First, there was the verbal attack by Illinois State Rep. Monique Davis, and a week later, there was the apology. Initially, I thought the story would end there and that the apology was the final chapter, but upon reading several comments and postings stating how the apology was weak/not enough at best and insincere at worst, I’m starting to reconsider.
I’d like to see a public statement about her remarks (i.e. why she said it’s dangerous for children to know about atheism… and why she thinks atheists are hell-bent on destroying society… and what she is doing to remedy the situation) in addition to her private call to atheist Rob Sherman.
Even national organizations are calling for this.
The American Humanist Association questions her apology:
“As far as we know, the only source for this alleged April 9 apology is the Web site of the immediate victim. It hasn’t been corroborated or confirmed,” declared Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association. “Moreover, even if confirmed, the apology was only private. That just isn’t good enough.”
“Such a purely private apology, even when publicly reported, misses the point,” declared Lipman today. “What Monique Davis said was an offense to all nontheistic people, including humanists like me, not merely an offense to a single atheist. And her words were uttered publicly, so only a public apology will suffice.
“On behalf of humanists everywhere, we will accept such a public apology if it comes,” [Executive Director Roy] Speckhardt said. “But this won’t mean that the godless now enjoy a level playing field. We still have a ways to go. Had Representative Davis’ remarks been directed at Jews or Christians instead of atheists, she would have been forced to resign.”
But that’s not all.
The controversy has now taken a disturbing turn.
When Sherman initially posted on his website about Davis’ remarks, he had written this:
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.
Did he just write what I think he wrote…?
Eric Zorn asked him about his use of the N-word:
… I’ve interviewed him scores of times in the past 22 years and never detected even a hint of racism or bigotry, so I regarded his use of a once-standard but now unacceptable word to be the result of a moment of rhetorical clumsiness or tone-deafness that he ought to rethink.
Sherman replied to my note:
[“Negroes” is] what the group was called when they were being discriminated against, but now that this same group has political power, discrimination is OK, as long as it’s not them that’s being discriminated against. That’s the reason for the use of the term.
Invoking Civil Rights-era terminology to sharpen an attempt to draw an ironic (and dubious) analogy between persecuted African Americans and persecuted atheists is not a polemical stunt I would recommend to anyone.
A word like “Negroes” is going to create way more heat than light in the 21st century, no matter how many times Martin Luther King Jr. himself used it 40 years go, even if you add, as Sherman did, that King is one of your heroes.
Sherman sent me note at 6 a.m. Thursday saying he’d removed the passage from his site.
“That shows good sense,” I replied.
But I agree with Jacobson that Sherman ought to issue his own apology either way.
Sherman doesn’t quite see it that way. In an interview with me this afternoon Sherman said that “Negro” was a term of respect when he was growing up (he just turned 55) and that he had no idea it was now considered derogatory.
He said he removed the offending passage after receiving several critial e-mails and before he saw the Daily Illini column, and he conceded that it was a mistake trying “to consolidate a rather long idea into one word.”
He said he considers this an explanation, but not an apology.
That’s not how you help your own cause…
If Sherman honestly didn’t know that the term is now considered offensive, then it’s just tremendous ignorance on his part.
The use of the word itself may not even be his biggest faux pas.
As one of Zorn’s commenters states:
The sentiment that he’s lumping together all black politicians in with Rep. Davis is [what is] racially offensive, not the particular word he used to describe the ethnic group. That the word was borderline offensive, especially in context just heightens the problem.
This is why he needs to apologize.
The ball was in Davis’ court. The spotlight was on her to make a more pronounced apology about her malicious comments.
This lapse of judgment (or cultural knowledge) by Sherman is going to take the attention away from her.