The Independent

Divisive Discrimination

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio
Marco Antonio Rubio, born May 28, 1971, is the junior United States Senator from Florida, serving since January 2011. A member of the Republican Party, he previously served as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. | Photo: | Marco Rubio, Republican, Senator, Florida, Cuban,

Talking about bigotry is still controversial.

According to Marco Rubio, discrimination isn't what sets Americans at each others' throats, it's talking about discrimination that causes conflict.

For those who missed it, a little over a month ago President Obama spoke at a Baltimore mosque and discussed discrimination against Muslims ("We've seen children bullied. We've seen mosques vandalized. Sikh Americans and others who are perceived to be Muslims have been targeted as well." Full text here.). For Rubio, that was a bad thing. Sure, people discriminate against Muslims — "there's discrimination in America of every kind" — but Obama shouldn't have said so. "Implying that America is discriminating against Muslims," Rubio said, is "pitting people against each other — that I can't stand." Some Americans think Muslims are all evil terrorists, but Muslims should just agree to disagree about that, the same way Americans disagree about which football team is best ("We can disagree on things, right? I'm a Dolphin fan, you're a Patriot fan.").

So in Rubio's worldview, here are the kind of things that are apparently not divisive and don't put Americans against each other.

Assaults and threats against Muslims because of their religion.

Ted Cruz declaring America should accept Christian refugees but not Muslims.

Trump saying he'd shut down mosques with "ties" to radical Islam ("ties," of course, is the kind of vague word that can and undoubtedly would be interpreted very freely). Rubio himself saying he'd extend Trump's idea to cover any Muslim business.

What does Rubio think divides Americans? Saying any of the above is discrimination. Or treating discrimination as if it were anything more serious than a football rivalry. Sure, Muslims see themselves as regular Americans while some Republicans see them as murderers, fanatics and terrorists who don't deserve religious freedom, but that's no worse than rooting for different Superbowl teams, right?

Rubio's view isn't unique, or terribly new. It goes back at least as far as the 1950s, when movies (I Was a Communist for the FBI, for example) presented the civil-rights movement as a Commie plot to divide America. Our country had to stay united against the Red Menace, so black Americans needed to stop stirring up conflict by protesting against their status as second-class citizens. White Americans treating blacks as second-class citizens? The movies never brought that up. It's the same logic by which today's black protesters are "divisive" when they criticize police shootings but police shootings are just ... normal.

Rubio's football analogy is a poorly phrased version of another common argument, that bigots shouldn't be criticized for their views. After all, believing blacks are innately inferior or that all gays are pedophiles is just an opinion — saying that those opinions are bigoted, that's inflammatory and extreme! How can we have an honest conversation if haters get criticized for hate? Getting criticized is just like being oppressed! Why can't people just get along?

To paraphrase Martin Luther King, the Israelites' slavery in Egypt was never divisive when the Israelites shut up and made their bricks like good docile slaves. But when Moses told Pharaoh that Israel wasn't taking it any more, that was divisive. Didn't Moses see he was setting people against each other?

Nobody gets out of Egypt without being divisive, without creating tension and conflict. So Rubio and those agree with him will just have to suck it up. As Frederick Douglass once said, "power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them."

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Updated May 6, 2017 5:51 AM EDT | More details

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