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Condemn the hate messages

Published Oct. 10, 2005

If your message is bigotry, express it in song or in a speech to university students. You'll be surprised at what you can get away with.

The debate over the bigotry in politics is nearly always about the content of the message, about right and wrong, good and evil. When the same bigotry is expressed in art, music or by a campus speaker, the debate usually is cast as free speech versus censorship.

It's easy to condemn the bigotry of a David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klansman and Nazi sympathizer who has infected our political system. But when racism, sexual violence, homophobia and anti-Semitism are expressed in artistic form, they take on a sickening legitimacy.

At a recent meeting in Palm Beach, the Anti-Defamation League's national executive committee issued a report that should alarm Americans who believe that bigotry and hate have no place in our national life. America's youth are being bombarded with messages of racism, sexism and anti-Semitism in popular song lyrics and on college campuses.

"It is unclear to what degree today's youth buys into our pop culture's growing tolerance of anti-Semitism, racism and violence toward women and minorities," the report says. "But young people seeking role models and peer acceptance are vulnerable targets for the purveyors of these cynical, poisonous messages."

It goes on: "It seems that some aspects of pop culture have become toxic. Words, images and ideas conveying anti-Semitism as well as hostility toward minorities and women _ formerly the domain of the gutter or the extreme right _ have begun to seep into mainstream culture to find surprising acceptance and legitimacy."

Public Enemy, Guns 'n' Roses and Ice Cube are among the groups that have popularized anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and sexual violence in their music. Even Madonna joins in. Her 1990 single The Beast Within contains this lyric: "I know your tribulations and your poverty, and the slander of those who say they are Jews. They are not. They are a synagogue of Satan."

Most of the other examples cited in the report are not fit to print in a newspaper.

Even our most politically correct universities and colleges are shrinking from a confrontation with real bigotry. Holocaust denial now is considered a subject open to debate. White extremists have bought advertising space in college newspapers to argue that 6-million Jews were not executed in Nazi Germany. They were merely confined to special work camps by the Nazis, the ads say, because of their role "behind international communism."

The ads have provoked a fierce First Amendment debate among campus editors and among civil liberties groups around the country. Some campus newspapers have accepted the ads; others have refused to run them.

Just as disturbing as the Nazi sympathizers are the black demagogues who are in demand as speakers on campuses. They are given, the ADL report says, "a respectable platform for anti-Semitic prejudice and ignorance" by black student groups.

In a speech sponsored by the Black Student Union at Columbia University in 1990, Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad referred to Columbia as "Columbia Jewniversity" in "Jew York City." The rap music star "Professor" Griff is another favorite of students. One of his biggest applause lines is: Jews are responsible for "the majority of wickedness that goes on across the globe."

Censorship is not the answer. Let the demagogues and the haters have their say. Let the pop artists set their hateful lyrics to music. But we don't have to let their messages go unanswered and unchallenged. Expose them. Condemn them. It's not enough to denounce David Duke and then ignore a Leonard Jeffries or a "Professor" Griff. They are all vermin from the same sewers.

Philip Gailey is editor of editorials of the St. Petersburg Times.