Racial double standards and Dusty Baker's quip

Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker took much heat last week from sportswriters, talk-show hosts, and some ballplayers for his half-cocked quip that blacks and Latinos play better in the heat than whites.

But why didn't black leaders such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and Kweisi Mfume instantly condemn his remarks? If anything, blacks treated Mr. Baker's remarks with bemusement: "Hey, that was Dusty just being Dusty." Presumably that means that because Baker has a reputation for being outspoken, then why get upset about a racial jibe?

Yet, when Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott, sports commentator Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder, and Dodger executive Al Campanis made racially loaded remarks about blacks, blacks demanded their heads. (And "The Greek's" and Mr. Campanis' remarks about blacks' athletic superiority or failings were eerily similar to Baker's.)

The Revs. Messrs. Jackson and Sharpton regularly spruce up their credentials as racial gatekeepers by demanding the scalp of any public figure (white, of course) who makes a racial gaffe. If Baker were white, they'd have stormed Cubs offices and demanded his apology, or his firing, or both.

Baker, of course, is unrepentant. He bristles at being dumped into the same bigot bag with "The Greek" or Campanis. After all, they were white, and he's black, and that gives him carte blanche to say whatever he wants about blacks.

But the silence of black leaders and Baker's skewed racial etiquette again point to the ridiculous double standard that many blacks impose on whites. A glaring example of this is the perennial debate over the N-word. When white comedians, politicians, talk-show hosts, and even educators have slipped and used the N-word, they're instantly branded bigots, do profuse mea culpas, and solemnly swear never to do it again.

But black rappers, comedians, and writers have made a virtual fetish of using the word, and there's little if any angry outcry from other blacks.Some black writers even go through tortuous gyrations to justify using the word. They claim that the more a black person uses the word, the less offensive it becomes. They claim that they're cleansing the word of its negative connotations so that racists can no longer use it to hurt blacks. Comedian-turned- activist Dick Gregory had the same idea when he titled his autobiography "Nigger." Writer Robert DeCoy used the same racial shock therapy with his novel, "The Nigger Bible."

But this racial double standard is dangerous. The assumption is that pseudoscientific quips by whites about the alleged physical prowess of blacks - especially athletes - reinforce old, but thoroughly discredited, racial stereotypes and must be swiftly reviled. But in some ways, the same quip made by a Baker or other high-profile blacks do more to validate racial stereotypes than if uttered by whites. This gives the public pause to think that there may be some truth to it. And when blacks don't protest bigoted remarks by someone like Baker, that public pause can easily turn into public belief.

The lack of protest also fuels suspicion that blacks are willing to play the race card and call a white a bigot when it serves their interest, but will circle the wagons to defend any black who comes under fire for bigotry - or other malfeasance.

Some wayward black public officials and celebrities who were guilty of malfeasance use the racial double standard to their advantage - such as the former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry, boxer Mike Tyson, and black Baptist leader Henry Lyons.

They scream "racism" when caught doing wrong. They can get away with it because many whites regard blacks as so far outside the political and social pale that they see blacks solely as a racial monolith. They think that all blacks think, act, and sway to the same racial beat. These whites freely see the words and deeds of the chosen black leader as the standard for African-American behavior.

When an African-American missteps, he or she becomes the whipping boy for many whites - and blacks are blamed for being rash, irresponsible, and prone to play the race card on every social ill that befalls them.

Baker's exercise in racial genetics was, again, proof that silly, racist remarks can come out of a black mouth as easily as out of a white mouth. But when that happens, there's little likelihood that itwill draw any heat from blacks. Dusty Baker's remarks certainly didn't.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a writer and political analyst, is the author of 'The Crisis in Black and Black.'

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