A nation rich in hurt feelings and public embarrassments

The Baltimore Sun

The republic would seem to be in good health, if not sound mind, when hurt feelings and public embarrassment are the picadors of public passion.

The past few weeks have provided a surfeit of sensitivity challenges:

A group of "lactivists" staged a nurse-in to protest an airline's insensitivity to a breast-feeding mom.

Two African-American men hired a lawyer to sweeten an apology they're demanding from a racist, epithet-hurling comedian.

Six Muslim imams, in an impressive demonstration of cultural assimilation, cried racism when airline officials removed them from a flight for mimicking the behavior of the 9/11 terrorists.

No word yet from seven lads-a-leaping, but the night is young.

The common thread throughout these events is hurt feelings and humiliation. Kill somebody in America and you might get a stint in the brig. But make a person feel bad, and watch your head as the gates of purgatory fly open.

The offended African-American men were in a Hollywood comedy club when Seinfeld co-star Michael Richards suffered a meltdown and launched into a racist rant. He later said the men and others in their group interrupted his monologue.

Meanwhile, attorney Gloria Allred has entered the fray. She is seeking an in-person apology from Mr. Richards before a mediator, who, she and her clients hope, might order some monetary compensation for their suffering. Not that this is about money, of course.

From his comments, we might conclude that Mr. Richards is a rage-filled jerk. Nevertheless, if we start attaching monetary reparations to insults, the country will soon be bankrupt.

On the other hand, columnists will become billionaires. My feelings are hurt not just daily but by the minute, so perhaps I speak too soon. The imams, likewise, are demanding an apology from US Airways and staged a protest Monday at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The Muslims claim that they were merely praying in advance of their flight.

While we can all feel their embarrassment upon being escorted from the plane in handcuffs, can't they also appreciate others' discomfort under the circumstances? Versions vary, but some witnesses have reported that three of the imams were praying loudly and shouting "Allah" in the concourse. Once on the plane, the imams reportedly took seats to which they were not assigned, pairing off to sit near the exits. The two seated in first class also requested seat-belt extensions, which they placed on the cabin floor. One needn't be Islamophobic to go, "Hmmmmmm."

Finally, the erstwhile gentler sex of the lactating variety suffered grievous insult when another airline asked a nursing mother to exit a plane for "indiscreet nursing."

Emily Gillette was sitting by a window in the next-to-last row, with her husband planted between her and the aisle, when the attendant proffered a blanket. When Ms. Gillette declined to cover herself - and her 22-month-old child - a gate agent asked the family to deplane.

Ms. Gillette has filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission against Delta Air Lines and Freedom Airlines, which was operating the Delta flight from Burlington to New York City. Insult one lactating mom and you insult all breast-feeders, apparently. Some 30 parents and their children demonstrated their solidarity with Ms. Gillette by staging a "nurse-in" at the Burlington airport.

Sidebar to politicians: Forget soccer and security moms. Think lactating. Breast-feeding moms are increasingly assertive and organized. And, they make milk. To all, of course, apologies are due - and have been delivered. But shouldn't they also be accepted without our having to clutter courtrooms with weeping couches?

Society has a way of sorting these things out. Racist comedians die slow deaths when no one books their shows, while airlines that unwisely discriminate pay in lost customers.

Of all these self-proclaimed victims, it seems, Ms. Gillette's child has the greater claim.

Despite the extreme silliness of these inflated reactions, I find them oddly gratifying. As we're negotiating hurt feelings at home, imams elsewhere are debating the merits of female genital mutilation, while sectarian Iraqis simply blow each other up and radical Islamists answer insults with honor killings.

All things considered, I'd rather be embarrassed in America.

Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail address is kparker@kparker.com.

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