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God's Politics


Ryan Beiler: Your Comments, and Biden on The Daily Show

posted by gp_intern

I knew I was asking for it by writing a post about choosing one’s words carefully. One reader hit the nail mostly on the head, while making a general appeal for fairness:

Well isn’t the key whether it is the kind of comment one might make about a white contender? But there is the additional factor that words might sound different depending upon the stereotypes surrounding other things that identify the person. …

Is there, at least at some subconscious level, something which makes the choice of words skewed by ethnicity?

Another reader writes:

I’d like to see a little humility and empathy, recognition that in matters of diction and semantics we have even less authority and claim than in matters of theology, which are already inherently tentative. I’d prefer openness, honesty, and candor to carefully chosen words.

[UPDATE: Another helpful comment on this post:

Words can and do hurt and they can and do often say more about the person
speaking them than the person they are about. I have had some personal
experience being on the receiving end of the type of remarks Biden made, so I
know the “sting” it can create, but I have also learned to take it stride and
with one grain of salt and two shots of humor and then to turn it into an
educational opportunity.

Amen regarding “educational opportunity.” I was never suggesting we hate Joe Biden forever–he’s already reaping the consequences of his words–but to educate him as we educate ourselves. Thank God for friends willing to challenge me when I’ve said something racially stupid–and I have.]

For now, see what you think of Biden’s explanation on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart:



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Daniel

posted February 2, 2007 at 3:26 pm


Ryan, Thank you for posting this, it really helps clarify what problems you have with Biden’s statements and attitude. I think maybe the problem I had with your last post is that we so often want to rid society of insensitive remarks in order to change the way we think and behave, but I suspect that might be working in the wrong direction. I think I’d prefer a stumbling and imperfect conversation headed toward understanding rather than restraining the conversation to try and kill the potential for misunderstanding.On the other hand, I think empathy is not readily available for me on this one because white people have not been excluded from the process. No one would say this about a white politician because the mainstream started out white – “progress” for African Amwericans, to some extent, means “acting more like white folks already do.” I don’t mean that as an insult – it’s not that black people are trying to act white, of course, it’s that black people are progressively sharing in more and more of the benefits that white people hoarded for so long. having been a lifelong white guy, this experience is finally unavailable to me.So, it is very difficult to draw lines at what is reasonable and unreasonable. Having grown up in an entirely integrated school system, having an entirely diverse workplace, having a fairly diverse neighborhood – these things sort of lead me to regard as suspect anything that suggests I need to act differently toward someone on account of a physical feature, whether it is the content of melanin in their skin, a perfect smile, or the need for a wheelchair. I do not like feeling somehow more alert or nervous around someone because they are black – for me that would be regress instead of progress….But, alas, I am not America in general…. Thanks for the follow up!



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butch

posted February 2, 2007 at 5:54 pm


Well put Daniel, I try to listen empathically. Someone like Biden or McCain are in positions to make real changes in our lives so pouncing on every word misses the point. We are in a time of carefully prepared “sound bits” and “breaking news” which leads us to being moved by insignificant matters.



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Mike Hayes

posted February 2, 2007 at 6:00 pm


Daniel, I agree… it isn’t easy to put ourselves in the shoes of black citizens. I remember the day of our eighth grade class trip to St Louis in 1955, and the one black child in our class being denied admittance to an amusement park. Once the parents who were escorting us realized what had happened, they rounded us all up and we left the park. That instance was a small insight to the messages black children received then, telling them they were different… inferior in some way. I didn’t have to deal with messages like that, aimed at me, so I can’t know what impact it had on children like our classmate… but I assume it wasn’t helpful to self image.



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Mike Hayes

posted February 2, 2007 at 6:07 pm


Ryan, I like your technique of follow-up with separate topic. I assume not every topic posted here can be done that way, but it is helpful. It might help to improve the process, as well…



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Mike Hayes

posted February 2, 2007 at 6:20 pm


… sorry, I’m getting a message that this has already been posted, so maybe this will help it get through… butch, I agree. Joe Biden and Lindsay Graham and Chris Dodd and Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel have been very willing to appear on the Sunday morning programs for several years now, and their insights about the war in Iraq have been very helpful. My impression has been that Tim Russert and George Stepanopolous and Bob Schiefer have asked some very tough questions and all these US Senators have made the effort to share their thoughts on the adequacy of the numbers of troops and matters such as that. And they have done so with respect for the viewpoints of those who disagree with them. That was also true of the joint appearance on Tim Russert’s “Meet The Press” by Joe Biden and Lindsay Graham about the time the president announced the troop surge.



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Mike Hayes

posted February 2, 2007 at 6:35 pm


I should have also mentioned John McCain as a US Senator who regularly appears on the Sunday morning programs, and who is respectful toward persons who view issues differently than he does. Some of them are pretty intense about their positions, but they seldom (if ever) let their intensity lead them to attack another senator. Barak Obama is relatively new on the scene, but he also appears on these programs and is insightful and considerate.



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Alicia

posted February 2, 2007 at 7:06 pm


I also like Joe Biden. I think he is a straight-shooter but I know he has an (apparently) well-deserved reputation for having a big mouth. It’s funny – my impression of Barack Obama has been almost identical to Biden’s. Though I haven’t yet read either of Obama’s books, and I don’t yet know a great deal about him, I find Obama almost preternaturally clean-cut and articulate and also nearly unflappable.I heard him interviewed recently on “The Today Show” and he responded with an utter lack of defensiveness when David Gregory asked him if his middle name was “Hussein.” (It is.) If a presidential candidate whose last name rhymes with “Osama” and whose middle name is “Hussein” can laugh off questions about his name, he should be able to handle being called “clean” and “articulate.” IMO, the real reason for the fuss is that Obama doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of previous African-American presidential candidates, none of whom (IMO) had a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting elected.



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butch

posted February 2, 2007 at 7:12 pm


Alicia where the hell did you come from, you seem to think outside labels. This a site where particians throw rocks. BTW thank you!



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Sue Badeau

posted February 2, 2007 at 7:21 pm


Ryan – I appreciated your posts yesterday and today. Words can and do hurt and they can and do often say more about the person speaking them than the person they are about. I have had some personal experience being on the receiving end of the type of remark Biden made, so I know the “sting” it can create, but I have also learned to take it stride and with one grain of salt and two shots of humor and then to turn it into an educational opportunity. In our case, it is because we have a large family of children we have adopted representing many different backgrounds and with many capabilities and disabilities. Inevitably, when we have a guest for dinner they leave making a remark along the lines of “This was really nice with a certain tone and emphasis on the words “really” and “nice” that cannot be conveyed in writing but when spoken clearly demonstrate that the person expected it to be “not so nice”. This “really nice” phrase is usually followed by words like “quiet”, “calm”, “pleasant” which tells me that the guest was expecting noise, chaos and unpleasantness to rule! It is demeaning and insulting, but at the same time creates a great opportunity to educate folks whether about children (in general), foster care, adoption, racial harmony or disability issues (or all of the above!) Bottom line – we DO need open and honest dialogue, as one poster noted, but we also need to recognize the power of our words and choose and use them carefully. I can only underscore your selection of James Chapter 3 as an excellent reminder, and would also add James 1:26 and I Peter 3:10, but perhaps we also need to be mindful of the opposite (I John 3: 18 ) and not “love” others with our words only, but also with our actions. In this instance, Biden’s actions have been more loving at times than his words.



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Payshun

posted February 2, 2007 at 7:30 pm


Sue, Which is what makes it so difficult. As a black citizen I would want to pull him aside and say “it’s like dude, your smart, think before you say something. Please don’t turn us into pets or show pieces when you talk and do research about my people before you say anything.” p



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Kevin

posted February 2, 2007 at 7:38 pm


Ryan, I too appreciate your considerate, graceful follow-up post, even though I also think your original post was right on the money. As a rational person who wishes to move beyond petty divisiveness, I of course agree that it’s not helpful to get hung up on semantics. As a member of an ethnic minority group, however, I am also aware that for folks who are not part of what is problematically called the “dominant culture,” dismissal of their concerns over language as mere semantics can be profoundly troubling to them. Racism, classism, stereotyping are all institutionalized in our culture, and not least in our language. I believe that before we can move beyond divisiveness to something more hopeful, we have to first be willing to see where others identify fault lines. At the same time, we also have to be willing to get over ourselves when someone whome we know is not a bigot utters something that some construe as offensive. Attentiveness and empathy have to run both ways.



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Alicia

posted February 2, 2007 at 8:33 pm


Thanks, butch.



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butch

posted February 2, 2007 at 8:48 pm


Payshun will you engage me in an academic discussion about things like dude or the N word. If you know the story of Victor Frankel, if not I’ll tell the tale again, you know that you can’t let anything like that affect you. When you let it affect you then you give it power and in fact give it the only power it has. We live in a football coach thinking society that says “give 100%”, can’t be done so you will not be able to do it 100% but every single percent less than a 100 is your loss. So if you do it 70% then celebrate the 70 and don’t whine over the 30% that you are not up to or blame the other person.



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Payshun

posted February 2, 2007 at 9:04 pm


Butch, I know the story of Viktr Frankl well. I have written many a paper on his theories of logotherapy and other approaches to motivation.Just because I am not going to let this determine anything in my day doesn’t mean my feelings can’t get hurt. I have a choice as to how I will respond to such things. I choose forgiveness and moving on.p



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Payshun

posted February 2, 2007 at 9:06 pm


Oh and to answer your question sure. I can engage in an academic discussion of the n-word. I have done that a few times as I was an African-American studies major. p



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butch

posted February 2, 2007 at 9:08 pm


“Just because I am not going to let this determine anything in my day doesn’t mean my feelings can’t get hurt.” I tell you that you can but not 100%, think about the football coach mentality.



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butch

posted February 2, 2007 at 9:14 pm


“I have a choice as to how I will respond to such things. I choose forgiveness and moving on.” Did you forgive them their ignorance or just their miss-spoken word or was it even real hate, whatever. I say don’t get that far into it and if you go that far then it you weakness or humanness or even your ignorance but don t put your less than 100%” on them. That again gives them power their behavior hasn t earned or deserves.



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butch

posted February 2, 2007 at 9:17 pm


I’ve bought into the Frankrl story hook line and sinker, live it and it works but not 100%



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Payshun

posted February 2, 2007 at 9:43 pm


Whatever happened to compassion and grace? I don’t hate Biden, I am still a fan and think the man is cool. I was offended that was all. Oh and forgiveness is complete as the offense was unintentional or meanspirited. Neither was the wound grieveous or insidious, just dumb. p



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Payshun

posted February 2, 2007 at 9:46 pm


Frankl’s argument deals w/ the horror of the concentration camp and he never forgot it. he never could completely walk away from it.All he could do was respond w/ grace when the wound(s) came up again. As anyone that has been thru extreme trauma or deprivation knows you never forget the wound but you can determine the outcome. It’s the same thing here. THe wound was not serious but again I can choose the outcome. Since when is explaining about a grievance whining? p



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butch

posted February 2, 2007 at 10:15 pm


Only you know if it is whining, I only point out that to do so gives power to an undeserved source.



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Payshun

posted February 2, 2007 at 11:16 pm


only if you let it. I won’t think ill of the senator for what he said, I just wish he would think more. p



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Mike Hayes

posted February 3, 2007 at 1:27 am


butch and Payshun, There is a saying that “… the one thing we can control is our attitude…”. My guess is that it is more difficult to be positive if a person has been “taught” from childhood that they are somehow inferior.



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Bill Samuel

posted February 3, 2007 at 1:35 am


No one’s answered your last question yet. I have never watched The Daily Show (actually I don’t generally watch TV t all), and I can certainly see that I haven’t been missing anything worthwhile. A Presidential candidate that appears on such a pathetic show is further demonstrating lack of judgment. It just results in him digging himself deeper by subjecting himself to the Jon Stewart treatment and now being able to be quoted as saying that he meant to say Stewart’s repunctuation of his original mark. The level of discourse in this country is truly disturbing.



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Payshun

posted February 3, 2007 at 3:41 am


Mike, I was one of those people. By the time I was in 6’th grade I already had plenty of experiences where I had been called the n-word, several verbal attacks by strangers… By the time I was in 8’th grade I had another student point a gun at me and threaten to kill me for no more reason than because I was black. Then there is a lot more. I know what racism looks like. I have lived w/ it my entire life and the lives of my parents and ancestors. What Frankl and others teach is that one doesn’t have to let trauma define you. No one is saying that’s easy but the alternative is much worse. I would rather be free of the pain, bitterness, wrath, hatred and judgement than not. what’s the saying in Roman’s? Oh yah there is no condemnation in Christ. If that’s true then I will share in the condemnation that some in the white community have labeled me. I am free and I will not absord and take in the sin of others Jesus did that so that I did not have to. Frankl saw things similarly as did Christ. If he could forgive a murderous crowd, his stupid and clueless disciples, broken people like myself then I think his example of freedom is the one I should follow. THat said it is not easy and please don’t mistake my silence on the ability to overcome as an easy thing. It cost me everything, from my identity as a black man (Jesus taught me to sacrifice all of me so that he could redeem me) to my identity as a victim. I had every right to claim victim status but then Jesus gave me an alternative.That alternative was the gospel, love itself. It’s never easy and there were times where I was never loving but love prevailed. It won and I am becoming it. May the same be true for you. p



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butch

posted February 3, 2007 at 4:52 am


Pay, regardless of the pain of the journey I think you reached the destination.



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