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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Disability: Outspoken / Funny

I've been reading with bemused interest about the flap over former State Sen. Neil Bryant (R-Bend)'s wisecrack that cost him an appointment to the state medical school board. When filling out the application form for the position, in the space marked "Disability," Bryant entered "white/male." That blew his chances for the appointment, as Governor Ted refused to give him the directorship on account of that entry.

Today Bryant's in the paper apologizing to everyone -- he let them down, should have known better, was trying to be funny, didn't realize the hurt it would cause, sincerely, profoundly, mea maxima culpa, etc.

Then you've got the PC set jumping all over the guy. State Sen. Jackie Winters (R-Salem), fresh from getting her head handed to her in the congressional race, is quoted in the O as saying: "I'm really speechless because you don't expect that kind of response. Certainly, it's not appropriate. It's not humorous."

Really? Come on, now, Sen. Winters. We can argue about whether it was appropriate, but you've got to admit, it was funny. Outspoken and funny.

Let's dissect what Bryant was saying with his remark. As I read it, it was a complaint that as a white male (not to mention middle-aged), he feels that he is at a disadvantage when competing for public positions. American society is very conscious of race and gender, and sometimes perfectly qualified white males are passed over for posts in favor of minority or female applicants with otherwise equivalent (or even lesser) qualifications. When this happens, the affected white males are unhappy (although many are understanding and gracious about it).

Is that such an offensive message? Granted, Bryant might have conveyed it in some other way than the one he chose, but should he lose the job for making that statement?

Perhaps the real problem is that Governor Ted is already in hot water because, indeed, not enough of his appointees are women and people of color. In that climate, even someone far less politically savvy than Bryant would have been expected to be smart enough to resist making a joke about the subject.

Bottom line: I guess Bryant shouldn't get the job, but I'm having a hard time sharing the outrage and "speechlessness." And Sen. Bryant, don't feel too bad. You screwed up, but I'm sure you'll find other, worthier ways to volunteer your time.

Comments (36)

So give me an example of discrimination against white males?

Headline: Governor names Laurie Warner head of Oregon Employment Department

I was tracking right with you up to your conclusion, "I guess Bryant shouldn't get the job...."

If your premise is that some people are overreacting to the comment, then why should that be? The only reasoning I can see that possibly makes sense would be to infer a lack of judgment on his part to not have forseen how and why making this comment this way is impolitic. But even with that, considering the situation as a whole, I have trouble seeing why that would ipso facto disqualify him from a board position.

I think it's because Ted definitely cannot afford this right now, and Bryant should have known it. You can't separate the "merits" from the politics at this point.

Bryant probably wasn't expecting to get the appointment because he thought his "Disability" would overshadow any other qualifications when considering the heat Teddy is taking over his appointments. If Bryant never received the appointment the entry probably never ends up being an issue. Yes, I do think it was funny and yes, I am a middle-aged white male. Oh, by the way, who actually read the application and approved it before the appointment? If Teddy saw it, then it just illustrates how clueless he is about not recognizing a potential problem.

Jack said:
"As I read it, it was a complaint that as a white male (not to mention middle-aged), he feels that he is at a disadvantage when competing for public positions...Is that such an offensive message?"

Well, yeah I think it can be pretty offensive. I'm not sure how one can seriously argue that white males are disadvantaged when competing for public positions, or in virtually any other aspect of American life.

White males dominate virtually every employment sector, at all strata, but especially at the top. Sure, there's the sheer numbers thing - there are more white people (though more females than males), thus more are employed in any given sector. But one can't ignore the fact that white males are represented (again especially at high-level positions like medical school board members) in disproportionately high numbers relative to the population.

This is a hard point to argue against, because the numbers are pretty concrete. A more difficult point, but no less valid in my estimation, is the notion that white males have institutionalized advantages far beyond any artificial corrective measures from programs such as affirmative action.

How many of your professors in college were white males? I can tell you the overwhelming number of your colleagues (and my professors) at the law school are white males. You can't tell me that doesn't have an impact on the opportunities, real and perceived, for minorities and women. And perceived obstacles to achievement can negatively impact opportunity just as much as actual obstacles - if all you see as a black woman growing up is white males running the show, how likely are you to even throw your hat in the ring?

I thought it was quite amusing, but I can see why TK couldn't risk an appointment. Here in Oregon, we can't allow any hint of racism or sexism, no matter how oblique. Bad taste. I agree. But lying, greed, land scams, back room manipulation of our agencies and institutions? Hey that's perfectly OK. Old Boys will be Old Boys. I question the Oregonian's prominent placement of the story (above the fold in Metro) when there are more important stories the paper could be covering. For example, Monday night I caught a replay of a Washington County Commission meeting where a man-if memory serves his name was Phil Decker-or Deckert-introduced himself as a member of the California Bar who had been a pro-tem judge there, where he said he ran into politics, but where there were also ethical standards. He went on to resign from his position as head of a citizen planning organization in the county, stating that the process used to produce a particular report was flawed, dishonest and, essentially manipulated to support a foregone conclusion. I got out of practising law because this kind of thing is endemic in land use practice and next to impossible to expose, imho, because reporters won't dig into it. They just take the Good Olds' word for it that there is no problem and anyone who says there is is stupid or insane, just doesn't understand the issues. They resort to name calling and denial instead of methodically and deeply investigating.

Many years ago I heard a comedian (I want to say Will Durst but I don't honestly recall) talking about affirmative action and the common complaints that women and minorities don't get to run the country; since they don't have the "top jobs" in business and government they need extra help over white men.

His remark was, "Yeah, but 99.99% of white men don't get those jobs, either!"

Point being that yes, there is of course an elite power structure in this country, and yes that elite is made up largely of white men. But that does not mean that all white men are automatically "members of the club" by virtue of the fact that they are white and male.

That's why Nader's remark helps perpetuate a dangerous fallacy: "A more difficult point, but no less valid in my estimation, is the notion that white males have institutionalized advantages far beyond any artificial corrective measures from programs such as affirmative action."

Some white males have institutionalized advantages, however this is largely a function of class (socioeconomic status) rather than race. Think of the stereotypical "white trailer trash" here, there are plenty of white males throughout the country who don't exactly reap the benefits of those supposed institutional advantages. But since the common view is "white men run everything", they get no sympathy in this regard. Treating people a certain way based on membership in a group rather than as individuals is unfair, even if that group happens to be "white men".

And I suspect that's really the implicit point behind Bryant's joke whether he realized it or not. The fact that so many members of the power elite are white males causes a backlash against all white males in some quarters, particularly in areas (such as public service) that are especially sensitive to "diversity issues".

I for one don't think it was all that funny of a remark, though I appreciate the social commentary value of it. But putting it on a formal job application shows a distinct lack of respect for the application process, and that reason alone should have disqualified him from the job.

But offensive? Puh-leeeze....


Loved your response to nader's defeatist post.

One can always find a scapegoat for failure or a villain to blame for it.

Further, "...perceived obstacles" don't negatively impact opportunity - opportunity either exists or it doesn't. The perception of an obstacle rests with the individual - if one needs to see them then one surely will.

However, if you, for one, don't think Bryant's comment funny, I think you're taking the application "process" more seriously than it deserves to be.

I think his comment shows a wisdom and realism all too rare these days - particularly within the government class.

The essence of humor is incongruity. What Bryant did was humorous.

I know plenty of white males who, like my brother, my cousins and I, pulled themselves out of a somewhat disadvantaged background and made something for themselves. There was no affirmative action for us. For a member of a wealthy family, of any race or gender, to be preferred over us in the name of "equality" and "fairness" is a proposition worth laughing about.


Heh... I didn't say it wasn't funny, just that it wasn't "all that" funny. ;-) I certainly "get" the joke; if told in the context of a stand-up routine, I'm sure I'd laugh at it.

And I believe that a sense of humor in the workplace is an essential survival skill... anybody who has ever worked with me will certainly attest to that!

But yes, as a separate point I do take job applications -- any job application -- pretty seriously. I have been on both sides of the interview/hiring process many times, and if while reviewing applications I came across an answer like this one on the form, I might get a chuckle out of it, but I'd also toss it in the reject pile for being far too unprofessional. Even if the joke was completely inoffensive and a laugh riot. I would never dream of writing a smartass remark on a job application of my own, no matter how clever I thought I was.

If you don't take the job application seriously, how seriously are you going to take the job itself? And if I'm trying to hire the best person for the job, I'm certainly looking for somebody who will take the job seriously and act in a professional manner. I would hope that those in charge of hiring for government positions would feel the same way. Guess I'm just an old fuddy-duddy in that sense.

That was really my point with that remark -- that the sheer unprofessionalism demonstrated on the application trumps any P.C. issues that his joke may have raised, as a valid reason for not getting the job.

People shouldn't read too much into Neil's comment. It was a joke. Period. He really wasn't trying to make a political statement.

Neil is a friend of mine and so, of course, I called him today. He's taking it all in stride and understands how some people are reacting to it. But he just thought it was funny when, under the title of affirmative action, they ask "gender" then "race" then "disability." He thought it was funny that, for affirmative action purposes, his "disability" is his gender and race.

He wasn't complaining about it and he is in not opposed to affirmative action. In fact, we joked that if anything, his real disability in Oregon is being a moderate Republican. It's just too bad he didn't write that.

Sorry, but I think my sense of humor is as flexible as anyone's, but Neil, of all people, should have known that was not funny.

I too consider him a friend. We served together in the State Senate and he is a descent, caring and earnest man. I know, along with all of those that served with him, that no one would fight harder against overt racism in this state than Neil Bryant.

However, I do think his comment belies a resentment some white men express because of various strategies to correct historic discrimination that has occurred in this country in general and Oregon in particular beginning with the adoption of this states constitution in 1859.

Many white males complain bitterly that they do not have the advantages people of color do in competing for jobs. The implication is that racism has long ago been replaced with acceptance and privilege towards people of color. That is just plain nonsense. I often observe the reaction people of my race have towards African Americans- somewhere between fear and condescending comments are more usual than I have patience or tolerance for.

Neil Bryant is a descent man who needs to fine tune his comedic knob.


The diversity CLE I had to attend would disagree with your statement, "I know plenty of white males who, like my brother, my cousins and I, pulled themselves out of a somewhat disadvantaged background." The instructor clearly stated that being white means we are members of a privileged class and members of a privileged class are categorically unaware of their privileges.

I, of course, strongly disagree. Privilege, by its nature, is power. A person has power if they are both aware of the power and are capable of exercising it to some advantage.

My family, being economically similar I suspect to yours Jack, certainly did not have any power that it could exercise to my benefit.

The truly privileged are wealthy, or at least upper middle class, regardless of race or gender who have the means, access, knowledge and connections that allow them to take advantages the rest of us were completely ignorant of.

The implication is that racism has long ago been replaced with acceptance and privilege towards people of color.

Wow, there's a major jump to a conclusion. That's not my implication, and I suspect it is not Bryant's, either.

Of course, there's still racism and prejudice, and it's deplorable. But sometimes the remedy hurts people who had nothing to do with causing the harm, and if they're bitter about that, they should be able to express their feelings without being shunned and feeling guilty about it. Especially if they do it in a harmless and lighthearted way.

The interesting thing, Jack, is that I don't particularly find it offensive, but I don't find it at all funny. To me, it's hoary, obvious, overdone shtick. White guys are the real oppressed minority! Har har! I agree with you that incongruity is the soul of humor, and I would have seen that "joke" coming from a bazillion miles away. I consider it scraped off the bottom of endless boring talk radio shows, and it offends me much more as a person who enjoys comedy than on any other level. It's not offensive; it's achingly lame.

Well, it's not like I rolled on the floor or anything, but on the genteel application form for a state board? Right after the questions about "Race" and "Gender"? I wouldn't have seen it coming, and I would have laughed. Then again, I'm a white male.

Yes, it was funny. Appropriately placed? No. He should have put "I'm Stupid" instead.

While I have little doubt that the comment was intended to be humorous, Oregonians should feel lucky that Mr. Bryant's lack of judgment on the matter reared its head when he was speaking for himself and not the state medical school board.

The next time Mr. Bryant finds an empty disability box, perhaps he should consider writing “Judgmentally Impaired”. Now that would be funny.

Joking aside, the comment wasn’t that bad and a moment of poor judgment shouldn’t be held against anyone (for very long). It’s the people that are constantly exercising poor judgment that I worry about.

Randy, I agree with you that "[m]any white males complain bitterly that they do not have the advantages people of color do in competing for jobs" but Neil is not one of them.

I don't think Jay Leno is going to be calling Neil asking for new material, but I honestly believe his comment was innocent, not evidence of any underlying hostility or resentment.

Actually, given OHSU's recent track record (and its crude hardball tactics of late on the aerial tram), offensive behavior seems to be just what the doctors ordered up there.

"Randy, I agree with you that "[m]any white males complain bitterly that they do not have the advantages people of color do in competing for jobs" but Neil is not one of them."

Jack R-
I tried to make it clear in my comments that I agree Neil is not one of them.

Thats why I wrote

"but Neil, of all people, should have known that was not funny."

More than most, he should know better.

It’s interesting how quickly you can get in trouble with comedy, isn’t it? I always feel like I’m one joke away from a banquet waiter’s jacket. Since Jay Leno’s name was mentioned, I’d like to add that I’ve now sold him 498 jokes. I was hoping to break the 500 barrier this week, but so far it hasn’t happened. As for the filters, or comedic instincts, that you have to run this stuff through, I was interested to see that all the problems related to race. In national late-night TV comedy writing, this thing wouldn’t have made it past the first filter of the Disability box. Somewhere out there, a young person, maybe just home from Iraq, is checking that box for the first time. Before you get to the racial stuff, you’d pass on this to avoid making light of the truly disabled, and not a single comment noticed that. I’m not saying this is some kind of horrendous sin, but if you have the comedy chops, why go there?

I must admit in my immediate post college years when I was feistier and filling out application forms and was considered a rarity and an underrepresented class, in my case Female in area of the hard sciences dominated then and now by white males, I used to answer the question on the form SEX with a Y or Yes, instead of M or F.

You know that open-air restaurant in the Yamhill Market? I’d always kid around with the woman who worked there and she told me about a person who was applying for a passport. Where it said sex, the person wrote “About once a week.”

"More than most, he should know better."
Posted by Randy Leonard at December 21, 2005 10:11 PM

Is this the same Randy Leonard who said on live radio,
"If you'll be shoving a cross though George Bush's chest, I'll be there"

Seeing the O's editorial on this the morning and reading through the comments, I cannot help but see oversenstivity as a problem. It is possible to be too easily offended. To the point that we miss real problems and nuances. I know truly disabled people whom I don't believe would be offended by Bryant's remark,but whose skin crawls over the fact that our AG's office issued an opinion allowing for reasonable accomondation under the ADA for disabled people to exercise their right to assisted suicide.

OHSU is currently 57.2% female. If he had been applying for med school, Neil might have had a point.

Thanks to Randy Leonard for enlightening us about his humorous flexibility and then declaring that Bryant's comment WAS NOT FUNNY!

We should also be thankful for Randy's:
admiration for Bryant's earnestness (Randy's favorite quality)
implication of Bryant's resentful racism
thoughtful lesson on the history and current state of racism among white males in Oregon (short version, I'm sure)
admission to his heretofore unknown lack of patience and tolerance

After reading his post, I think we can all agree that Randy is a decent man who needs to fine tune his spelling knob.

And David (you old fuddy-duddy),

Those in charge of hiring for (City of Portland) government positions DO look for those who take the job seriously, who act in a professional manner (buzz-click) and who attended the same grade school as they did. (is this where I type "rim shot": I'm relatively new at this?)

Not everyone fits in slots, not every job calls for the same qualities, not everyone is threatened by irreverence.

My guess (and it's only a guess, I don't know any of these folks) is that Bryant looked at the "disability" box on the application, rolled his eyes and said, "I don't need this BS".

It's hard to believe that anyone could not anticipate the fallout from what he did. The punch line to his joke was the reaction to it.

Get it?

Some things are just too serious to be taken seriously.

Insightful comment, rickyragg. The Oregonian told us it wasn't funny yesterday, so we are supposed to get into lock-step and agree. It was ironic on more than one level; I say the comment was funny, even literate. Lenny Bruce used to shock the public in order to point out its hypocricies. Bruce wouldn't have made it in Peoria,at the O, or on Leno. But that doesn't mean he had nothing funny-or important- to say. The O should be encouraging us to think about hypocricies in this instance, imo; if we don't, we will soon have a perfectly integrated good old boy system that rips off the public. Getting ahead is kind of a meaningless concept in a cesspool.

Oh please...get over it. The "serious response" to this is silly....hilarious.

Merry Christmas!

I didn't think the main point here was whether the "joke" was funny. Humor is obviously subjective, and much of it offensive - that doesn't make it not funny. So I wouldn't argue that his comment isn't funny - if you got a chuckle, then it's funny to you.

And I acknowlege the points in both David Wright and rickyragg's comments. I don't disagree whatsoever that socioeconomic status has a TREMENDOUS effect on opportunities, whatever your skin color. I agree 100% that underprivileged, impoverished, under educated Caucasians face enourmous hurdles to success.

But I fail to see how this disadvanage is related to their being White. It's plainly due to their being poorly educated, or just plain poor.

I don't see how this is inconsistent with the recognition that minorities, by virtue of being a minority, face significant obstacles to achievement.

While one may disagree as to the degree, I don't think there can be much argument as to the fact that all white males do have some institutionalized and socialized advantages. Even if you are "white trailer trash" (Wrights words, not mine) you still have myriad more role models than do your poor brown counterparts. Such a white child can look to the countless examples of successful people who look just like they do, and dream of following in their footsteps. No one will tell them they won't be taken seriously or respected because of the color of their skin.

As to rickyragg's comment about "perceived obstacles", I'm sorry but I beg to differ. If enough people tell a child, explicitly or implicitly, that he or she can't be a success and will never achieve his or her dreams, that has a serious and very real negative effect.

What you would like to dismiss as "defeatism" is the cold, hard, and sad truth. If you don't think that positive/negative reinforcement have an affect on a young person's life then you are truly deluding youself. Tell someone they'll be a failure enough times, and more often than not, this will become a self fulfilling prophesy.

Who cares about Neil Bryant. He had his say and he had his day. But defeatism is as defeatism does.

You seem to be thoroughly familiar with all the obstacles to success and your litany of reasons for the likelihood of failure tell me your attitude is unfailingly negative. Your own mind-set appears to be your biggest enemy.

Who needs racism or other factors from outside to "hold people down" when one brings this load of self-imposed prejudice and "negative reinforcement" to the table.

Again, if your raison d'etre is to find problems, you will certainly succeed.

Maybe the new year will bring you some optimism.

If Santa doesn't.

Happy Holidays!


I once had someone refuse to contemplate signing a petition with a confident assertion of "not until reparations."

Never mind that my mindset and proposals are nearly all pegged to the ending of present-day recreation of conditions of economic slavery.

The defeatism to which you refer is actually the norm for the majority.


A white guy with a top-flight education can be economically ostracized if they choose to fiddle with the levers of the Trojan horse offers of aid to the poor.

If Ms. Winters could have been humored then she would have revealed herself to be sufficiently color-blind for me to consider her receptive to hearing about general economic conditions of the poor rather than just someone's blackness.

Racism as manifested by blacks is useful to the powerful (black or white) to enslave poor folks (black or white) as it is a convenient cover.

Since I'm not running for office or appling for anything, I can say, I saw both the humor and the truth in the two words Mr. Bryant wrote on his application. Having never met him, I like him and his sense of humor. Mr. Bryant, I invite you to come to Portland/Multnomah County and run for office. I'd like to see someone such as yourself replace one of these "I know what's best" politicians.

BTW: My son (born and schooled Oregonian) returned from 5 years in the navy as a fireman with special certifications and couldn't get hired as a fireman in Metro-Portland because he was "white and male". He now lives out-of-state trying to start a business in a related field.

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