Stillwater News Press

Opinion

February 18, 2014

LEONARD PITTS: Sometimes, making a mistake is just being human

I used to get blamed all the time for stuff Bob Steinback said.

To be fair, it wasn’t always blame — sometimes it was credit — and it went both ways. Sometimes, he had to explain to people that it was not he who had written a certain thing, but me.

Robert L. Steinback was, as I was and still am, a columnist for The Miami Herald and we shared a certain superficial physical similarity, both of us bearded, bald and black. That said, we really didn’t look a lot alike. For one thing, I wear glasses and Bob doesn’t. I’m also much handsomer.

We were usually more amused than offended by readers’ inability to keep us straight, though bachelor Bob once confided that it did irk him when he found himself trying to convince some skeptical woman that he was not, in fact, married with five kids.

I mention all this by way of framing a contrarian response to the brouhaha over Los Angeles TV entertainment reporter Sam Rubin and his recent interview with actor Samuel L. Jackson. TMZ called Rubin a “moron” and that seems to be the consensus. You’ve seen the video, right? If not, stop reading right now and go Google it. I’ll wait.

(waiting ... waiting ... waiting)

So, is that not the most painful thing you ever saw? Rubin, who is white, is interviewing Jackson, who is black, and asks him about his Super Bowl commercial.

Problem is, Jackson didn’t do a Super Bowl commercial, Laurence Fishburne did. They are two celebrated actors who look nothing alike, except for the fact of being black, a point Jackson proceeds to hammer like a nail. Speaking over and through Rubin’s embarrassed and repeated attempts to explain and apologize, he keeps making the same point: He, Sam Jackson (famous for “Pulp Fiction”), is not Laurence Fishburne (famous for “The Matrix”). Black folks do not all look alike!

If it were a fight, they’d have stopped it. If Rubin were a horse, they’d have shot him.

I don’t blame Jackson for being angry. He is not exactly an unknown, and no one calling himself an entertainment reporter should have made that mistake. Still, I felt sorry for Rubin. I was reminded of the time an 8-year-old black boy — me — went on a field trip to the L.A. Zoo that brought him, for the first time, into proximity with white kids.

Flocks of them, giggling and shrieking, went scampering down the lanes of the zoo and I remember watching them and worrying, with a child’s earnestness, that their moms and dads would lose track of them, be unable to tell one from another. They all looked alike to me.

It turns out this is not uncommon. People often find it difficult to identify people of different races, whether it is whites identifying blacks, blacks identifying whites or what have you. Indeed, it happens enough that psychology has a name for it: other race effect. It is the reason eyewitness identifications across racial lines are notoriously unreliable. And though you might think this an outgrowth of racial bias, researchers say it isn’t. A bigot is no more likely than anyone else to misidentify people of other races.

Which is not to say “they all look alike” is never a sign of racial bias. And here, I’m thinking of a reader who looked at side-by-side images of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and a tough-looking 32-year-old rapper called The Game and insisted they were one and the same, even though the rapper has a tattoo on his face and Martin had no visible markings. We don’t need any fancy psychological terminology to know what that was. That was just plain old bigotry.

But it isn’t always. And maybe it would not be the worst thing in the world, in our era of instant affront and zero-to-60 outrage, to allow for the possibility that occasionally, what looks like a moron is just a human being, being human.

At least, that’s my opinion. If you disagree, you know what to do.

Blame Bob Steinback.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
Buy & Share Photos
NewsPress e-Edition
NewsPress Specials
AP Video
Raw: More Than 100,000 Gather for Easter Sunday Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Stocks
NDN Video
Jabari Parker's Top 5 Plays From Duke Career Kourtney Kardashian Is a Bikini Babe More Manpower Than Ever Expected At 4/20 Rally Debunk'd: Miley Cyrus AIDS, Cheeseburgers Cause Cancer, Military Warning Bill Previewing the NBA playoffs Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite My name is Cocaine Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Lohan Gets Candid About Her Sex List The 2014 New York Auto Show Meet Johnny Manziel's New Girlfriend Chelsea Clinton Announces Pregnancy Funny: Celebrating Easter with Martha Stewart and Friends Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Man hit with $525 federal fine after he doesn't pay for soda refill Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper New West, Texas Explosion Video Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday
Must Read