Saturday, August 14, 2004

We're Just Wondering . . .

On the surface, Mark Hyman’s latest collection of "short takes" appears typically banal and free of anything of consequence (the latest Kerry “scandal”: a press pass issued for a Detroit event featured an image of a prototype automobile manufactured by Rolls Royce).

But then there’s this little gem:

Did you know there will no longer be a majority religious denomination in America? According to the National Opinion Research Center, Protestants will fall below 50% as early as this year for the first time since the colonial era. The decline is attributed to the rise in people claiming no religious practice and an increase in Islam, Buddhism and other Eastern faiths.

At first blush, this is simply a statement of a marginally interesting fact. But facts are rarely what they seem in the world of “The Point,” and there’s an underlying ugliness lurking here.

Imagine a neighbor approaching you and saying, “Hey, there’s a new family moving into the old Richardson place on the corner. Just saw the U-Haul pull in this morning. Did you know they were a black family?”

Again, if you parse this sentence word by word, this seems innocent enough: simply the sharing of information. The choice to insert an otherwise irrelevant fact into the conversation, however, carries a clear message. Translated, it would be something like: “Listen: I didn’t pay through the nose for my house to live next to people like that. Things are changing, and not for the better. No sir, I’m not happy about this—not one little bit!“


“Hey, friend: I don’t know for sure how you feel about this, so I’m trying to be as delicate as I can, but if you don’t like the idea of living next to a bunch of . . . well . . .those people, you can talk freely to me about it. I’m on your side. I won’t turn you in to the P.C. police.”

Both Hyman and the hypothetical bigoted neighbor cover themselves with plausible deniability. Challenge them to explain the meaning behind what they said, and they’ll respond, “Whoa! Hang on there—you’ve got me all wrong! I was just pointing out a fact, nothing more. Heck, some of my best friends are (black, Hindi, Catholic, etc.).”

But their message and intentions are clear enough. They’re speaking in a code, feeling us out to see if we feel the same way they do and, if so, to commiserate with us on this clear sign of our collective slide toward Gomorrah.

The NORC is in the business of gathering information such as this, and there' s no reason to see their reporting of this fact as having an underlying message anymore than there is to see unspoken racism in a Census Bureau chart that documented more African Americans moving to the suburbs. In both cases, it's the speaker and the context (or lack thereof) that's crucial: "Say, did you happen to notice . . ."

And if there’s any doubt about the “us/them” aspect of Hyman’s comment, note the telling bit of historical ignorance: Hyman claims that Protestants have been in the majority since “colonial times.” While the mental picture of millions of Native Americans getting gussied up in their Sunday best in teepees, wigwams, and pueblos across North America to go to hear some preachin’ is vaguely amusing, we doubt it’s historically accurate. Did the issue of Native Americans not occur to Hyman, or did he consciously decide to ignore it? Perhaps, in Hyman’s world, this is a distinction without a difference.

We’re just wondering.

And that’s "The Counterpoint."


At 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also venture to guess that the largest group is Catholic latinos. If so, his last statement is quite misleading.



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