Daily Herald: When pride becomes prejudice

*CAIR-Chicago Note: Staff Attorney Kevin Vodak Represented the Arab-American Cook County corrections officer mentioned below

President Barack Obama accomplished what he set out to do when he hosted Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. at the White House for a beer and “a friendly, thoughtful conversation.”

Of course, it was a photo op to smooth over Obama’s stumble when he said Crowley “acted stupidly” when he arrested Gates at his home.

But the photos of the four men, dressed in business attire, casually conversing on a summer evening tell us the discussion about race and discrimination in America can move off talk radio and out of the streets. We’re ready to sit face-to-face and speak openly and honestly.

It’s a message that resonates in the suburbs following the appearance of a car proudly displaying the iron cross and the words “white pride” in the demolition derby at the DuPage County Fair.

It’s hard to believe the car, driven by a 24-year-old from Lombard, was allowed to participate with the symbol widely used by the Third Reich on the roof and a phrase often associated with groups that promote white nationalism.

Fair board member Jim McGuire says he was “kind of disappointed.” Demolition Derby operator Dennis Nelson didn’t find it offensive.

Supporters of white pride say there’s a double-standard. Why can’t someone be proud to be white if others can be proud to be black?

Black Americans share a cultural experience defined by a history of inequality and slavery. The black pride movement was created to fight stereotypes and empower the oppressed.

On the other hand, the term white pride has been used since the late 1980s by separatist groups, including some responsible for vicious hate crimes. Web sites such as whitepride.tv feature programs by the Ku Klux Klan.

This message did not belong at a family event or anywhere else at the county fair. This is not a First Amendment issue. This driver was participating in a community festival. If the car displayed profanities or other offensive symbols, we hope it would have been disqualified as well.

Earlier this month, a Cook County Corrections officer won a $200,000 judgment in a discrimination case after co-workers used anti-Arab and anti-Muslim slurs. His complaint was not about his job being threatened or an inability to earn a promotion because of racism. It was about an offensive use of words.

Hawaii football Coach Greg McMackin quickly apologized after using a homophobic slur to describe Notre Dame’s pre-game Irish jig.

Sensitivity too often is characterized as political correctness. That’s not what we’re talking about. We would not want to see all language sanitized to the point that actual emotion is extinguished. That would keep us from meaningful discussion that could move us forward.

Instead, we must sort out the emotions and analyze meaning. We have to look at history and try to understand where someone is coming from. Then we sit ready for more “friendly, thoughtful conversation” in an attempt to get to know each other and someday smooth over the wrinkles of our past.

Copyright © 2009 Daily Herald Inc.