On MLK Day and Obama's inauguration, I ask: Can we redefine the word race-baiter?
There is no better time for the right kind of race baiter than this moment.
It sounds odd; to try reclaiming a word which has historically been used to describe unfairly raising issues of race to gain political or moral advantage.
But today, as we celebrate the birthday of the nation's greatest civil rights leader and the RE-election of America's first black president, there is more need than ever for people who are willing to talk about issues of prejudice, stereotyping, racism and classism across racial lines, gender lines and party lines.
In other words, the right kind of race baiter.
I've been talking up these ideas for several months, after outlining them in my first book, Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation. The book itself was inspired by the way star pundits Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and others have tried to silence my own work criticizing the way they talk about race by accusing me of race-baiting, instead.
The experience of tussling with them left me convinced of two things: There was a good book in dissecting how they and others like them use prejudice and stereotypes to galvanize audiences. And it was time to reclaim that word.
I'll be talking about these ideas and many more in a couple of really cool venues this week. On Wednesday, I'll be speaking and signing copies of Race-Baiter at 8 p.m. at Books and Books in Coral Gables, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, FL 33134. Greg Lee, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, is scheduled to introduce me, kicking off an evening of provocative discussion about race and media. Books and Books is among the premiere bookstores in South Florida, so I'm honored to appear there. Details here: http://www.booksandbooks.com/event/eric-deggans-race-baiter-gables
On Saturday, I'll be speaking and signing books at 2 p.m. the St. Petersburg Main Library, 3745 9th Ave. North in St. Petersburg. This will be the first signing I've done in the Tampa Bay area in 2013, and its organized by the volunteer group which support the Main Library, so we're expecting a good crowd. Details here: http://www.splibraries.org/
At both events, I'll be tying the ideas embedded in Race-Baiter to the world-shaking message advocated by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; not just on themes of racial justice, but the push for economic justice Dr. King was just beginning to outline before his assassination.
Race-Baiter devotes an entire chapter to how the media's undercoverage of poverty helps keep middle class Americans from understanding exactly who is poor among us and what their daily struggle is like. It becomes easier for political candidates and the government to ignore poor people when they are mostly invisible in media.
I wrote a couple of years ago that Dr. King's legacy should also teach us prejudice can't be treated as an equal side in a debate, as when cable news outlets present homophobic "experts" as counterpoint wen discussing issues such as gay marriage. If we don't ask the Ku Klux Klan about Affirmative Action, we should stop asking people about gay marriage whose only expertise is a belief that being gay is wrong.
Last week, WUSF-FM allowed me to talk a bit about Race-Baiter and these issues for its show, Florida Matters; check out the audio here. And Mark Hayes, who hosts an interview show with authors for South Florida public radio station WDNA-FM called Passing Notes, also spent some time talking to me about Race-Baiter, check that audio here.
Hope you can join us at one of these events or several others scheduled in St. Petersburg, Sarasota and beyond over the next few weeks. Keep up with it all by checking the calendar on my website here.
And find a way, on this special day, to be the right kind of race-baiter in your own corner of the world.