Thursday, 8 December 2011


With the buzz surrounding the verdict on the Isiah Thomas' sexual harrassment case, I suppose it is just about time for our friend Al Sharpton to plant his face on our television screens. What does he want now? An apology for Thomas' apparent permission for use of the word "bitch" between members of the same race.

First of all, there are far worse words that one can use if one has bad feelings about someone. The word itself is rather benign. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following:
1) a. The female of the dog;
b. The female of the fox, wolf, and occasionally other beasts.
2) a. applied opprobriously to a woman; strictly, a lewd or sensual woman. Not now in decent use but common in literature. In modern use especially a malicious or treacherous woman; of things: something outstandingly difficult or unpleasant ("son of a bitch.");
b. Applied to a man (not common);
c. A primitive form of lamp used in Alaska and Canada.
3) Combinations and attributes, as (sense 1) bitch-puppy, -whelp; (sense 2) bitch-baby, -clout, -daughter, -hunter, -son; bitch-daughter (obs.), the nightmare; bitch-fou a. (Sc.), as drunk and sick as a bitch, `beastly' drunk; bitch-goddess, in William James's phr. (see quot. 1906); cf. success sb. 3.
4) A mining instrument used for unscrewing rods or recovery of broken rods.
1) a. To frequent the company of lewd women;
b. To call anyone "bitch;"
c. To behave bitchily towards.
2) a. To hang back (rare);
b. To spoil, to bungle. Also as "botch;"
c. To grumble, to complain.

Of course, the "lewd or sensual woman" definition is the source of the sexual harassment suit against Isiah. However, my bet is that his use of the word about Ms. Sanders in reality was as a "malicious or treacherous woman."

What does Al Sharpton have to do with any of this? Besides to ride on the coattails of a public spectacle and create more public anger than already exists?

In the late 1980's and 1990's Sharpton's presence was important in bringing justice to Brooklyn gang members who took part in racially-motivated beatings. Sharpton played a critical role in the way hate crimes are viewed and managed in this country. His experience as manager for James Brown gives Sharpton a public marketing angle in trying to raise public awareness. He was instrumental in the 1986 Howard Beach protests when three African-American men were assaulted by a white mob. Sharpton also raised awareness and staged protest in the 1989 Bensonhurst attacks on four African-American teenagers and the subsequent shooting of one of them.

His methods, however, sometimes create more public unrest, anger and violence. It is common for him to accuse his target first in the public eye without having investigated to see if there is validity to his accusation. This type of "trial by press" incites rage and sometimes violence.

Perhaps the most famous of these is the 1987 case of Tawana Brawley, the then 15 year old woman from Wappinger's Falls who fabricated an elaborate racially-motivated abduction and sexual assault. There was glaring evidence that she had not been kidnapped or harmed. In fact, witnesses saw Brawley at parties during the time that she was ostensibly "missing." Under the leadership of Rev. Sharpton, the investigation became a witch hunt against members of the police and local government. Given the nature of the evidence, it is likely Sharpton and his team suspected the abduction was a fake. Yet, they pressed on, harming many innocent people in the process.

The incident did catapult Sharpton's public image and made him the celebrity he is today.

So why does this man now choose largely benign name calling as his rally point for action? Is the use of words like "bitch" and "ho" cause for public demonstration and outrage? Are there so few issues deserving of our attention that we must get riled up over this?

Or is Sharpton merely coasting? He thrives on media attention and seeks it wherever he can find it. But, perhaps our dear Reverend is no longer courageous enough to tackle the larger issues which gave him that celebrity in the first place.

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