Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Dick Clark: Naïve Offender?

By Jean Mavrelis - 04.20.2012

Last night I watched CNN as Anderson Cooper conducted live phone conversations with Aretha Franklin and Little Richard.

They kept saying he was a nice man, and he understood the industry, but there was no gushing.  They paid respect to the moment and the man.

Anderson Cooper missed the story behind the story.

What wasn’t said was that American Bandstand was not initially an integrated show.

Come on, we’re talking about the 1950’s.  I want to assume Dick Clark evolved like all the rest of us white folks who remember American Bandstand.

I googled Dick Clark on racism and found a reference to a time when, on the Pyramid game show, he offered a clue for things that are whipped: “Slaves that are disobedient” –then Clark added – “Of course, that was appropriate in a different era”.

It was a classic example of offensive statements that whites, often unthinkingly, make about blacks.

It’s not unlike the first line supervisor I heard of recently who wanted to compliment his line of workers, many of whom were African American, and sent them a “good job” card with a monkey on the front clapping symbols together. Most everybody agreed the first line supervisor was a “naïve offender”.  Maybe that expression fits for Dick Clark as well.

But some African Americans wanted to leverage the naïve offense to talk about racism.  What does that tell us?

Whites often see race as the first thing that blacks reach for to explain unequal treatment– generally characterizing that as “playing the race card”. Yet, the story we hear most often from African Americans is that they go to great lengths to avoid attributing different treatment to race. When blacks do bring up race, they usually have already gone down a checklist of what else it might be, and can’t explain what happened in any other way.

African Americans who wanted to leverage the thank you note to talk about racism, were not trying to “use the race card” for personal gain. The goal was undoubtedly to leverage an opportunity to talk about the elephant in the room.  That elephant is the subtle way that racism creeps into today’s workplace.

American bandstand has evolved along with the rest of the U.S. social landscape, which, as Eric Liu observed. “…. finds itself ever more in flux: between a white self image and a colored face.”

So how can we move forward and acknowledge that we really are a multiracial, multicultural society? And what will it take to effectively manage the mix?

One way is to learn to communicate better with those who are racially and culturally different from ourselves. The place to start there is to see the present dis-connect between how we see others and how others see themselves.

One example that comes to mind is a story my friend Ken tells of a white woman who he had worked with for many years who said to him one day in the office, “Ken, I don’t even notice you’re black any more”.  He responded, “You know Gladys, “I don’t even notice you’re a woman anymore.”

In playing down Ken’s race and seeing him as just “Ken”, Gladys was probably commenting on the comfort level of their working relationship. But in doing so she also misrepresented his reality, which was as he pointed out in his reply, was a both/and, not either/or, racial identity and experience, just as Gladys had with gender.

 

4 Responses so far

Jean,

This is a very interesting blog post. It started me thinking about unintentional racism. I agree that we have evolved very far since the 50’s, and even the 80’s.

Do you think that people expect racist acts? Especially by minority groups. I believe that dominant groups can unintentionally perform a racist act when that act can be attributed to a stereotype of the minority group. The challenge there, is that it could be a scapegoat for those who do want to intentionally perform racist acts.

Would there be any scientific way to identify if Clark’s (rest his soul) actions were intentional or directed?

Such people are often called “naive offenders”. And they are the ones who we consider to be the “ripe fruit” so to speak.
They are ready and willing to change, but don’t know what they don’t know. By supplying real, valuable, concrete information, we can change hearts and minds. It’s what keeps me doing this work. I believe people are basically good, and when presented new information, see the value of diversity and inclusion and its relevance for survival within our present global reality.

Dick Clark is the rudest and most racist TV host I’ve ever seen.

I have been watching a lot of AB clips recently and the first thing I noticed about Dick Clark was that he seemed ever so polite when talking to my favorite white band. I thought, “Wow, what a nice guy!” But Dick Clark has insulted LITERALLY every single black performer I have seen him interview. Whenever interviewing a black star, Clark touches his own face and rubs his face and hands as if contemplating or trying to draw attention to the guest’s black skin. I’ve seen him “give orders” to a performer in a firm and authoritative way, he has threatened violence during an interview “You’d better watch out or they’ll take it out on your head!”, he insults many young or middle aged female stars by calling them an “old woman”, he insults black performers in non-racist ways such as by saying “What are you, some kind of nut?” and “Were you too dumb to be nervous?” and in regards to a performer’s earlier appearances on the program while the performer was standing on the stage, “He looked like a drowned rat!”. Clark even makes references to slavery by saying “Is it true he brings with him a bullwhip 9 feet long?” while making a whipping motion with him arm. There’s no doubt that Dick Clark was racist. He did let black people on his show but I guess anyone would say it was only for ratings and money.

We only recently got back from week long training. Sorry for the late posting.

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