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McCann on Isiah Thomas Trial:

Michael McCann's latest column for SI.com, on the Isiah Thomas sexual harassment trial is available here.

He notes one of Isiah's stranger arguments in the case:

3) Under oath, Thomas opined that it would be worse for a "white man [to call] a black woman a bitch" than for an African-American male to do the same. How might that statement influence the trial?

Thomas apparently made the statement to insinuate that, because of values in the African-American community, at least as Thomas perceives them, Sanders should have been less offended by the misbehavior of African-American male employees than if white male employees had engaged in identical behavior.

This argument is weak and probably counter-productive.

Ya think?

SamChevre:
Probably, in this specific case--but it is certainly true that words are situational.

To use a particularly egregious example, if I were told that Joe addressed John as "my nigger" in the breakroom, I'd be much more likely to assume that it was intended as an insult if Joe were white than if he were black.
9.25.2007 3:25pm
RV:
if I were told that Joe addressed John as "my nigger" in the breakroom, I'd be much more likely to assume that it was intended as an insult if Joe were white than if he were black.


Context matters, but in your example that is because the user of the slur is a member of the group characterized by it. "Bitch" is an insulting term for a woman and the user was not a woman.

It definitely isn't a winning argument so say that one can go around insulting black women based on their sex because you are of the same race.
9.25.2007 4:33pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
You forget. Thomas is African-American. You have no right to say anything at all about his view of the use of language by African Americans.
9.25.2007 5:27pm
Buckland (mail):
I guess that Mr Thomas wouldn't get all heated up if I as a Southerner hurled a racial insult his way. After some perceive that to be the norm in Southern values...
9.25.2007 5:42pm
Buckland (mail):
After "ALL", some perceive that to be the norm in Southern values...

Dang, hate it when I ruin my punch line.
9.25.2007 5:43pm
PersonFromPorlock:
I don't believe that Mr. Thomas would be well-advised to try that argument on my (Black) wife. Oh, Lord, would she read him a peal....
9.25.2007 7:18pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Isn't an action that's both racist and sexist worse than the same action if it's just sexist? I suspect that's what he means, and if so then he's actually right. It doesn't excuse what he did, because it really is despicable either way, but people seem to be making fun of him because of some notion that his statement is obviously false. I think there's something that's true that he was getting at, even if what h e said wasn't the best way to put it.
9.25.2007 8:28pm
Kenny:
I agree that the seems to be a quixotic, at best, legal strategy, but as far as social conventions, Thomas is objectively correct. Don Imus, anybody?
9.26.2007 5:20am
DiverDan (mail):
I agree that calling someone a name (whether it's "bitch", "whore", "nigger", "kike", "spic", "cracker", or any of dozens of other rascist, sexist, or religiously based epithets, is rude, classless, despicable, etc., etc., but under just what circumstances does it become legally actionable? I certainly understand that if this was a common occurence in the workplace, or part of a broader and consitent pattern of abuse, it certainly might rise to the level of "hostile workplace environment" actionable as sexual discrimination in employment, but is just one name-calling episode enough? If that is the case, we could inundate the courts with cases brought by elementary school kids who get insulted on the playground.
9.26.2007 1:06pm
mariner (mail):
This argument is weak and probably counter-productive.

Weak, yes.

Counterproductive, no.

Thomas is just giving voice to the blatant racism of the black community today, and his statement won't hurt him at all.
9.26.2007 3:32pm
Libertarian1 (mail):
Would some constitutional expert out there explain to me why using any word- by definition speech- can be the subject of a lawsuit? "Congress shall make no law etc." I understand the Supremes over the years have allowed this to be modified by time, place or manner. But why does calling someone a bitch fall into one of those exceptions?
9.26.2007 5:27pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Well, I'd have to say Thomas is right. Our whole society has lower expectations of blacks than of whites until they meet the criminal justice system. Affirmative documents our lower expectations. When a whole race of people is considered to be deficient, that's lowered expectations.
9.26.2007 6:20pm
Elliot123 (mail):
That should say "AFFIRMATIVE ACTION DOCUMENTS..." rather then "AFFITMATIVE DOCUMENTS..."
9.26.2007 6:22pm