What is most fascinating and instructive about Rick Sanchez’s little eruption into psychodrama – beyond its half-life as this week’s media melt down story – is what it reveals about the interaction of personal grievance with social envy in producing both ethnic prejudice and class resentment. Beyond that, even more richly, Sanchez, who apparently prided himself on some old fashioned journalistic non-partisanship, drew from both the Left and the current Right in framing the terms of his animus.
Sanchez is one of those microphone and camera journalists for whom the vocal presence is a calling card. He’s not a pure voice of the kind that, extended to caricature, gets consigned to tabloid magazine shows, but he’s got a good voice, resonant and raspy and volubly round in affect. Guys like Sanchez – it is mostly men – fall in love with the sound of their own voice, the compelling attraction of their delivery. They are witless slaves to their own gift. So when Jon Stewart, in one of the mockeries that obviously pulled a stray thread on Sanchez’s insecurities, portrayed him as a guy coked up at a party intensely driven to marvel in your face at the extraordinary, relative strength of ants, Stewart nailed him. And it’s more than just the strength of ants, you see – it’s the way he’s explaining it and the wonder he’s taking in his own fascination, too.
Well, to be mocked like so is no fun. The great, big world is more than unjust and riddled with an evil for which we cannot account – it’s also a lot like high school. Especially in the sphere of public life, it still has its rude, insensitive jocks, only these jocks are smart, well educated, talented and truly funny, or they are politicians, or cops, or media people, or people on the make in whatever field, and if you act like a jerk, a fool, a dope, or a dick – and even, sometimes, when you don’t – they’re still going to cut you up in front of the class. But this class, in adulthood, is much, much larger.
Most people cannot take this. And why should they? And why should they be able? So they wouldn’t dream of entering this world. But Sanchez did. He dreamed of it, and he entered it, and if you want to perform on that stage, you have to be able to take the catcalls and the tomatoes. You have to have rawhide for skin and unshakeable self-confidence, and if you don’t, really, as much as you try to make it appear you do, then you suck it up, and staunch the blood, and let both it and the tears flow only once you’ve made it behind the now closed door, for while compassion in public life comes, like grace, when you least expect it, what you can expect most of the time is that your weaknesses will be used against you.
To begin, then, Sanchez showed the pain. He felt the sting, and he let the poison spread and eat at him. Of the powers that be
deep down when they look at a guy like me they look at a– they see a guy automatically who belongs in the second tier and not the top tier.
That “deep down” is an unusual choice of words, a kind of psychological “tell” in the description of bigots, for whom the outer-directed prejudice is usually a cover for inner directed distress. Whose deep down was Sanchez talking about, in what hall of mirrors?
That’s what happens when you watch yourself on his show every day and all they ever do is call you stupid….
it’s that he looks at me as not being on his level….
“But why are you being so sensitive?” he was asked. “Why do you care?”
Because I’m tired of it….
I am a complex human being. I’m not some, some, some moron to be…”
So there that part is, not much more to be said: the hurt, the insecurity, the fear of inadequacy fed by others touching the insecurity.
But then there is the way Sanchez characterized himself and Stewart and the lives they have led. Sanchez, interestingly, refers to himself as a Hispanic. It is easy to gloss over that. Hispanic is a demographic term, a political concept. It’s not an identity. Sanchez is Cuban in origin. How many Poles or Czechs walk around thinking of themselves as Eastern Europeans? How many Thais or Vietnamese call themselves Asians outside of a politically purposeful aggregation in the face of a majority population? No one’s sense of identity is so generic. Why would Sanchez chose Hispanic over Cuban?
Because Cubans don’t fit the victomology. No doubt, Sanchez experienced prejudice, as he claims to have in his early life, before his media career. Bigots are not the most discerning of people and would not likely think much about Hispanic national variation. But unlike the large numbers of poor and often poorly educated immigrants from throughout Central America who have poured into the U.S. over the past thirty years, the Cuban emigration before Mariel was of a largely educated middle class in flight from the communist Castro. And Cubans for decades have exercised a political and cultural influence in the U.S. that other Hispanic nationalities could only dream of. Good for them. But that doesn’t fit the whine, so Sanchez, in his grievance, chose to project himself in the political bureaucratese for a disadvantaged class. He played the social victim card, and in that he swung from the Left.
It was not just himself Sanchez characterized, though. He characterized Jon Stewart, too, and in so doing he made the progress from the aggrieved victimhood of the diminished personality to the typology of those he believes beset him.
I think he looks at the world through his mom who was a schoolteacher, and his dad who was a physicist or something like that. Great, I’m so happy that he grew up in a suburban middle class New Jersey home with everything that you could ever imagine.
Stewart, claimed Sanchez, can’t relate to a guy like him. However, if you look at the Wikipedia entries on the two men, some interesting comparisons become available. What do we learn of Sanchez? First,
Of his childhood Sanchez has said, “I grew up not speaking English, dealing with real prejudice every day as a kid; watching my dad work in a factory, wash dishes, drive a truck, get spit on. I’ve been told that I can’t do certain things in life simply because I was a Hispanic.”
There is no reason to doubt what Sanchez says. I have no evidence for it. But note how the incongruous and demeaning “spit on” is used to conclude a litany of working class jobs of a kind millions of Americans of all backgrounds have worked. And then there is this:
He grew up in Hialeah, Florida, a suburb of Miami. He attended Mae M. Walters Elementary School, Henry H. Filer Middle School, and Hialeah High School, graduating in 1977. Sanchez accepted a football scholarship to Minnesota State University Moorhead and transferred to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis on a CBS/WCCO Journalism Scholarship in 1979.
Miami, of course, is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, and practically a second capital of Cuba. The population is nearly two thirds Hispanic and over a third Cuban. Hialeah has “the second highest percentage of Cuban and Cuban American residents of any city in the US.” It had become majority Cuban by Sanchez’s preteen years. And all of Sanchez’s higher education was the reward of scholarships, not the shortcoming of discrimination. He and his father had whatever experiences they had, but Sanchez grew up surrounded by a community of his ethnic own and enjoyed notable benefits from his life in the United States.
We learn further of Sanchez that
He prefers to be called Rick Sanchez rather than use his birth name because, he said in a newscast in 2009, “…I want to be respectful of this wonderful country that allowed us as Hispanics to come here, and I think it’s easier if someone’s able to understand me by Anglicizing my name.”
This provides an interesting link to Stewart, who also uses a name other than his more obviously Jewish birth name of Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz.
Stewart was born in New York City to a Jewish family. He and his older brother, Larry … grew up in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, where they attended Lawrence High School. His mother, Marian, is an educational consultant and teacher, and his father, Donald Leibowitz, is a physics professor at The College of New Jersey. The couple divorced when Stewart was 11-years-old and Stewart no longer has any contact with his father. Stewart … has said that he was subjected to anti-Semitic bullying.
This is not quite the picture Sanchez drew. Ed consultant-teacher and physics professor are not exactly five-name law firm and brokerage house chief. The College of New Jersey is not Harvard. No one was bringing in the big bucks, and Stewart, apparently grew up in what we call a “broken home.”
After graduating from the College of William & Mary in 1984, Stewart held numerous jobs. He was a contingency planner for the New Jersey Department of Human Services, contract administrator for City University of New York, puppeteer for children with disabilities, caterer, busboy, shelf stocker at Woolworth’s and bartender at a local blue-collar bar, the Franklin Corner Tavern.
Not exactly silver spoon, and this is not to say for sure, but I don’t see any scholarships there. Yet Sanchez saw in Stewart’s background, which he probably does not know, “elite Northeast establishment liberals.” “Northeast” is a geographical location unless your performing a stereotypical metonymy. (“You know, he’s from the South,” i.e. “white trash redneck.”) “Liberal” Stewart clearly is. But “establishment” and “elite” are two of the most fatuous terms in the modern day lexicon of the alienated, the conservative, and most of all, these days, the alienated conservative, and here Sanchez swung from the Right. All those regular, imposed upon Americans who feel their country has been taken away from them by “elite Northeast establishment liberals,” of whom, it seems to be so, as soon you get a job teaching at The College of New Jersey or a half-hour on Comedy Central, you become one. So apparently middle class, suburban Stewart rises on the basis of very obvious talent to fame and fortune, and now he is establishment: hands behind the World Bank, a lord of Wall Street, one of the old boy network in Rubicon. Sanchez, a working class kid rewarded with scholarships, rises on the basis of not such obvious talent – but he’s got the energy and the drive; clearly he has those – to become what? A CNN anchor. And he is not the establishment? In his own mind, maybe, never.
At the end of this progress of typological thinking – Northeast, establishment, liberal, elite – we reach, as historically has been so often so: the Jew. And in that Sanchez became the bigot (a word the meaning of which he does not know) that he claimed to call out.
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