Friday, October 28, 2016

Ill-Informed, Not Racist

Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder.  Offensiveness is in the eye of the subject, to be determined by the alleged target.

So let us stipulate that Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk was being offenseive when he remarked at a debate with challenger Tammy Duckworth Thursday night “I forgot your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington."

Duckworth lost two legs serving in the armed forces in Iraq and had stated

My family has served this nation in uniform going back to the revolution. I am a daughter of the American Revolution. I’ve bled for this nation. But I still want to be there in the Senate when the drums of war sound because people are quick to sound the drums of war and I want to be there to say this is what it costs and this is what you’re asking us to do.

Spokesperson Lara Sisselman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee responded in a statement

Senator Mark Kirk’s attack on Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth’s family tonight was offensive, wrong, and racist.  Senator Kirk has been caught lying about his military record over ten times, but he was quick to launch false attacks questioning Congresswoman Duckworth’s family’s long history of serving our country. A struggling political campaign is no excuse for baseless and despicable attacks, and Senator Kirk owes Congresswoman Duckworth and her family an apology.

Presumably, Ms. Duckworth did find it offensive. Additionally, it was wrong because although she was born in Thailand to a mother of Chinese descent, her late father was an American of British descent and U.S. Marine who traced his family’s military roots to the Revolutionary War

But it wasn't racist, not by a long shot. Kirk did not launch an attack against anyone Asian nor any Asian-American because of an Asian background.  Further, Duckworth herself had raised the issue of ethnicity, proudly noting her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The DAR ended its prohibition on black members in 1977 and now performs worthy civic functions. However, as a lineage-based organization which, as described by Wikipedia,"is limited to "women who are directly descended from a person involved in the United States' struggle for independence," it restricts membership by ethnicity. In a nation which prides itself on being a "country of immigrants," the DAR inevitably includes few members of, say, Italian, Greek, Polish, or Latin background.

That doesn't mean the DAR is "racist," and it is not. But it is in fact an ethnically-restrictive organization, one which does not "look like America," however many African-Americans it now may admit.   That doesn't make it racist- but it does make irrational the condemnation on that basis of an individual questioning someone's membership.

The U.S. Senate is in dire need of a member who reminds the chamber of the financial and human costs of warfare.  Well ahead in her race in a Democratic state, Tammy Duckworth will be that member, but the DSCC's attack on her opponent's statement should be viewed as offensive as the remark which inspired it.

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