I just want to start by saying I like Talking Points Memo and I think you should visit that site often. Also, I don't think Josh Marshall is a racist. But...
He has a post up on his site where he fake quotes as if he were Rush Limbaugh. In it Josh uses the term "towel-heads" to convey Limbaugh's racist attitude. I e-mailed him to say that, while I understand the intent of his using the word, I didn't think he had the liberty to use it.
Now, I've e-mailed TPM before and gotten some good responses straight from Josh. This time he ignored my e-mail. I know he's a busy guy, but I sent it to him when he was online because he posted a piece at about the same time. And, he's posted plenty since then.
Anyway, I think this is important. I don't think this is Michael Richards level, not even close. But, I do think that its inappropriate for him to use this term. I think the term is what we might consider a "second-tier slur" -- there are plenty of worse things one could call and Arab or a Sikh for instance. But, it's a slur nonetheless. I don't think we'd be okay with people using second-tier slurs for blacks or Latinos for example. And, we certainly shouldn't have to confront them in places where good people are doing good work.
This might be more about where we are as a nation than about Josh or TPM. Civil rights and racial relations are not high priorities in our national conscience right now. It's somewhat understandable since we're in a poorly considered war with Iraq, have a real scare of terrorism, and of course an economic policy that puts most of us in a precarious financial situation.
Still, civil rights are the guarantors of the promise of America. Until all people have the rights and opportunities that are the American Dream or the American Ideal, we have not truly the America we wish to be. And, this isn't just some dreamy lefty goal. It directly affects each and every person regardless of their race or gender or disability or sexual orientation, or other disfranchisement.
Take for instance housing segregation. Segregation is a civil rights issue and it is at the root of many of our urban problems.
Urban Sprawl: fueled by white flight.
Gentrification: fueled by racial displacement and unwillingness of whites to consider living in majority black or Latino neighborhoods.
Insufferable commutes: fueled by white flight.
Poor mass transit: fueled by hostility toward integration.
School inequality: fueled by unequal property values which are often caused by disinvestment in minority communities.
Do each of these problems have other causes? Sure. But, the problems will never be solved until we address segregation as one of the primary causes.
Unfortunately, we don't value the defense of civil rights or affirmative measures to ameliorate these problems. And, one piece of evidence is when a good person thinks its okay to use a slur.