On general suspicion and nervousness around people wearing "Muslim garb":
I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous. Now, I remember also that when the Times Square bomber was at court, I think this was just last week. He said the war with Muslims, America's war is just beginning, first drop of blood. I don't think there's any way to get away from these facts.
On general suspicion and nervousness around people with dark skin, in a TNR colloquium about whether it was justified, given the objective racial statistics of who is likeliest to commit crime:
Neither black nor white store owners are in business to display the virtues of admitting people of all colors, creeds, and fashions to their stores. They are in business to make money. I would want to take precautions to prevent robbery; I would look closely at people entering the store. The race of a potential customer would be one factor among many to be considered as I girded myself against thieves.
But in Washington and almost all other major cities, blacks do patronize jewelry stores. A jeweler in Beverly Hills who closed his door to heavily bejeweled Mr. T would be foolishly closing his cash register. Unless I am a racist, race and age cannot be the sole deciding factors in calculating whom I will and will not let into my store. And I certainly would not close my door to, say, all young black men - not even to those who are casually dressed and behaving nervously. I would act cautiously in dealing with them, as I would with an antic, strangely dressed white man.
As a cabdriver I would apply the same considerations. Discrimination can be used judiciously. I would certainly exclude one class of people: those who struck me as dangerous. Nervous-looking people with bulges under their jackets would not be picked up; nor would those who looked obviously drunk or stoned. It all comes down to a subjective judgment of what dangerous people look like. This does not necessarily entail a racial judgment. Cabdrivers who don't pick up young black men as a rule are making a poorly informed decision. Racism is a lazy man's substitute for using good judgment.
The elevator question is disingenuous. I suspect you are suggesting that I am a white woman getting into an apartment building elevator with a strange black man. Of course, black women have just as much to fear as white women. Nevertheless, black women living in black neighborhoods ride elevators with black men frequently, and do so without being raped. In this situation and all others, common sense is my constant guard. Common sense becomes racism when skin color becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me.
Notice that Williams uses facts and evidence to make these judgments. Yet the facts and evidence in the case he was discussing on Fox News prove that there is no statistical reason whatever to get nervous around those in Muslim garb on airplanes - since no terror attacks in America have been conducted by people in that attire. Yet that factor - and that alone - is what he invokes to justify his fear. This is anti-religious bigotry in its purest, clearest form.
In stark contrast, in the case of generalizing about nervousness and suspicion of thievery toward African-American men, Williams is far more circumspect. He takes statistical evidence into account; he looks for aspects in a human being that, independent of their race, might make one suspicious. He rules out judgment based on their clothing or their "acting nervously". But when it comes to Muslims in traditional garb, he feels nervous because of that fact alone, and associates them immediately with a terror suspect involving Islam in general - not radical Jihadism - as at war with the West.
So generalized nervousness around people wearing Muslim garb (who statistically have committed zero acts of terrorism in the US) is not bigotry; but generalized nervousness and suspicion around young black men (who statistically were much more likely to commit the crimes in question in the thought experiment in the colloquium) is racism.
Why, in other words, did Williams not say about those in Muslim garb:
Common sense becomes bigotry when religious attire becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me.
Why does he have this extreme double standard? And how dare he use his own record in defending civil rights for African-Americans to justify his bigoted prejudice against devout Muslims?
I think the answer is pretty obvious. He is on Fox News, pandering to the anti-Muslim bigot, Bill O'Reilly. And Roger Ailes rewards him for that role, as a "liberal" justifying anti-Muslim bigotry, because pandering to bigotry makes for good ratings and good politics.
(Hat tip: Glenn Greenwald, whose full post is also well worth reading.)
(Photo: Eric Draper/White House via Getty).