Those of us who are perfect, which apparently includes just about everyone living in California today, have of course never had a mean thought, much less said something mean spirited. Not once in our lives have any of us committed such an unforgiveable transgression. And from this pristine perspective, for any of us to have ever thought or said something that was not only mean, but racist, is completely beyond any realm of possibility.
Therefore it is appropriate that the collective weight of 40 million virtuous Californians should descend without mercy on Los Angeles Councilmember Nury Martinez, whose recent conduct has deviated from the standard of perfection that the rest of us so effortlessly adhere to.
Martinez is not alone in her misbehavior. Also guilty, because they did not immediately silence her, and evidently had also “kept the conversation going with derogatory comments of their own,” are councilmembers Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León.
Now that Martinez has already resigned, and Cedillo and de León fight for their political futures, maybe it would be useful to put this incident into a more realistic context.
In the imperfect world in which we live, everyone says mean things. And given the microscopically demanding behavioral standards of 21st century America, everyone in some way is now a racist as well. Nobody is perfect, which means everybody is guilty. To paraphrase Lavrently Beria, Stalin’s ruthless police chief, “show me the person, and I’ll show you the racist.”
So what was said in this private meeting, where these Los Angeles city councilmembers spoke candidly, unaware their words were being recorded for public consumption?
The title of this article in the Los Angeles Times, describes part of what was said: “Nury Martinez also makes crude comments about Jews and Armenians in leaked audio.” That sounds bad. Was it?
In the course of discussions over the redrawing of council district boundaries, Martinez said “the judios [jews] cut their deal with South L.A.” As the Times explains, “Martinez was responding to former Los Angeles County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera, who had concluded, ‘I’m sure Katz and his crew have an agenda,’ referring to former state Assemblymember Richard Katz.”
Later in the conversation, allegedly anti-Armenian comments surfaced. Here again from the Times is the apparent extent of those remarks:
“Martinez also spoke about Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, who is of Armenian descent, and Councilmember Paul Krekorian, the first Armenian American to be elected to public office in Los Angeles. ‘He also wants his guy elected,’ said Martinez, referring to Krekorian. ‘So he needs a district that Adrin Nazarian could win it. That’s what they want. They want to assure, they want to be reassured that they have, not an Armenian district in the Valley, because that doesn’t exist, but they want as many Armenians in that district as possible to be able to play.’ Martinez added that she didn’t know whether Nazarian could get elected in a ‘pretty white’ district. ‘Now, I don’t think Adrin … gets elected. If a white, a reputable white businesswoman was in that district … [it] is still pretty white. But that’s on them,’ she said. ‘I’m not — I’m not cutting that deal with anybody because I don’t know. I don’t know that he can win.’ Later in the conversation, Martinez was attempting to identify Areen Ibranossian, a former chief of staff for Krekorian who is now a senior advisor to Rick Caruso’s campaign for mayor. Someone in the room asks, ‘What’s his name? What’s he look like?’ She said he’s ‘the guy with the one eyebrow.’ ‘I like him,’ Martinez said, adding that he is married to a friend of hers. When Martinez couldn’t recall his last name and asked what it was, Cedillo responded, ‘It ends in i-a-n, I bet you.’
Wading through this excerpt from the LA Times report doesn’t show anything that justifies the title. Crude? Where? The reference to Ibranossian’s unibrow? The fact that ethnic groups in a big city constitute factions attempting to influence urban policy? The fact that these insiders have a savvy grasp of these power relationships and need to talk about the political implications and how they shall respond?
Unless you subscribe to woke standards of conduct that are unreasonable and unattainable, nothing happened there. The defendants are innocent.
Which brings us to the fatal transgression, which were Nury’s comments about Councilmember Bonin and his adopted son. Yes, these remarks were mean, even racist (gasp!). But there is something at work here that needs to be identified, because it explains a lot of behavior that is inordinately attributed to racism, when in fact all that is actually animating much of it is normal resentment or animosity.
When we don’t like someone, it is not unnatural to privately or even publicly insult them, and it is also not unnatural when voicing an insult to grasp onto the target person’s ethnicity or sexuality. We are taught this is unthinkable, but in real life, it’s a common inclination. Perhaps it’s an inclination we might resist, and should resist, but it happens all the time with many people.
When someone yields to this inclination, it doesn’t prove they are racist, it only proves they’re angry with or dislike whoever it is they insulted. This is easily illustrated by considering political or ideological confrontations. A liberal might insult a black conservative, calling them an Uncle Tom, or worse. A conservative might similarly insult a black liberal. But in both cases, these people aren’t necessarily racist against blacks, because if they were, they wouldn’t turn around and feel personal warmth and admiration towards those other black individuals whose politics agree with theirs.
It is hard to know to what extent personal animosity, resentment, or merely bitter political rivalry animated Nury’s remarks towards Los Angeles Councilmember Mike Bonin. But I know this: Mike Bonin has destroyed large segments of Los Angeles, because he is a front man for a corrupt coalition of bureaucrats, powerful nonprofits, and politically connected developers who have fleeced the City of Los Angeles for billions in order to make the homeless problem worse, not better. Slavishly adhering to the failed “housing first” doctrine, which requires any homeless person to be offered free housing – with no conditions on their behavior – before you can get them off the street, much less treat their afflictions.
Policies Bonin fights for have turned Los Angeles into a magnet for every drug addict, criminal predator, and vagrant in America. For example, policies Mike Bonin supports have all but destroyed Venice Beach, and yet Bonin sanctimoniously scolds the outraged residents for lacking compassion. As if it is compassionate to let thousands of people kill themselves with drugs and alcohol, steal to support their habit, and ruin the lives of working families whose neighborhoods have been inundated.
I don’t like Mike Bonin. I don’t like his politics or his attitude. And it wouldn’t surprise me if other people who know him better than I do, dislike him even more than I do. So if they have yielded to the temptation to inappropriately chastise him for his vanity and preening self-righteousness and demonstrative virtue signaling, that’s not because they’re racist or homophobic, it’s because they’re human.
Without being able to locate a transcript of whatever it is exactly that Nury Martinez had to say about Oaxacans, other than that the word “tan feo” figured into her remarks, I can’t say much. Tan feo in English is literally translated as “so ugly” and was erroneously translated by the outraged media as “they’re ugly.” But what she said may not have been about anyone’s appearance but rather about the situation in that neighborhood.
To speculate further, what Martinez may also have been feeling is the justifiable resentment that many well established Mexican American’s now feel towards the completely unregulated flood of immigrants pouring into California from Southern Mexico and Central America. If Martinez, de León, and Cedillo are not perceiving that sentiment from their Mexican American constituents, they’d better try harder to read the room. Otherwise they may witness a political realignment that will end every one of their careers, no matter how perfect they are.
Ultimately what Nury Martinez did, in a conversation she thought was private, merits an apology. Nothing more. The outrage machine is an orchestrated show, with actors who never learned what an earlier generation of parents taught their children: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
If every person making such a fuss about Nury Martinez were held to the standards they’re holding her to, there would be no fuss, because there would be nobody left.
This article originally appeared in the California Globe.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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