Some of the websites that make it their business to stalk Bill O'Reilly carried an item about O'Reilly's supposedly offensive "restaurant review" of Sylvia's in Harlem. O'Reilly had apparently taken Al Sharpton to dinner there. The "review" was objectionable because O'Reilly focused on the civil behavior of the patrons about which he was said to be "surprised." Nationally, CNN has picked it up. Locally, Paul Soglin and Eugene Kane repeated the point.
I doubt that either of our local friends actually listened to the segment, It was apparently part of an extended commentary on racial stereotypes and the way in which people respond to the legacy of racial expression. (The excerpted segment left out some of this context.) He followed the reference to Sylvia's with a story about his grandmother's prejudice. (I admit that Bill is fond of the first person narrative.) He argued with her about it as a high school kid but, he said, she was unable to get past stereotypes and the fear that they generated, She expressed this fear, according to Bill, in "irrational hostility." He then went on to say that she was "old school but, today, rap culture creates stereotypes that are not reflective of the larger black community.
I suppose that the criticism will be that O'Reilly said that he "couldn't get over" how Sylvia's was just like any other place. This may be a sin that those who are committed to the aggressive enforcement of a complicated web of mandatory circumlocutions in all discussions of race will never forgive. But what does it mean anyway? Did the scene at Sylvia's stick with him because he was surprised or did it stick with him because it drove home to him that, in a society where we still mostly stick to our side of the racial divide, we are more the same than we are different ? All I can tell you is that he expressly said the latter. ("We're the same.")If this is, as CNN says, his "Don Imus" moment then we simply can't talk about race in this country. Ever.
One would think that people who seem to be convinced that talk radio's audience consists of closeted Klansmen would be happy that someone took the time to set matters straight.
Although recent posts by Mayor Soglin and my erstwhile Backstory colleague Jim Rowen focused on a different R-word (the ubiquitous "rant" although Paul did not actually use it), there seems to be this idea that talk radio hosts (and conservatives generally) must be, among other things, racist or ignorant about race because they disagree with us on certain aspects of racial and urban policy. We know that we are right and that all right-thinking people must agree with us, so there must be something wrong with those who don't. (That Jim offered as a reasonable alternative Joel McNally (a man whose public persona embodies the concept of smug and who doesn't seem to have had a new idea since 1969) sort of drives my point home. I am perfectly willing to believe that people enjoy Joel, but it's not because he engages in open-minded and far-ranging intellectual discourse. It's because he tells them they are right.
In fairness to both Paul and Jim, they were more than willing to engage me in a discussion of urban issues - something that I hope to get back to when I am settled in my new gig. But forums that are far more popular than our blogs, while they are not and cannot be graduate school seminars, are not an intellectual wasteland and the people who populate them are not benighted morons or evil pipers.