Home > SHAME, a response by The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments responds to an editorial published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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The following is a public response to an editorial published January 15th in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, co-signed by The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments:

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has done our community and the cause of justice a grave disservice with its lead editorial, “Reason as Racism,” published of all days on Martin Luther King Day, when we as a nation commemorate the ongoing fight to end racism in our country.

Repeated verbatim from an opinion piece printed Saturday in its sister publication the Toledo Blade, the editorial is a silly mix of deflection and distortion that provides cover for racist rhetoric while masquerading as a defense of decency. It is unworthy of a proud paper and an embarrassment to Pittsburgh.

You would think an editorial loftily decrying “name calling” in public life would criticize the President for his reported recent description of Haiti and some African nations as “s-hole countries.” Sadly, however, the piece aims its venom at those who rightly described the President’s words as racist.

It is a sorry pastiche of whitewashing drivel. It builds a straw-man argument that the term “racist” is too often used to silence opponents, completely ignoring this President’s well-established pattern of repeatedly invoking race to divide the country and to attack his enemies. A President who defends Nazis and white supremacists has described himself, as did his initial failure to deny the language from his immigration meeting and the reported glee his advisors took in “tough language” they thought would play to the base. If you don’t want to be called a racist, don’t be racist.

Of course the editorial dismisses racism as an overused word that should be “confined” to mass murderers like Dylann Roof and the conveniently distant bigots of the past like Bull Connor. But the very struggle at the heart of Martin Luther King’s fight for civil rights was the insidious way racism permeates everyday life and language. Damning countries where the people are primarily brown or black while wishing for more immigrants from a predominantly white country “like Norway” is the very definition of a racist lens, and the only way racism will ever end is for those with power to call it what it is.

Instead, the Post-Gazette editorial hides behind the idea that all presidents speak crassly in private, and that a different word would have offended less, as though the word was the issue and not who it was used to describe. Never mind that this President, more than any in modern memory, uses private vulgarity as public pronouncement. Never mind that how the American president characterizes other countries, races, ethnicities, religions and peoples sets the tone for how others the world over see us. Never mind that belittling whole swaths of the planet’s population is unworthy of a great nation, let alone a compassionate people.

“So what?” asks the Post-Gazette twice, as if to underscore its dismissal, calling the whole controversy a distraction from the “real” issue of immigration. That is the most offensive flaw in its argument. Here’s what it forgets: Perhaps the central point of contention in this nation’s immigration debate is the role of race and racism in deciding who is welcome here. No serious person disagrees we should have more secure borders. But who gets to come inside those borders, and how that’s decided, and how to ensure it is done fairly and without bias, is the fundamental question.

It matters profoundly whether the Trump Administration’s stance on who belongs in America is rooted in any kind of racial view of who is or gets to be an American. In dismissing this controversy as irrelevant the Post-Gazette only proves itself ignorant of or indifferent to what’s really being debated in Washington, and to the ongoing fight for justice that today’s holiday commemorates.

Pittsburgh, like many communities around the country, still struggles with becoming the sort of fair and inclusive community where all feel welcome and have the real opportunity to thrive. We remain committed to that goal and believe we can get there.

But it will require honesty from all of us, including our newspaper of record. The President’s words were simply and frankly racist. To excuse racism in the name of politics, to attempt to dress it up in fancy clothes and camouflage, is to condone it.

Does the Post-Gazette really want to be on that side of history? We urge it to rethink its position and to stand squarely with those working toward a more just future for all the people who call our community home.


Grant Oliphant
The Heinz Endowments

Maxwell King
President & CEO
The Pittsburgh Foundation

Jan. 15, 2018


Link to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Editorial: Reason as racism: An immigration debate gets derailed

Calling someone a racist is the new McCarthyism. The charge is pernicious. The accuser doesn’t need to prove it. It simply hangs over the accused like a great human stain.

It has become not a descriptive term for a person who believes in the superiority of one race over another, but a term of malice and libel — almost beyond refutation, as the words “communist” or “communist sympathizer” were in the 1950s.

Moreover, the accuser somehow covers himself in an immunity of superiority. If I call you a racist, I probably will not be called one. And, finally, having chosen the ultimate epithet, I have dodged the obligation to converse or build.

If Donald Trump is called a racist for saying some nations are “shithole countries,” does that help pass a “Dreamers” bill to keep gifted young people in this nation — people who have something to give the United States and are undocumented only because they were brought here by their parents illegally?

That’s the goal, is it not? To save the Dreamers? That’s what the White House meeting last week was about. It’s what the whole week was about, until we went down the “racist” rabbit hole.

We were having an immigration debate. To the president, it is a reasonable goal, and one that most Americans would agree upon, to want to naturalize more people based on “merit.” We want more people who can contribute to our culture and economy, and they tend to come from stable nations.

If the president had used the world “hellhole” instead, would that have been racist?

If he had used the word “failed states,” would that have been racist?

But there are nations that are hellholes in this world. And there are failed states. It is not racist to say that this country cannot take only the worst people from the worst places and that we want some of the best people from the best places, many of which are inhabited by people of color. That’s not racism, it is reason.

Yes, we should take in unskilled refugees. We also want more Indian Ph.D.s and engineers.

If Sen. Dick Durbin wants to disagree about placing merit at the center of our immigration policies, if he wants to take an unlimited number of unemployed and unemployable people because, after all, that’s what most Poles and Irish were called in the 1900s, let him say that. And let Mr. Durbin and the president debate two concepts of American immigration policy honorably and finally find a middle ground where there is agreement and common purpose.

But, when we have a chance to reform the immigration system, and save the Dreamers, and find common ground, let us not get distracted by another cudgel to use against the president. Calling the president a racist helps no one — it is simply another way (the Russia and instability cards having been played unsuccessfully) to attempt to delegitimize a legitimately elected president.

Did the president use a crudity in a private meeting? He says he did not. No one who was there has said he did on the record. But if he did, so what? So what? America today is a sadly crass place where many of us use vulgar, corrosive language we ought not use in private and work conversations. How many of us would like to see and share a transcript of everything we have said in private conversations or at work?

And how many presidents have said crass things in the Oval Office in private meetings? Think of Kennedy, Clinton and Nixon, to name three.

If the president is wrong on immigration — on merit, on finding a balance between skilled and unskilled immigrants, on chain migration, on the lottery — let his opponents defeat him on these points, and not by calling him a racist. If he is to be removed from office, let the voters do it based on his total performance — temperament as well as accomplishment — in 2020. Simply calling him an agent of the Russians, a nutcase or a racist is a cowardly way to fight.

We need to confine the word “racist” to people like Bull Connor and Dylann Roof. For if every person who speaks inelegantly, or from a position of privilege, or ignorance, or expresses an idea we dislike, or happens to be a white male, is a racist, the term is devoid of meaning.

We have to stop calling each other names in this country and battle each other with ideas and issues, not slanders.

Post Gazette Editorial Board January 15, 2018


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