in what we call worship and celebration. A lot of us like to dance, and if you go to a black church, you see people jumping up and down because they really get into it."

Whites: "White people were blessed with the gift of structure and organization. You guys do a good job with building businesses and things of that nature. And you know how to tap into money pretty much better than a lot of people around the world."

Hispanics: "Hispanics were gifted in family structure. You see a Hispanic person, and they can put 20 or 30 people in one home."

Asians: "When you look at the Asian, the Asian is very gifted in creativity and invention. If you go to Japan or any Asian country, they can turn a television into a watch. They are very creative."

Mr. White concluded by committing religion in the public chamber, as befits his status as an ordained minister. "When you put all of that together, guess what it makes? It forms the complete image of God."

Offensive attack

Politicians filed out swiftly, and if press reports are any indication, they generally professed to be "stunned" by the talk and "offended" by its contents. This comes as no surprise since many in the political world react badly when they have their own tacit beliefs recited to them in stark terms.

Mr. White may have breached the rules of political correctness, but he didn't say anything that hasn't already been incorporated into law from sea to shining sea. He merely reiterated the central thesis of multiculturalism, which is that we're unmeltably ethnic and that the government must create harmony by taking from each according to his ability and redistributing to others according to their need.

Now, every society dotes to some extent on its stereotypes, and many over the ages have institutionalized them. But we used to try to persuade ourselves that, with the lamentable exception of slavery and Jim Crow, we were caste-free.

No more. Today, our government stubbornly categorizes us by race, tracking more than 170 "ethnic groups." Average folks don't have much interest in this kind of Balkanization.

But Washington insists on mincing us into tiny groups, each presumed to have opposing natures and interests. When President Clinton met with conservative civil rights activists last year, he demanded that they confront such facts as "the college population is disproportionately white" and "the business population is disproportionately white" -- not a far cry from Mr. White's analysis.

And although the commander in chief would hotly dispute Mr. White's stereotypes of blacks, ask yourself: When was the last time the president sang "We Shall Overcome" in a white church or delivered a a sermon about business responsibility in a black one?

As for Asian-Americans, the civil rights czar in this administration, Chinese-American Bill Lann Lee, once urged a court to protect a California scheme that limited Asian-American admissions to the state's elite universities. Why? Because Asians, in keeping with Mr. White's view, were outpacing everybody else.

Finally, politicians who address Hispanic groups typically talk about family values, which they link closely to Catholic traditions. Although Mr. White's quip about fitting 20 to 30 people in a household sounds nutty, there's a small germ of truth: Hispanic Americans have the largest average family size of any major ethnic group.

Stereotypes exposed

In short, Reggie White exposed the stereotypical underpinnings the modern welfare state -- that different groups enter the world with varying prospects, which only the government can equalize. The practical effect has been to splinter our nation into quarreling and competing interest groups, and to undermine the notion of unity in diversity.

The president's recent apologies on behalf of his countrymen -- for slavery and the slow response to the Rwandan holocaust -- capture the governing elite's belief that the rest of us can't be trusted to do what's right unless somebody dispenses moral guidance. If not for Uncle Sam's constant vigilance, the thinking goes, Caucasian males would oppress everybody in sight.

At least Mr. White gives his fellow humans credit for virtue. At least he understands that behind racial differences lurks a more profound unity as children of God. And at least he appreciates that for most Americans, the accidents of skin and homeland are far less important than belonging to a community that believes in hard work, freedom, faith -- and as little moral instruction from Washington as possible.

Tony Snow is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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