My entire adult life has been spent on the front line in the battle against racism and the injustice it spawns. I am also aware of other negative "isms," i.e., sexism and ageism. But there are times when the definition of "racism" is stretched to the outer limits of credulity.
To me, racism carries with it connotations of hate, prejudice and vicious bigotry. And to tag someone a "racist" is more than a spiteful epithet, it is a very serious charge. To frivolously accuse an individual of practicing racism and/or expounding racist dogma, diminishes the deadly seriousness of the act.
Broadening the definition of racism to include choice of words trivializes a very real problem that tears at the roots of our democratic system. That's why I am especially disturbed at CBS' suspension of 60 Minutes broadcaster Andy Rooney. In the first place, it is uncertain whether or not Rooney made the statement attributed to him. It was his word against an Advocate magazine reporter, Chris Bull, who "quoted" him.
Secondly, should Rooney's alleged statement be construed to be racist when every Sunday, black ministers throughout America sermonize against black youths commiting stupid acts such as dropping out of high school, parenting children and becoming addicted to illegal drugs?
Both black and white educators, journalists and politicians speaking to mixed audiences regularly admonish students to remain in school, finish their education and develop their minds. Most Americans of all races agree that that course is the foundation of stable family life.
Crime, cocaine babies, child abuse and all those negative lifestyles that bring on so much hand-wringing can't help being perpetuated as long as uneducated children continue to reproduce.
Youthful high school dropouts, stoned on crack and other mind-altering substances, find themselves unable to cope with the reality of life. How, then, can their offspring be expected to inherit intellectual character? As was recently stated in this column, ". . . today's black youth will be the first generation in American history whose standard of living and personal achievement will fall below that of their parents."
Moreover, comparing Rooney's alleged "racist" statement with that of Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, who degraded black athletes' ability, or to Japan's former Prime Minister Nakasone, who cast aspersions upon black Americans' mental ability, is as ridiculous as comparing pumpkins to peanuts.
With all the blatant demonstrations of racism that surround us, it seems to me that Rooney was judged unfairly.
Andy Rooney was bold and outspoken enough to tell the truth. The context in which he told it may be questionable, but I salute him.
Perkins T. Shelton, a civil rights activist, is first vice president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida. My View columnists, invited to contribute on a regular basis, write their own views on subjects they choose.