Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Norman Mailer and Affirmative Action 

From Lloyd Grove's Lowdown at the New York Daily News (hat tip Salon.com):

The 82-year-old novelist [Norman Mailer] - who in an interview with Rolling Stone called the Japanese-American critic [Michiko Kakutani] 'a one-woman kamikaze' and 'a token' minority hire - received a spanking yesterday from Dallas Morning News reporter Esther Wu, president of the 2,000-member Asian American Journalists Association.

'Calling out Norman Mailer as a racist ... would be easy,' Wu wrote to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner.
Please, don't let that stop you...

'But that's not why we're writing. We take greater offense at his reference to her as a 'two-fer' and a 'token' because she's 'Asiatic, feminist,' which essentially diminishes the accomplishments of all women and journalists ... To Mr. Mailer, we'd simply like to say: Shame on you.'
Aw, why'd you let it stop you? Oh well, that "shame on you" bit ought to do the trick just as nicely. Waving a self-righteous finger in the face of an 82 year old curmudgeon is practically guaranteed to exorcise any latent racist demons lurking in what is left of his mind. Well done Ms. Wu. Brace yourself for the apology:

From his summer home on Cape Cod, Mailer dismissed Wu's letter as 'an excellent example of high-octane political correctness.'
What in Hemingway's name is high-octane about political correctness? Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Norman Mailer a writer, once upon a time, long, long ago? I'm starting to think Ms. Kakutani might have been right in those reviews that got him so riled up in the first place.

Wu fired back: 'Perhaps if Mr. Mailer were a little more politically correct, he would not be making such racist remarks.'
It appears Ms. Wu didn't get the memo from the PR department announcing that the term 'politically correct' lost its liberal luster back when Bill was still sleeping with Hillary.

In an exclusive statement to me, Mailer repeated his 'token' charge and added that 'authors do like to reviewed on publication day, not two weeks earlier with a heinously bad review ... This is what Ms. Kakutani has been doing to my books for many years now, and that may not be politically correct, but it sure is foul.'

Wu retorted: 'But this has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with character assassination of two whole classes of people (women and minorities) by Mr. Mailer.'
Finally, we reach the heart of the matter, the point without which I'd never have bothered setting finger to keyboard. If Ms. Wu had merely condemned Mr. Mailer as a racist, I'd have just nodded and moved on. His comments presented in the article, his gratuitous use of the term 'kamikaze', do carry a slight odor of racism. I don't know Mr. Mailer, nor am I familiar with his greater body of work, so I won't judge his heart, but I can see how his comments could be judged.

What I don't see is why anyone should be so surprised and shocked by Mailer's "token" charge. Affirmative action, as it has been implemented, has done nothing to support successful minorities against this charge. And this little side-effect has been difficult to overcome while the charge of racism is used so freely to discredit those who oppose the manner of affirmative action's implementation. Sure, some may be racists. But it is still possible to support the idea of affirmative action in terms of "equal opportunity" while opposing it as a mandate for "equal outcomes". Had we only eschewed the bean counters' preferences for quotas and tokens that is causing so much trouble here, and instead taken a serious shot at improving the starting conditions -- education, housing, support for families -- successful minorities would have to be accepted simply as that: successful minorities.

Finally, I'll end with the one bit of good news:

Kakutani, through a Times spokesman, declined to comment.
She has already reaped the free publicity as being the critic whose opinion Normal Mailer cares about, and is wise enough to leave it at that. Well played.
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