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Tuesday, January 18, 2005  

News: Calling King 'coon' reaps results

I had hoped to find something positive to say in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day -- despite my increasing skepticism about whether there will be any more progress in race relations in the United States. I believe any further progress is stalled because of white people's intransigence. Today's news provided an episode I feel somewhat heartened by.

The Associated Press reports.

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A television weatherman was fired after referring to slain civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. as ``Martin Luther Coon King'' on the air, station officials said.

Rob Blair, of KTNV-TV, was delivering the extended forecast Saturday morning when he said: ``Martin Luther Coon King Jr. Day, gonna see some temperatures in the mid-60s.''

Jim Prather, vice president and general manager of the ABC affiliate, said Blair stumbled when he uttered the remark, but the excuse was not enough to save his job.

``This kind of incident is not acceptable under any circumstances, and I'm truly sorry that this event occurred,'' Prather said.

Blair, who worked at the station for about three months, apologized during the station's 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts Saturday.

``I in no way intended to offend anyone,'' he said in the apology. ``I'm very sorry.''

Blair's remark was not a slip of the tongue. It is the way some white people habitually refer to Martin Luther King, Jr. I've heard it said at least a dozen times and read it hundreds of times. Usually, there is no price to pay for using that slur or others. There's an unspoken agreement among many white people that abuses by other white people don't really count if they are against people of color. The attitude, an element of white privilege, extends across the political spectrum. Many, perhaps most, white liberals are no more likely to speak up against racist behavior than white conservatives are. It is much easier to say one is a progressive than it is to actually be one. The reason I feel heartened about this episode is that, for once, the offender is paying the price for bigoted behavior. Usually, people of color do. They have come to take working in hostile environments where behavior like Blair's is the norm for granted.

Nor do I believe the station manager is necessarily free of bias himself. Why was Blair still around to apologize on two subsequent broadcasts? Prather considered keeping him on the job. When response to the incident proved strong enough to outweigh the ease of glossing over it, he decided to let Blair go. Prather didn't make his decision because it was the right thing to do, but because of fear of negative publicity -- which might impact his own career.

The Indianapolis Star has more information about Blair.

According to Blair's resume, he started a radio career at WZPL in Indianapolis before moving to Orange County, Calif., to attend Chapman University. Blair has reportedly worked as a weather broadcaster in Palm Springs, Calif., Monterey and Chico, Calif.

And, Blair will work again, probably just weeks from now. That is part of the unspoken agreement. As I write this, Blair may be at a bar lamenting 'political correctness.' "You can't say anything anymore, without the blacks, broads or gays getting their backs up," he will say. His self-serving remarks will be met with commiseration. Sympathetic persons will buy him another round. After all, his bigotry doesn't really matter. That's the way it is in America in 2005.

5:00 PM