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Created: October 6, 2003
Latest Update: October 6, 2003

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Index of Topics on Site Race and Answerability
On Monday, October 6, 2003, Dwayne Sanders, CSUDH, wrote:
Hello Jeanne,
I think I am finally getting the term answerability. I wanted to make a comment on the situation with Rush Limbaugh from ESPN. I assumed that he made a statement or reflected a theory in which he assumed how the media place black athletes on an altar and worship them. I don't think anyone gave him a chance to clear up his comment. Maybe you can answer this: Why is it that blacks can make statements about different races, but if whites make the same comment they are racist? Can we say thatís a double standard?


On Monday, October 6, jeanne responded:

Good submission, Dwayne. A for the submission. First you told me where you are on answerability. And that tells me that I need more concrete examples up, but that now I need some recognition and recall practice up. What you're doing is telling me about your latent learning, and that helps.

Next, you're thinking about the issues we've been dealing with in some depth. So let's take a look at the Rush Limbaugh incident. I was trying to clear up e-mail last week and missed the whole incident. So back I had to go to the New York Times to figure out what had happened. Backup of New York Times comment on Monday, October 6, 2003. I didn't go back to all the stories, I just stuck to Richard Sandomir's analysis in the NY Times.

  • The Issue:

  • The Context:

  • The Aftermath:

    • "Democratic presidential candidates Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, and Rev. Al Sharpton called for the cable sports network to fire Limbaugh." (The Boston Globe AP article)

    • Rush Limbaugh resigned on Thursday, after his Sunday comment on McNabb and the media. (Sandomir's article in the NY Times)

    • Sandomir comments on the "extraordinary joint mea culpa . . . of the four remaining panelists of ESPN's "Sunday N.F.L. Countdown" offering their regrets yesterday for failing to comment last Sunday" (Sandomir's article in the NY Times)

    • But mostly Sandomir focuses on the fact that those who hired Rush Limbaugh as what Sandomir suggests was an entertainment draw ploy, did not appear, did not apologize, although they accepted Limbaugh's resignation.

    McNabb's Conclusion:


    • ESPN Responds, but Its Leaders Hide By Richard Sandomir, N Y Times, October 6, 2003. Backup.

    • McNabb says race shouldn't be issue AP, Boston Globe, October 2, 2003. Backup.

      * * * * *

      Discussion Questions

      1. How does this incident relate to answerability?

        Consider that no one answered Rush Limbaugh when the comment was made. Consider McNabb's answer "someone should have." Now don't jump to conclusions. Just consider that no one answered, and that the person who was racially insulted thinks that someone should have answered? Why? Maybe because the comment hurt? Maybe because there was the possibility of answer and no one took up that possibility, which is maybe worse than the situation when there is no possibility of answer? Maybe because . . .

      2. Think of the Modigliani eyes and the mask that hides our souls. Who in this incident would jeanne have drawn with masked eyes? Do you think she would have drawn the eyes with the horse's blue eyes or with the old man's unseeing eyes?

        Consider that we have talked of the masked eyes representing windows into the soul and the respect and trust that must be in an interpersonal relationship and/or in the resulting community to see through those masked eyes.

      3. What kind of professional working climate do you think existed on Countdown that fostered this whole situation?

        Consider the old man's working environment. Did the other milk men like and respect him? Why might the mask have remained anyway? Consider the vulnerability of allowing penetration of the mask. Could professionals work effectively together without the deep trust and respect that the penetration of the mask might represent?

      4. Rush Limbaugh stepped beyond the bounds of socially acceptable comments in attributing McNabb's success to media hype for a black. How do you suppose jeanne might paint Limbaugh's eyes? How do you think you would describe his eyes.

      5. Consider that Limbaugh says he really liked the show and wanted to do it. And he had apparently promised not to step overbounds with his comments. Consider how he might see the world, and how different that might be from how others on the panel see the world. It is, after all, socially acceptable to blame the media for darned near everything today. Why would the media have a bias towards a black instead of against him?

      6. Why did Crhis Berman feel it necessary to exculpate Limbaugh's intent? Does intent matter?

        Intent matters before the law. Should social acceptability follow the law in mitigating through intent? Consider that the purpose of the law is to settle disputes in ways to minimize the harm we do to each other. What's the harm here? Who was hurt? Note that McNabb said "He was upset that Limbaugh made his race an issue and said it was too late for an apology." What does "too late for an apology" mean? Does that phrase refer to social customs of saving face and fighting over honor? How does it relate to forgiveness?

      7. Now, let's go back to Dwayne's position: Did anyone give Rush Limbaugh a chance to explain what he meant? Should it have mattered what he meant? We come back here to intent.

        Consider this is apparently his first stint on national TV. He was apparently brought in for entertainment value. Read carefully what he says in the AP article:

        "My comments this past Sunday were directed at the media and were not racially motivated," Limbaugh said in a statement last night. "I offered an opinion. This opinion has caused discomfort to the crew, which I regret.

        "I love `NFL Sunday Countdown' and do not want to be a distraction to the great work done by all who work on it.

        "Therefore, I have decided to resign. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the show and wish all the best to those who make it happen."

      8. If Limbaugh really did want to be on the show, this incident took something from him that he badly wanted. Was that appropriate to his transgression? Was that appropriate to his learning?

        Consider what responsibility we have for trying to find ways to make up for harms and to teach each other better ways to interact and not harm one another? Think about restorative justice. Do you think this incident was handled in a way that will further the restorative justice efforts of our communities?

      9. Precisely where does answerability fit in all this mess?

        Consider that Rush Limbaugh chose to make an utterance through which he intended to communicate with Others. Bakhtin's answerability would alert us to the fact that once we make such an utterance an Other can answer. Now, no one did on the show. But lots of people did later. Then, those on the show apologized for not having answered when the utterance first occurred, and all that I've read on the incident seems to find that appropriate. I don't.

        When Person makes an utterance, Other may respond. Other has the physiological, mental, and emotional ability to do so. Is Other responsible for doing so? I don't think so. I think that is part of the beauty of the aesthetic process of forming interpersonal relationships. Whether Other answers or not depends on Other, and on Person, and on the context of the infrastructure in which they find themselves.

        As professional black men, Michael Irvin and Tom Jackson, seem to have fallen prey to the "you had a responsibility to do something, to say something," especially because as panelists of equal standing they had the power to respond. But, if Limbaugh was hired for his entertainment value, and given that he is well known for his conservative outspokenness, which of them had the skills to take on a debate, or the courage or desire to turn Countdown into a racist debate, when there would surely have been those who suggested that "they were being racist," and they might have found themselves having to resign like Limbaught. Let us not be so ready to assign responsibility to answerability.

        I would suggest that Limbaugh's comment, together with whatever prevented or failed to provoke them to respond, has certainly affected the interpersonal relationships on the panel and in that professional working group. And a part of what Bakhtin is saying is that we can't know what an answer from either of them might have provoked and what aesthetic product or interelationship would have resulted. One does not answer simply because one theoretically can. The decision to answer is part of the whole aesthetic process of the community.

        Recall that Berman said that Limbaugh didn't have any mal intent when he made the statement. How would Berman's reading of Limbaugh's intent affected his own response to anything that Irvin or Jackson said at that point?

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, October 2003.
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