Jewish World Review Aug.27, 1999 /15 Elul, 5759
The number continues to rise. And the ululations of the aggrieved - I am victim, hear me roar! - continue to echo from the far corners of the fruited plain.
In Boston this month, multi-ethnic tempers are flaring over a newly identified hate symbol: the loathsome shamrock. The city’s housing authority had blacklisted – er, listed – the Irish symbol as an emblem of intolerance along with the Nazi swastika and the Confederate flag. An outraged Boston Globe reader wrote of being “personally offended” by a shamrock hanging in a tax collector’s window. Government-employed diversity officers defended the housing agency’s symbol-cleansing efforts to ensure racial tolerance.
What’s next – a boycott of the Lucky Charms leprechaun?
In Tampa, Fla. a few years ago, Latino organizers launched a full-throated protest over an oppressive "hate crime" against immigrants. Discriminatory hiring practices? A ban on welfare benefits? Police brutality? Try the menacing presence of Dinky the Taco Bell Chihuahua, the star of a popular ad campaign run by the Mexican-style fast-food chain. The diminutive doggie craves tacos and burritos. His signature phrase, "Yo quiero Taco Bell" (I want Taco Bell), now rolls off the tongues of teens who couldn't stay awake in Spanish class.
"I think it is very demeaning," complained Gabriel Cazares, president of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the country's oldest Hispanic civil-rights group, to the Tampa Tribune. He and a few other LULAC chapter heads boycotted the chain and wanted Dinky shut down. Cazares blasted Taco Bell's insensitivity as "criminal" and complained the ad campaign "leads to the type of immigrant bashing that Hispanics are now up against."
Only in America can a four-legged mascot for junk food be held responsible for the collective civil-rights violations of an entire ethnic group.
In Seattle, a handful of angry Asian-American activists picketed ObaChine, celebrity-chef Wolfgang Puck and his wife's pan-Asian eatery. The aggrieved protested a 1920s portrait of a Chinese man drinking tea that hangs near the entrance. Taken from a vintage French colonial tea ad, the same image, chosen by Puck's wife and business partner Barbara Lazaroff, has hung in the couple's Beverly Hills restaurant for 15 years without a complaint. But Ron Chew, local director of an Asian art museum, told me the portrait embodied a "set of attitudes that is racist at its core" and "belittles" Asian people.
Well, this Asian American trekked down to ObaChine to have a look and found the out-of-reach menu prices far more belittling than the portrait. Yes, it looks like a Chinese man from a century or more ago. That's not an unreasonable image for a restaurant that serves Chinese food to adopt.
Yet, some community activists demanded that the business take down the picture - or at the very least, lighten the skin, lower the brows, and widen the eyes of the ObaChine man. These protesters wouldn't be appeased until the ethnic portrait is completely whitewashed and a tea-drinker who looks more like Roy Rogers hangs in ObaChine's lobby. Coercion, rather than honest communication, is their ultimate goal.
As Lazaroff told me, "All this does is foster anger and sensitize people to race in the wrong way. They don't care that I run a business with hundreds of employees of every ethnic, racial and socioeconomic background."
When their politically correct crusades degenerate from the sublime to the ridiculous, grievance activists quickly invoke personal pain and past history as absolute defenses. Chew told me about kids who made fun of the shape of his eyes (juvenile behavior to which I was also subjected, but got over in second grade.) Cazares, the anti-Taco Bell activist, complained about people who called him "Taco Bill."
It's time for self-aggrandizing grievance advocates to grow up. No one denies the barbarism of Chinese exclusion laws, the Japanese internment, or physical violence against migrant workers. But bullying innocent businesses and individuals into insult avoidance won't change the past - and will only make future efforts to prevent bona fide discrimination more difficult. These public-relations stunts make for sensational news and enhance the visibility of activists, but they trivialize serious violations of civil rights.
Ultimately, the problem with indiscriminate complainers isn't the color
of their skin. It's the
08/10/99: Protect the next generation from diversity do-goodism