I believe I may be unclear on Time’s editorial concept for opinion pieces. I was under the impression that they are meant to add something salient and insightful to national discourse, but Joel Stein’s column “My Own Private India” seems designed to highlight nothing but Joel Stein’s racism and his self-satisfaction about it. While I appreciate being warned that I should under no circumstances attempt to, say, respect or admire or interact with Stein in any way, I didn’t think Time’s journalistic mandate involved helping me steer clear of smug bigots. If you’re planning to give print space to everyone who is loathsome so that we’ll know to stay away from them, may I respectfully submit that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? And if that wasn’t the idea, then what in God’s name was?
I confess I can’t fathom the string of editorial decisions that led to someone actually publishing this piece. Stein’s lack of self-awareness isn’t a big secret, but surely there are editors there who are supposed to keep him from embarrassing himself and the magazine. Did nobody at any point consider that “I have many racist opinions about people from India and I think these opinions are very funny” is not a Time-worthy thesis statement? I realize you’re not exactly the New Yorker (believe me, never have I realized that more keenly than I do right now) but “not blatantly and obviously racist” isn’t really a high hurdle to jump before something is considered publishable.
I suppose it’s possible that everyone on the masthead is under 20 years old, and that they therefore think flagrant racism is edgy and provocative. In that case, stay in school, guys! Don’t do drugs! And I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but racism is still a very present and destructive factor in our lives — in the lives of people like Stein, who allow their racial privilege to turn them into apparently irredeemable jerks, but more importantly in the lives of people like Stein’s Edison neighbors, who face his kind of hatefulness and disdain every day and in every aspect of their lives. Racism is edgy and funny like the Gulf oil spill is edgy and funny to a bird. You don’t get to have ironic distance on this; you’re soaking in it.
(Okay, that’s what I actually wrote to Time, but now that I’m presenting it as a blog post I would be really remiss in not also linking to this post at Sepia Mutiny, which sets a new standard for quality in spluttering outrage.)