The controversy surrounded the invitation of a rapper named Common. The controversy was not over whether rap is actually poetry. It was about the character of this man named Common.
I confess, I never heard of Common before this controversy. But in October 2010 a Foxnews.com report called him a rap legend and told him “your music is very positive. And you’re known as the conscious rapper.” (See this link: Fox News, as seen here: Media Matters.)
Seems like a great choice.
But Bill O’Reilly disagreed. It was his opinion that having Common sing at the White House was a travesty. His reasoning? Common sings a song in support of a convicted cop killer who was part of the Black Liberation Army. O’Reilly opines that anyone who sings a song like that must never be allowed to perform at the White House.
Jon Stewart took him to task and O’Reilly invited him to debate the issue on The O’Reilly Factor.
This is how it went down [watch this now if you haven’t already seen it]:
Stewart wins this debate. Clearly. There is a selective outrage machine in all of us. In this instance it was O’Reilly’s selective outrage machine that was exposed as inconsistent if not racist.
It is important to note that although we may have a selective outrage machine, there are very different ways we can deal with that outrage.
I disagree with O’Reilly’s other premise that if a man sings a song about a cop killer that defines him as a person and any further discussion of that person that does not express outrage over that song is some sort of approval of that song. In other words, just because Common sings one song about a convicted cop killer, that should not disqualify any other positive contributions he can make as as an artist or a human being.
Agreeing with, or celebrating, or hosting someone does not and should not mean that that person has carte blanche approval for anything and everything they do.
Yet this phenomena exists. It exists all over the place. One place it exists is Orthodox Judaism. Especially more insular, right wing brands of Orthodox Judaism (RWOJ).
Theologically and historically speaking, this is an important phenomena in RWOJ. Certain people and their opinions are acceptable, others are not. Thus, the entire life of the person is considered when deciding if their opinion can be relied upon or considered.
This may be important to the theology and history of RWOJ, but I find it unfortunate. Many good ideas could be lost or discarded simply because of the names of the people who thought of them. People are complex. Their ideas in one area might be wrong or unacceptable, but by acknowledging another aspect of their ideas that is not wrong and is acceptable we are not giving approval to the entire corpus of the persons previously held ideas and positions. It’s a standard that is impossible to uphold. No two people agree on everything. Inevitably everyone can be thrown under the bus for something.
But that’s not what happens. What ends up happening is exactly what happened with O’Reilly. Selective outrage.
In the RWOJ community it can mean that thieves or abusers are still voices that can and must be heard, but others with far less severe crimes, perhaps they wear the wrong head-covering or the wrong color suit, are marginalized and disqualified by the selective outrage machine.
It is completely normal to be selectively outraged. We all have biases and we all have different priorities. The problem is when the selective outrage machine also determines who has a voice and a right to be heard. Then we risk losing important ideas and contributions to our communities. There is no machine I know of that can bring those lost voices back.