Rob Sherman: The Worst Person in the World

*Sigh*

After the N-word incident, you knew this had to happen.

Keith Olbermann has named atheist Rob Sherman the Worst Person in the World… just a week after bestowing the title on bigoted Illinois State Rep. Monique Davis:

Rob, admit you made a mistake, and let’s move on. We know you’re not racist, but you were completely unaware of your poor choice of words and that’s worth an apology.

Let’s bring the attention back to Davis’ remarks, where it should be.


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Cafeeine

    I still hold that Sherman’s mistake was not using ‘negro’ but that he stereotyped all black people as close-minded hypocrites. If he does apologize I hope it is for this.

  • Benjamin

    Why are you assuming that he isn’t a racist?

    Let’s assume that he honestly didn’t know that “negro” is an offensive term. (however unlikely that would be for a prominent activist from Chicago) Why bring up the race of Rep Davis at all? It is completely irrelvant to the issue at hand. To bring it up, and with the wording he used, stinks of racism.

    Why defend this guy? Just because he is a fellow atheist? No good.

  • Richard Wade

    Looks like a highly contagious strain of foot-in-mouth disease. Who will catch it next?

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    I still hold that Sherman’s mistake was not using ‘negro’ but that he stereotyped all black people as close-minded hypocrites. If he does apologize I hope it is for this.

    This is exactly my view.

  • http://scottishatheist.org.uk Ian

    Way to lose the moral high ground… *sigh*

    Here in the UK, Negro has no negative connotations in this way – it’s no more offensive than “Caucasian” (and used in precisely the same way).

    for my money, the offence comes from slurring a group, rather than the terminology used.

    Sherman should apologise.

  • http://blog.lib.umn.edu/fole0091/epistaxis/ Epistaxis

    Let’s bring the attention back to Davis’ remarks, where it should be.

    I agree in principle – we hold elected officials to a higher standard, especially when they’re on the job – but now the whole issue is tainted. Not everyone will distinguish outrage at Davis’s public bigotry from a defense of Sherman’s. Perhaps once it blows over and people forget about both sides of the incident, we can remind them of the preposterous statements of Rep. Davis but leave Sherman out of the story. I don’t think that’s disingenuous.

  • Richard Wade

    Perhaps he should take an example from Davis and say that he misspoke because he was terribly upset over some completely unrelated thing.

    Now everyone, reach up to your face with one hand, pinch the flesh between your eyebrows, close your eyes, gently shake your head and whisper “This too shall pass, this too shall pass.”

  • http://www.wayofthemind.org/ Pedro Timóteo

    Sherman mentioned Davis’ race because, as an older black woman who remembers being a victim of bigotry, she should know better than to inflict it on others. I see no racism there.

  • Benjamin

    Pedro,

    Certainly she should have known better, but keep in mind what Sherman actually said.

    Now that Negroes like Representative Monique Davis have political power, it seems that they have no problem at all with discrimination, just as long as it isn’t them who are being discriminated against.

    According to Sherman, all “Negroes” are hypocrites who have no problem with bigotry. Because one African-American treated him wrongly, he feels it’s justified to say an entire segment of our population are hypocritical bigots. I can’t understand why people are not seeing the racism in his comments.

    Rep Davis’s outburst towards Rob Sherman has nothing to do with race.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    Pedro Timoteo, I agree with you that there’s no racism there, but there is racism in the fact that he said all black people should know better, which is racist, as obviously not all black people discriminate the way Davis’ did.

    What he did wrong was not his use of the word negro, or his bringing race into it (as he has the right to compare atheist discrimination with black discrimination), but his generalizing about black people.

    “Now that Negroes like Representative Monique Davis have political power, it seems that they have no problem at all with discrimination, just as long as it isn’t them who are being discriminated against.”

    He was justified in exposing her hypocrisy but not in suggesting that somehow all black people share it.

    That’s my opinion. I think he should apologize. But I do think that what she did was worse.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    Benjamin, it’s like you were speaking straight out of my own mouth, until the last line. While Davis’ outburst did indeed have nothing to do with race, that isn’t implying (as I think you are) that he was wrong to bring race into it. He was justified in referencing her race (her race is the reason “she should have known better”), but he was not justified in doing so in a racist manner.

  • Kate

    Awesome. Wonderful. We totally needed this kickass PR.

    Can I turn in my atheist card? Please?

  • Christian (My Name Only)

    Wow, since when is Negro a slur ALL THE TIME?

    The dictionary says it is SOMETIMES offensive:
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/negro

    And look at all these links:
    http://www.uncf.org/
    http://www.nlbm.com/
    http://www.negrospirituals.com/
    http://www.journalnegroed.org/
    http://www.nanm.org/

    Rob used the term in a non-offensive manner. And he should not back down on this because it is this kind of intellectual laziness that also makes people believe in god.

    And he did not comment on all negros. He commented on negros like Mrs David. Negros who are in power that do not see the danger of power and how their BELIEF overwhelms reason. It is the same old story, “I fight the oppressor, I become the oppressor.” God and politics; they are both about power. Any true atheist should also be an anarchist.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    Here’s the fantasy world I’ve retreated to,

    Rob Sherman, a very astute political activist on highly relevant topics of today who I believe has at least a high school age daughter cannot possibly be unaware that Negro is an offensive term. Also, his characterization of an entire group of people because of some arbitrary attribute/prejudice is the kind of thing he hissownself has fought against.

    I believe that he knows full well what he is saying with the express intent of creating a media stir that he can then turn around and say, “I gotcha! Because I used the word Negro everyone finds that morally reprehensible however if the word Atheist were used in the same statement no one would have given it a second glance.”

    Ow!! Please stop throwing rocks. My fantasy world is enclosed in a glass bubble with rainbow-farting unicorns and kittens inside. Think of the kittens!

  • http://www.rekounas.org rekounas

    I proclaim that I find “United Negro College Fund” offensive.

    How about “niggardly?”

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    Christian,

    His characterization was one based on race (using an antiquated term) when race had nothing to do with it. Are “Negroes” the only race who need to be careful when they are “in power that [they] do not see the danger of power and how their BELIEF overwhelms reason”, you know as opposed to white people.

    That’s the logical fallacy in the statement (an unstated premise) and in this case the unstated premise is that “as opposed to non-Negroes, Negroes like Davis need to be…”

    To me using the Negro or Black Person or African-American or Nubian Princess are equally offensive because the statement *itself* is offensive. “Negro” is only the cherry on top of this Shame Sundae.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    You give these people too much credit, Hemant. Their bigoted statements are a true reflection of their beliefs and character, and an apology does nothing to change that.

  • Christian (My Name Only)

    Skeptigator, Her cultural history was central to his point. When the oppressed becomes the oppressor it is helpful to bring up the past so it is not repeated. She was throwing “racial” slurs at him.

    No, negros are not the only ones to watch when in power. You could easily say in the future “Atheists like her….” or “Christians like him…” when any one of them gets into power and starts abusing their position like Mrs. Davis did. I am against all people in power and that is why I am an anarchist as well as an atheist. Race, like religion, is a myth:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/first/brace.html
    http://genealogy.about.com/b/2004/02/09/does-race-really-exist.htm

    He could have said “People like you…” but then we would have all just inferred he was being a racist, yes?

    Also, if the UNCF can use Negro for “the purpose of continuity and historical connection”, why can’t Rob Sherman?

    We need to stop hearing words and start listening to what people are saying.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    Christian,

    I don’t want to belabor the point but your post is full of just random stuff.
    Does Race Really Exist? What does that have to do with anything? The “Idea” of race exists and that is enough (last time I checked it’s been a bit of a problem in our country). I’m not sure what Anarchy has to do with anything either. Ok, so you are an anarchist and that changes this situation in what way? Somebody else uses the word Negro in its very limited and perhaps appropriate way and therefore anybody can use it for any reason?

    “We need to stop hearing words and start listening to what people are saying.”

    Again reread my post, sorry, re-listen to my post and you will see that my problem is not with the *word* but the *content* of the statement and more importantly what it *didn’t* say.

    I think you may be more interested in telling people you are an anarchist than contibuting to the conversation.

    My whole problem, again, is that this was an issue of the separation of church and state and whether or not an atheist has fair and equal redress of greivance to their elected officials and whether or not the religious convictions of an elected official make’s her suitable as an impartial representative of the state government. It’s the bottom line issue, not her race.

    “Also, if the UNCF can use Negro for “the purpose of continuity and historical connection”, why can’t Rob Sherman?”

    I’m confused. So you think Sherman should have equal right to use a term that indicates a specific race of people yet simultaneously rejecting the idea of race at all? Or does your anarchism somehow play into this, since you find that your anarchy matters to this conversation in some way.

  • Aj

    Cafeeine,

    I still hold that Sherman’s mistake was not using ‘negro’ but that he stereotyped all black people as close-minded hypocrites. If he does apologize I hope it is for this.

    Exactly, people who go on about an offensive word can’t see the wood for the trees, the statement was offensive, regardless of which word he would have used. They are not willing to accept that their experience might be different to others, they deny the possibility that Sherman may not have heard the word in a derogatory fashion, so it has retained its neutral meaning to him.

    Pedro Timóteo,

    Sherman mentioned Davis’ race because, as an older black woman who remembers being a victim of bigotry, she should know better than to inflict it on others. I see no racism there.

    I wrote that this was what he might have meant when I first read about it. However, he didn’t phrase it like that, he phrased it so it looked like he was stereotyping and worse blaming a group for what an individual did.

  • Christian (My Name Only)

    Skepigator said:

    The “Idea” of race exists and that is enough…

    The idea of god also exists. Is that enough?

    It’s more important what Rob “did not say”? Wow. What did I just not say? You assumptions of what people say are right up there with others assumptions of an almighty.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    The idea of god also exists. Is that enough?

    Um… yes?

    It’s more important what Rob “did not say”? Wow. What did I just not say?

    Gtting tired of saying it but re-listen to my earlier post, actually I’ll save you the trouble of scrolling up and thinking (unstated premise = did not say)

    That’s the logical fallacy in the statement (an unstated premise) and in this case the unstated premise is that “as opposed to non-Negroes, Negroes like Davis need to be…”

  • Scorpious

    No, no, no!

    This is so not what we need right now.

    If I were in charge, Sherman’d be made to apologise for even thinking of using the word he used, then he’d be replaced by someone who could choose their words better.

  • Josh Spinks

    I don’t think the problem is that he used the word “negro”, the problem is that certain words are used to indicate certain attitudes towards people. In the context of what he said, and the fact the he specifically chose that word to reference oppression rather than because he uses it on a regular basis suggests he was aware of the impact it could have. Words can carry connotations, and the fact the he only chose to use the word “negro” when he wanted to make a discriminatory statement regarding African-Americans suggests it was there to be inflammatory. He didn’t have to consciously consider it a racial slur, which indicates exactly the problem.

    Look at this for instance. The fact that a particular word comes to mind when one is angry about racial issues is not an indicator that the word is value neutral.

  • Karen

    Now everyone, reach up to your face with one hand, pinch the flesh between your eyebrows, close your eyes, gently shake your head and whisper “This too shall pass, this too shall pass.”

    Oh, man. I am doing this an awful lot lately.

    I don’t know which is worse: This controversy or the cable news channels endlessly debating Barack’s bowling score and preference for orange juice in the morning …

  • Josh Spinks

    But I guess I will be told that it’s a straw man and absolutely impossible that making a poor word choice only when criticizing people of another race is indicative of a negative perception of those people. Modern psychology is a straw man.

  • Josh Spinks
  • Siamang

    Benjamin said

    Certainly she should have known better, but keep in mind what Sherman actually said.

    Actually, let’s be clearer than Keith Olberman on this one.. Here’s what Sherman actually wrote before he expunged it:

    “Made me feel like Rosa Parks, who also was told, “Get out of that chair,” and arrested when she didn’t give up her seat on the bus to Whitey. Now that Negroes have political power, it seems that they have no problem at all with discrimination, just as long as it isn’t them who are being discriminated against. ”

    This guy’s so politically tone-deaf that if he isn’t racist he gives a very good approximation of it.

    This is why I don’t care for the politics of these kind of situations. We all band together on the bandwagon of “oppressed people” because Rob Sherman had a bigoted attack against him.

    Yes, Monique Davis was referencing all atheists, but really the insult was to Sherman.

    The problem is, we get all excited and stirred up and cast ourselves as victims-by-proxy. We identify with Rob Sherman a bit too much, or at least throw in our lots with him for the moment in this fight. So much for us is now riding on Rob Sherman’s behavior in this fight, because he’s carrying our flag.

    Well folks, we HANDED him our flag. That was mistake number one. I’ll hold off handing my flag to someone until they’ve proven themselves a LEADER, not because they become a victim.

  • http://skeptigator.com Skeptigator

    well said Siamang

  • Cafeeine

    “Made me feel like Rosa Parks, who also was told, “Get out of that chair,” and arrested when she didn’t give up her seat on the bus to Whitey. Now that Negroes have political power, it seems that they have no problem at all with discrimination, just as long as it isn’t them who are being discriminated against. ”

    Here’s how I would have liked Sherman to have phrased it.

    “Made me feel like Rosa Parks, who also was told, “Get out of that chair,” and arrested when she didn’t give up her seat on the bus to Whitey. Negroes have long been intimate with discrimination. Now that ms Davis has political power, it seems that she has no problem at all with discrimination, just as long as it isn’t she who is being discriminated against. ”

    If this had been his comment I would have not considered it offensive, while the use (or lack) of the word Negro would have left me indifferent.

  • sabrina

    The biggest problem I keep having is that Rob’s comment is suggesting that blacks and atheists faced the same discrimination and now black people have to help us out. No, they don’t. For one, its incredible insulting for white middle class atheists to even compare their discrimination to what African-Americans went through. African-Americans were kidnapped, hung on trees and burned alive, just for being black. There was no choice, no escape. They couldn’t lie and say, no we’re white, because its pretty freaking obvious they’re not. A whole group of people were cast into slavery, beaten, oppressed, raped, and demonized, not because of a different philosophy, but because of the color of their skin. They don’t owe us anything.

    Yes, atheists are discriminated against. There are attempts to marginalize us, to demonize us, and some people hate us. But its not us, its our philosophy. We need to do a better job at presenting our philosophy and showing that it doesn’t make us immoral, evil people. If you live in a small town in Mississippi, you can lie about being an atheist. You couldn’t lie about being black. According to surveys, the majority of atheists are more educated and more affluent that their Christian counter-parts; that doesn’t sound like oppression to me. We have a lobby, we can take people to court, we can push school boards to only teach science, and we even have an atheist in Congress. Yes, there is a Christian bias but we’re not being hung from trees.
    As a race, black people don’t “owe” us. They fought hard, they struggled and they died for their rights; they don’t have to fight for ours. There are many black people who do, but there are some who don’t. Because in the end, they’re people. They’re conservative, Christian, liberal, atheist, wealthy and poor. So I think we need to jump off the oppression olympic bandwagon, and see why Rob’s comment was so messed up.

  • Christian (My Name Only)

    Siamang, I do not know where you got that quote from but that as not what Rob wrote. My sources have him writing:

    “Now that Negroes like Representative Monique Davis have political power, it seems that they have no problem at all with discrimination, just as long as it isn’t them who are being discriminated against.”

    http://thecapitolfaxblog.com/2008/04/11/rob-sherman-bigot-or-inelegant/
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-change-atheist_bd13apr13,1,247497.story

    So now you see he added “like Representative Monique Davis”. Does that change anything for you? It does for me.

    If Rob had said; “Now that Afro-americans like Representative Monique Davis have political power, it seems that they have no problem at all with discrimination…” would there the same be outrage? Would he be considered racist?

    So you see, you are freaking about the term negro alone, not the context behind it. He did not use negro as a racist epitaph. Why are you using it that way?

    One can have an the appearance of being a racist, but does that make them a racist? We need to go beyond appearances and find the truth. Reason and subjectivity cannot live together. Rob actually called Jessie Jackson to find out if what he said was wrong and when he heard that it might not be a good idea to use the descriptor he said he will not anymore. That is the lesson we all need to learn from free thinkers and atheists. The ability to let go of a belief when it fails in the face of reason.

    We will all say stupid things. What matters is how many times you repeat them.

  • cautious

    Christian,

    Speaking as someone else who has recently said some stupid things here, let me just say: why not take a vacation from the comments until you can cool out. While we will all say stupid things, it seems like you’re trying to go for the high score.

  • Christian (My Name Only)

    Dear Cautious,

    Are you tell me me to leave the room? Like Rep. Davis told Rob? :^)

    Can you explain what I have said that sounded stupid and why is it that when Siamang TOTALLY misquoted Rob no one says a thing?

    Well, I leave anyway. The internet is no way to have a conversation. Most people are too lazy.

  • Siamang

    Christian wrote:

    Siamang, I do not know where you got that quote from but that as not what Rob wrote.

    Immortalized by Cautious in this thread here.

    It is what Sherman wrote. But not the phrase as amended later by him.

    I really wish Keith Olberman would have included the inclusion of the phrase referencing “Whitey” too, and the ridiculous pairing of Sherman with Rosa Parks.

    All of this was known to us four posts into the original thread. Cautious nailed it right on the head early in this controversy when he wrote

    “Way to not win my support, Rob.”

    And away folks went beating the drum and investing too much emotion and power into Rob Sherman. And now it bites us. Sherman is as ridiculous and histrionic a figure as Monique Davis. The two deserve each other, if you ask me.

    So now you see he added “like Representative Monique Davis”. Does that change anything for you? It does for me.

    He can amend it all he wants. He can and will speak for the rest of his life about his feelings about people and their politics and beliefs. I never cared what he had to say before, and I don’t now.

    What I’m talking about is US hitching our little issue wagon to the horse of Rob Sherman, Victim of Bigotry. As Cautious warned us, we knew early on in this controversy that this wasn’t the guy to do this with.

    So what I’m talking about does not get amended when Rob clarifies, rephrases or apologizes. I’m not addressing Rob Sherman. I’m addressing folks in the atheist activist grass-roots and on-line folks like PZ Myers etc, who promoted Sherman like a martyr.

    It’s not good politics, if you ask me, to choose spokespeople by virtue of them being at the wrong place at the wrong time and get something bigoted said to them.

    And just to be a jerk:

    He did not use negro as a racist epitaph.

    The word is “epithet.” An epitaph is a phrase carved on a gravestone.

  • Christian (My Name Only)

    Rob is not my spokesperson. No one is. It seems you have a grudge and I will leave it at that then. If you feel you need a spokesman this is what will happen. And it is why I am an anarchist.

    I used the word epitaph on purpose by the way. In other words, “A statement that was his final word, carved on his gravestone.”

    Also, you still did not acknowledge that you misquoted Rob.

    Ya know what my epitaph is going to read?

    “Whatever.”

  • Siamang

    Also, you still did not acknowledge that you misquoted Rob.

    That’s because I did not misquote him. I quoted what his site said before he changed it.

  • Siamang

    Hemant wrote:

    Let’s bring the attention back to Davis’ remarks, where it should be.

    I don’t know if you’re writing this in order to try and get Sherman to read it and agree with you, Hemant, and thereafter do the right thing and apologize. But I disagree that the “attention” should be on one remark over the other. Can you explain to me by what reasoning you determine which remarks “should” be the center of attention and which should not?

    This is what I’m complaining about… I think it’s a natural human tendency to make Rob Sherman our champion because he was the victim of a bigoted remark, and he’s “our guy” — one of us. I think it’s natural for us to say “hey, that could be me, that’s not right.” It’s TRUE, it is not right.

    But I recommend caution: Neither was it right for Rob Sherman to lump “negroes with authority” based on what Rep. Davis did and said to him. When he does that, I ALSO say “hey, that unfairly lumps in people I love and respect, that’s not right.”

    Hemant, I understand you’re an activist, and these moments are used for their political motivating power to raise awareness of your issues. I also remind folks we knew about this problem with this moment and this atheist activist from post four of the original thread.

    But from my point of view, there is no “proper” place for our attention to be focussed. I think the entire incident points out the fact that people sometimes selfishly and with a blinkered vision seek to only protect “their own.” Davis spoke out against a perceived threat by people who believe different from her. Sherman spoke out based on feeling like he should never be discriminated against by a person who probably suffered discrimination in the past… but said it in a way that lumped a whole lot of people based on the actions of one… and said it in a way that piled racially-charged words like negro and whitey into a rant that recalled the very bigoted rhetoric from the civil rights era that he claimed to be upholding.

    He might carry Martin Luther King’s speeches in his briefcase, but he seems to carry the speaking style of King’s opponents in his self-expression. His rant to me has the troubling undertone that he seems to be expressing that African-Americans somehow cannot be trusted with political power.

    He cites the number of times King used the word “Negro.” I ask, how many times did King use the word “whitey”? It’s the second word that to me built up the racially-charged context in which the word “negro” was most unadvisedly used.

    Hemant, I think the attention is rightfully being placed on two people who lump groups based on the actions of individuals, and two people who cannot see that their own treatment should be object lessons in how to treat people who are OUTSIDE their own belief, and race, and subculture affiliations.

    What we don’t need are a bunch of atheist bloggers saying “let’s get past this racism discussion, and focus on Davis’ bigoted remarks” and at the same time have African American civil-rights political activists saying the opposite.

    We need to have a broader and more inclusive discussion of in-group amity/out-group enmity in this country. “Sticking up for your own” isn’t particularly helpful.

  • cautious

    I write a post and then Siamang says the same things I say, as I am writing. Argh!

    That’s because I did not misquote him. I quoted what his site said before he changed it.

    Which is the horror of the Internet, it makes it impossible to deny when something not that well thought out gets said.

    Two days ago the National Security Advisor was on a Sunday morning political talk show and repeatedly said ‘Nepal’ when he meant ‘Tibet’. The host never corrected him. He corrected himself later that day, but the video is up on YouTube for us all to mock.

    11 days ago, Mr. Sherman put up his first quote on his website, the one that Siamang quoted. Since that time it has changed to:

    Made me feel like Rosa Parks, who also was told, “Get out of that seat,” and arrested when she didn’t give up her seat on the bus to Whitey.

    He has almost daily updates on his home page about this issue, with his update today discussing his recent ‘Worst Person in the World’ “award”. He says that he uses the word Negro because one of his personal heroes, MLK, used the term. Here’s a Rob snippet:

    I apologize for trying to be so much like Dr. King my whole life that, when I was fighting discrimination, I used the same word that Dr. King repeatedly used when he was attempting to fight discrimination. What a terrible thing it was, for me to use the same word that Dr. King used, when fighting for the same thing that he was fighting for.

    Now here he indirectly mentions the issue that some of us had with his original statement: this comparison between the struggles of black civil rights activists during the 50s/60s with the secularist struggle of the present. What Mr. Sherman terms a struggle against “anti-atheist bigotry”.

    I have a lot of problems with equating the two struggles, and I’m unsure if I have this problem because I think that some forms of discrimination are less hurtful than others, or whether I’m too interested in historical cultural discrimination that I’m allowing it to cloud my judgment on present issues. I think comparisons between how history has treated one group badly vs. another group badly is somewhat irrelevant, because, as has been pointed out by others here, every group ever has been treated badly, somewhere, sometime.

    It’s great that Rob Sherman looks up to MLK and Rosa Parks; he has been in dialogue with Monique Davis and is trying to end this discussion on whether he is or is not a racist; I really don’t think he meant any offense with his word choice of Negro.

    He just strikes me as being over-zealous in comparing the battle he is waging to a much bigger and more dangerous struggle that happened in relatively recent history. But he’s running for a political office, so I somewhat expect him to have an ego…

  • cautious

    And FWIW IAWTC:

    Hemant, I think the attention is rightfully being placed on two people who lump groups based on the actions of individuals, and two people who cannot see that their own treatment should be object lessons in how to not treat people who are OUTSIDE their own belief, and race, and subculture affiliations.

    Ms. Davis admitted that she had a bad day and she took it out on Mr. Sherman for his atheism.

    Mr. Sherman continues to not apologize for his thinking process and has, instead, like some people, become focused on a word and whether it was kosher to use.

    (apologizes to everyone for using the word kosher)

  • http://mojoey.blogspot.com mojoey

    The issue at hand was not about race until Rob started flinging mud. Now we are all spattered and I for one am not happy. We had a great opportunity to push for acceptance and understanding, instead this egregious attack against the atheist community will always come down a Rob’s dumbass racist statement.
    Rob better apologize, and the apology must be heartfelt, cover the full range of his seriously stupid stereotyping, and should be made available via youtube.

    I did not post about Monique Davis on my blog because others were covering the story and I felt that Davis had really just screwed up in an epic display of stupidity. I did not feel like adding my words to the dialog. It seemed unfair. The gloves are off with Rob. My post tonight will be unkind unless he does something to address his error.

  • http://www.gentleirony.blogspot.com Bleaker

    I don’t know whether to be fascinated by this debate or appalled. It strikes me that there isn’t a great deal of calm, measured consideration taking place prior to posting. Here are the issues that I think have been raised by various posters:

    1. Was the use of the word “Negro” inappropriate?
    a. Is “Negro” a racial slur?
    i. What makes a word a racial slur?
    ii. What are the appropriate uses of archaic words that refer to groups of people?
    iii. Is the offensiveness of a term historically bound or tied to current usage?
    b. Did Mr. Sherman intend “Negro” as a racial slur?
    c. Does the use of a racially offensive term require ipso facto that the speaker is a racist?
    i. What makes an individual a racist?
    ii. Can an individual be ignorant of the racially-loaded meaning of a particular term?

    2. Was Mr. Sherman’s statement an inappropriate categorization of a group of people based on race?

    3. Was Mr. Sherman’s statement an appropriate comparison to Ms. Davis’ statements to him?
    a. Is atheism a “civil rights” issue comparable to racial equality struggles?
    b. Is anti-atheist bigotry comparable to anti-(insert race here) bigotry?

    4. To what degree are commenters defending Mr. Sherman because he is an atheist? (i.e. ad hominem)

    5. What qualifications must a person have to be an expert on racism, racially offensive words, etc.?
    a. Is it sufficient for a person to be friends with those of other races?
    b. Is it sufficient for a person to be of a minority race/mixed race?
    …….etc.

    The list could be extended further. Most of the heated dispute appears to me to be a result of presuming the answer to one or more of the above issues without so stating in a post. Just my two cents.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    I don’t know if you’re writing this in order to try and get Sherman to read it and agree with you, Hemant, and thereafter do the right thing and apologize. But I disagree that the “attention” should be on one remark over the other. Can you explain to me by what reasoning you determine which remarks “should” be the center of attention and which should not?

    I know what you’re saying, Siamang, but I don’t think these comments are on the same level. Rep. Davis’ was slander against an entire group of people. Yes, it was directed at Sherman. But she didn’t say Sherman was dangerous. She said atheists (our philsophy, anyway) were dangerous. She’s an official representative in the IL house and her comments do matter.

    Sherman’s comments were simply made in ignorance. I don’t think for a second that he meant anything racist by them; he just didn’t know any better. If we criticize him, we should do it for making unfair parallels between race/religious discrimination. But that’s another issue.

  • Siamang

    Rob Sherman:

    I apologize for trying to be so much like Dr. King my whole life….

    Ah yes, the ‘If I made a mistake, it was in trying to be TOO good, TOO noble, TOO loving,’ non-pology.

    Here’s a hint, Rob… the more words there are in an “apology”, the less likely it IS actually an apology.

    This guy needs to be off the national stage, like yesterday. He’s a harm to the atheist cause, this ‘woe-is-me’ self-made-martyr. Listen to him play the world’s smallest violin with his two-bit shitty reverse-psychology bullcrap.

    Mojoey said:

    We had a great opportunity to push for acceptance and understanding, instead this egregious attack against the atheist community will always come down a Rob’s dumbass racist statement.

    Sherman’s ego and utter klunking cluelessness is a problem. This guy wasn’t the hero to hitch an agenda to.

    For most of my lifetime, atheists have come across in the media as crackpots and cranks. His ‘I guess I just love Martin Luther King TOO much for all of you’ routine puts him squarely in that category. As does his wierdo blog that reads and looks like the atheist version of a Doc Bronner’s label.

  • Siamang

    Hemant wrote:

    If we criticize him, we should do it for making unfair parallels between race/religious discrimination. But that’s another issue.

    Actually I’m not criticizing Sherman (well, I didn’t start with that). I think he’s a crank more than anything else. Legislatures often have these self-appointed gadflies flitting about.

    What I’m criticizing is the atheist bandwagon that seized on this incident and tried to play it up to get bigger notice than I thought it deserved.

    I don’t put you in that camp, Hemant, because from the beginning you covered the whole of this story in its messy aspects, not just the stuff that made atheism look picked on.

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  • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

    Anyone who thinks Sherman’s use of the word was offensive, or interprets that remark as a racial generalization, doesn’t know how to read very well or else doesn’t understand language very well.

    Just look at this nonsense. The guy uses an admittedly “loaded” word, but in a context that is decidedly NOT meant to be offensive or meant to insult Davis because of her race (he was insulting her because of her hypocrisy)…and then everyone immediately interprets it as somehow “racist,” regardless of the context, and in turn he gets publicized like this, as “the worst person in the world,” and all because people are, dare I say, too stupid to read a remark in its proper context. (And, no, interpreting the word as if it were used by someone in the 1950s while waving a confederate flag is NOT the proper context to interpret his statement, if you need any help.)

    Honestly, this pisses me off and it’s the silliest kind of defamation there is. It’s even worse because “negro” is one of those words that many, many people don’t even know is offensive, and see merely as historical.

    And I’m adamant that anyone malicious enough to interpret this remark in the worst possible light, without any reason to other than some arbitrary “you-can’t-use-this-word” code, is the real idiot!

  • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

    If we criticize him, we should do it for making unfair parallels between race/religious discrimination.

    Unfair parallels? What, exactly, makes the comparison “unfair”? The basic meaning of his statement is something like the following:

    “As a black woman who has no doubt faced lots of hardship and discrimination, Davis should understand how wrong she is to discriminate against atheists.”

    He did not express himself in this manner, but nevertheless that is what he really means. I challenge anyone to take the statement as I’ve rephrased it above and somehow characterize it as “racist” or even “unfair” in its comparison.

    If you ask me, he isn’t really getting criticized for what he actually said, but merely because he chose to use a certain word that, unfortunately, most people interpret as inherently bad, and so inherently bad that it overrides whatever point you are trying to actually make to such a degree that you become a terrible person just for doing so.

  • Siamang

    St. Gasoline writes:

    The guy uses an admittedly “loaded” word, but in a context that is decidedly NOT meant to be offensive or meant to insult Davis because of her race

    Sometimes people can say things that cross the line into racism without meaning offense. In fact, most people I know who are racist aren’t TRYING to make anyone angry when they say these things, and are often shocked that anyone would be offended by what they see as the plain truth. I’ve heard very nice people, very kind and loving people, say horribly racist things. They don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s just that (those people) are (greedy/lazy/stupid/inbred/whatever).

    …and then everyone immediately interprets it as somehow “racist,” regardless of the context,

    No, I’m actually interpreting it WITHIN the context of a statement where he compared himself to Rosa Parks, used the word “whitey”, and said “Now that Negroes have political power, it seems that they have no problem at all with discrimination”. “They“. Not “she”. “They“. Within THAT context, the word “whitey” becomes sarcastic mimicking. Within THAT context, the word “whitey” becomes a mocking and belittling use charged with implications of counter-racism. Within the context of the lumping “they” statement, and the intimation that now that “they” have power, “they” see no problem with discrimination, and “they” called folks “whitey”… in that exact context, the word negro has been set aflame.

    …and then everyone immediately interprets it as somehow “racist,” regardless of the context, and in turn he gets publicized like this, as “the worst person in the world,” and all because people are, dare I say, too stupid to read a remark in its proper context.

    Oh no. We’re reading it in context all right. You just don’t seem to be noticing the context. We’re not reacting to the word. We’re reacting to the use within the specific post by Rob Sherman. To say we’re reacting to the word negro in a vacuum, or in a poor context of our choosing is specious.

    Rob Sherman chose the words he surrounded the word negro with. And it wasn’t “United” and “College Fund”.

  • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

    Within the context of the lumping “they” statement, and the intimation that now that “they” have power, “they” see no problem with discrimination, and “they” called folks “whitey”… in that exact context, the word negro has been set aflame.

    But is that what he actually meant? Of course not. What he meant is equivalent to the following:

    “As a black person who has experienced oppression, Davis should know that oppressing atheists is not a good thing.”

    How do I know this is what he meant? From the relevant context. The quote is about the incident with Davis, after all. Focusing in upon single words like “they” or “negro” only shows, to my mind, a willful attempt to read way too much into what was actually meant, and a sort of strange desire to interpret something as “racist” without any real warrant.

    Remember, we are, in a sense, characterizing Sherman as a bigot or racist in a sense when we make such claims, and that’s not right if you recognize, with everyone else, that he was NOT intending to say anything about the hypocrisy of blacks as a whole. In short, to go from “This language can possibly be interpreted as racist” to “Sherman is a racist” is a rather strange leap to make.

    More on the “they” remark:
    I think it’s safe to say we’ve ALL at one point or another used “group” language to refer to an individual, and that this doesn’t necessarily mean we are intending to say anything about the beliefs or actions of everyone in that group. If I were to say to my boss, for instance, “As a boss of a company, you should have a reason for firing someone. But I suppose now bosses no longer need a reason to fire the people they dislike.”

    Notice that I used pluralizations, but it is clear from the context of my remarks and who I am saying them to in the example that I am speaking about my individual boss, and using the pluralization to show the absurdity of her position. By applying her own hypocrisy to ALL bosses, what I expect her to see with such a linguistic device is that this is not a trait we’d expect to see in all bosses, and hence she as an individual should not practice such behavior.

    Sometimes people can say things that cross the line into racism without meaning offense.

    I think this remark, here, cuts to the heart of the matter, of course. I disagree vehemently with the statement that language can be “racist” in the absence of any intent on the speaker’s part. A word doesn’t lynch, or hate, or otherwise discriminate against people. Language cannot adequately be characterized as “racist”. Now, people who are racist can use certain language as manifestations of their hatred, and I think that conception makes a lot more sense without a needless sort of anthropomorphization of language. With that in mind, the speaker’s intentions clearly matter when assessing whether what was said is racist. If a group of mexican youths address themselves as “niggers” as a term of endearment, is this “racist” language? I’d say no. Why trivialize racism into something as benign as using certain language? If someone otherwise fights for and respects the equality of everyone else, I could care less what sort of language they use, and if our only basis for portraying someone as bigoted is something as obviously fluid, subtle, and arbitrary as LANGUAGE and not anything they’ve done, then that’s a pretty egregious error to make, as accusations of racism are no laughing matter. Someone has only said something “racist” if they have said those words with a racist motivation. Otherwise, they’ve at worst used a word wrong, and at best tried to use a word colorfully or in a more subtle intepretetive framework that others are incapable of grasping.

    In short, people need to learn that because language is subtle, ironic, sarcastic, and there are all sorts of literary devices that allow us to do things like use taboo words as signs of friendship, or pluralizations to refer to individuals, or whatever–because of all this, we should be careful not to immediately portray someone as racist based solely on the language they have chosen to use.

    You just don’t seem to be noticing the context. We’re not reacting to the word. We’re reacting to the use within the specific post by Rob Sherman.

    No. What you are doing is reacting to a rather unfair interpretation of Sherman’s remarks–a judgmental, unthinking, knee-jerk interpretation that doesn’t take into account the true subtlety of language in favor of doing one’s hardest to see a remark in its worst possible light. Interpreting language is not as straightforward and easy as you make it out to be.

    And the basis for my defense of Sherman is my knowledge of his character, as well as the principle of proving guilt and assuming innocence. I refuse to presume someone guilty of racist remarks if there is ANY reasonable doubt in the context to see it otherwise, and there is plenty of reasonable doubt here. That’s the only suitable way to go about these things.

  • http://www.saintgasoline.com Saint Gasoline

    To say all that in a quicker summary:

    As in legal judgments, I believe we should presume innocence over guilt until guilt is proven without any reasonable doubt should someone’s words possibly be seen as racist/bigoted/evil or whatever. This is a good precedent to take given that language can be quite subtle and very difficult to interpret.

    Now, is there reasonable doubt with Sherman’s remarks? Yes. For one, given what I know of him, there seems to be no reason to think him a racist for any other reason. Second, he obviously didn’t know the word “negro” was offensive, and all he meant was to use a term he saw as “historical” that would call to mind a time period when African Americans suffered a lot of oppression and injustice. Third, his use of the word “they” doesn’t necessarily imply he is generalizing about a group of people. Rather, he could be using a group generalization that he fully realizes is untrue, in hopes that seeing this untruth will allow Davis to realize the error of her ways. (See my example above, if you don’t believe pluralizations can be used colorfully to refer to individuals and not necessarily groups.)

    So, is there any reason to presume him guilty of a racist remark without a reasonable doubt? Not in my mind.

    Side arguments are:
    1. Language cannot be “racist”. It is people who are racist, and who may use language for racist motivations. (Hence, we shouldn’t judge people as guilty of racism or bigotry based solely on language.)
    2. Characterizing language use as “racist” trivializes real racism, in much the same way we’d trivialize the term “murderer” if we applied it to anyone who uses the word “murder” and not just those who actually murdered.

    I do think the case is airtight here!

  • http://mojoey.blogspot.com mojoey

    Saint – it does not matter what we think. It is a matter of perception. The perception, based on the public reaction, is not good. We can rationalize his position all we want. It will not change the minds of the people who read the remarks and interpreted them as racist any more than we understood Davis’s words to be intolerant.

    I am saying that it does not matter what his intent was. He still need a very public and humble apology to help adjust the perception of the people who think he is a racist. (that would include me at this point)

    When I was a younger man, my grandfather would refer to anyone who was not white as colored. My wife, who is a wonderful shade of pacific islander brown, was always excused because she was “one of us” now. It was not hard to feel the racism then, it is not hard to feel it now.


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