The Yiddish/German term schwartza or schwarze is not in itself a racially demeaning and insulting term. It just simply translates to black or as used colloquially a “black person.” But it’s a totally different thing when the word drips out of the mouth of shop worm comic Jackie Mason. Then we have to look at intent, and in Mason’s case the intent is to racially slander. This is the same Mason that called former Mayor New York Dave Dinkins the term and probably anyone else he can use it to insult or ring a laugh out of. So Mason knew exactly what he was saying and the effect it would have. And he thrilled at that. That’s why he the pig headedly refused to apologize, and even stirred the pot a little more by taking the by now taking the ritual shot at Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, calling them “professional racists.” Mason was on a roll and soared well past left field with a dig at Oprah Winfrey. Mason’s method to madness
But even if Mason makes a bare-the-chest heartfelt apology it won’t amount to much. That’s the standard ploy that comedians, shock jocks, and assorted public personalities employ when they get caught with their racial pants down. On a few occasions the offenders have been reprimanded, suspended, and even dumped. However that’s rare. There are a couple of reasons why. And they tell much about why loudmouths such as Mason can prattle off foul remarks about gays, blacks, Latinos Asians, Muslims, and women, and now even a president and skip away with a caressing hand slap. One, is that these guys ramp up ratings and a nightclub’s gate. That always makes the cash registers jingle.
The other is the sphinx like silence of in Mason’s case the comic industry and fans. The only reason the Mason crack made news is because a handful of fans objected. Not a mumbling word–yet–from the club owners.
There’s another reason for the silence. The last two decades many Americans have become much too comfortable using code language to bash and denigrate blacks. In the 1970s, the vocabulary of covert racially loaded terms included terms such as “law and order,” “crime in the streets,” “permissive society,” “welfare cheats,” “subculture of violence,” “subculture of poverty,” “culturally deprived” and “lack of family values” seeped into the American lexicon about blacks. Some politicians seeking to exploit white racial fears routinely tossed about these terms.
In the 1980s new terms such as “crime prone,” “war zone,” “gang infested,” “crack plagued,” “drug turfs,” “drug zombies,” “violence scarred,” “ghetto outcasts” and “ghetto poverty syndrome” were shoved into public discourse. These were covert racial code terms for blacks and they further reinforced the negative image of young black males as dope dealers, drive by shooters, and educational cripples. And the image of young black women as a dysfunctional collection of B’s and “hos,” welfare queens, and baby makers.
Mason knows all that and indeed he and the legion of comics, entertainers, personalities, politicians, shock jocks, and staid broadcasters and writers have turned baiting into a lucrative industry. But in the end you can’t call names if you’re not that name yourself. Mason is an honorary schwartza.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).
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