Thursday, July 13, 2006

"Good Guy"?

If you grew up with siblings, you probably experienced something like the following scenario (I know I did): you’re sitting in the backseat of your family station wagon eating a box of cookies. Your little sister asks for one. You say no. Your mom says, “Give your sister a cookie.” So you take an Oreo and sidearm it right at her. Covered with broken bits of chocolate cookie and cream filling, she cries to your mom.

“But Mom,” you say, “I was just giving her a cookie like you asked.”

That sort of childish semantic games is exactly what
Mark Hyman gives us in his editorial about “good guy” Mike Gray and his fight to display his ignorance for the world to see.

You might remember that Hyman editorialized on behalf of Gray a few months ago. At issue was the fact that Gray, a employee of Arapahoe County in Colorado, often drives to work with a trailer for his lawn care business, which sported a sign that says,
"Lawn Services Done With Pride!! [sic] By An English Speaking American."

County government officials have asked him to remove the sign, or else not park his trailer in the county-owned parking lot. He has refused.

According to Hyman, the county is being hypocritical. After all, he reasons, the county makes a point of offering lots of government forms and services in Spanish and other foreign languages for non-native speakers of English who live in the county. All Gray is doing is promoting another language, English.

Right. And I was just “handing” a cookie to my sister.

A little context goes a long way. One pertinent fact is that Gray also likes to wear a hat to work that says “U.S. Border Patrol.”

It’s almost too obvious to bother with, but just for the record, the county’s choice to offer services in other languages is an act of inclusiveness, an act of community building. In short, it’s an act of kindness.

Gray, on the other hand, is not simply “promoting” English, but is not very subtly suggesting that non-native speakers of English are in some way inferior (at least in terms of lawn care) and suspicious. It’s an act of exclusiveness, an act of xenophobia. In short, he’s being a prick.

Does he have the right to put his ignorance on display? Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides. On one hand, freedom of speech protects the right to say whatever you want, as long as it’s not overtly harmful to someone else. On the other, the county can make a good argument that an employee for the government displaying such thinly veiled contempt for a certain percentage of its residents is doing harm, and Gray should find somewhere else to park his trailer and start wearing a Colorado Rockies cap instead.

But any reasonable argument must start with reasonable assumptions, and that’s exactly what we don’t get from Hyman. Insisting on the transparently ridiculous idea that Gray is simply “promoting” English, Hyman replaces reasonableness with childishness. The result is that a serious issue worthy of discussion and touching on some important topics in contemporary America gets trivialized.

That, as usual, is what we get from Hyman.

And why isn’t it surprising that Hyman, a man who has used racist rhetoric several times when addressing immigration issues, labels a man who fights for his right to display his xenophobic boobery to the world, “one of the good guys?”

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 2.38


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