Some people should know when to shut up.
I've always found Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers to be a good person to interview. He's intelligent and accommodating. At the Super Bowl he was great all week, even indulging a TV type who was asking such pointless questions as "What's your favorite kind of cheese?"
But now I never want to hear another word from White. Not one.
In an hourlong speech to the Wisconsin state Assembly Wednesday, White sent the process of reasonable discussion back to the Stone Age.
Any time a person's attempts to praise the diversity of a society sound as bad as, if not worse than, his railing against homosexuality, then you know he isn't making sense.
White said homosexuals should not compare their civil rights situation to the plight of African Americans.
"Homosexuality is a decision, it's not a race," White said. "People from all different ethnic backgrounds live in this lifestyle. But people from all different ethnic backgrounds also are liars and cheaters and malicious and back-stabbing."
I wonder if White has read any of the medical studies that indicate there are genetic predispositions toward homosexuality.
Apparently White does think genes play a role when it comes to singing in church or making electronics.
In a lengthy sound bite that was broadcast Wednesday night and grew more painful by the second, White practically pulled out the stereotype sheet and went down the list.
He said African Americans are gifted at worship and celebration.
"If you go to a black church, you see people jumping up and down because they really get into it," he said.
He said white people are good at organization; "You guys do a good job of building businesses and things of that nature and you know how to tap into money."
Next up: Latinos.
"Hispanics were gifted in family structure and you see a Hispanic person, and they can put 20, 30 people in one home," White said.
Asians are so inventive that "they can turn a television into a watch," White said, and Native Americans are gifted in spirituality.
Finally, he got to his point: "When you put all of that together, guess what that makes: It forms a complete image of God."
Now I'd like to believe that combining the virtues of all of our races and cultures could make this world a better place. But I'd also like to believe that African Americans have more to offer than the ability to shout "Hallelujah!"
White sold his and every other race short when he relied strictly on stereotypes. African Americans make noise, Caucasians make money, Latinos make babies, Asians make TVs, Native Americans make rain dances. That's our world, according to Reggie White.
In a way I'm glad White shared his thoughts on race and ethnicity with us, because it showed just how narrow a frame of mind he was operating within when he denounced homosexuals.
And maybe it will help White when he sees the reaction--although it's doubtful, since he has stood by his comments so far.
White received an invitation to speak to the Assembly by Speaker Scott Jensen (R-Waukesha), and he blew it. It's bad enough to spew this ignorance before the media, but to do it on the floor of a legislative body makes it even worse.
Just because he's African American doesn't mean White can't perpetuate old notions of race and ethnicity. What it showed is just how deeply the perceptions of our own and other races are ingrained.
The explanation that black athletic success can be traced back to hearty slaves has continued a decade after Jimmy the Greek's infamous comments, and was echoed recently by Arkansas basketball Coach Nolan Richardson, who said, "Where did [the slave ships] stop? In the South. So you have more. In the South, you have a tremendous amount of black kids who are athletically inclined."
The danger of stereotypes is they put a road block in front of those who must overcome the negative ones and diminish the achievements of those who fulfill the positive ones. If you believe some people, African Americans can't be scientists and Asians do well in school because they were born that way. It isn't fair to either group.
The stereotypes will go on unless they get called out each and every time. I'm surprised Utah Coach Rick Majerus got off so easily when he lamented his difficulty in recruiting black players because of the small black population in Salt Lake City by saying: "There's only 12,000 blacks in the whole state. You drive to Compton, you can find 12,000 blacks at a Rummage-a-Rama."
Is that all that comes to mind for Majerus when he thinks of a gathering of black people in Compton? A swap meet?
If that's the case, we have a long way to go.
And if an African American such as White can only think of church singing when listing the attributes of black people, it will take a while to get there.