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« Six Degrees of Fox | Home | Food over Film »

Stupid, Dirty Girl

Part of: Politics

Breakfast: cream cheese muffin and iced coffee

I wasn’t going to write anything about the Richard Riordan incident here because my blog isn’t about politics. However, journalist Luke Y. Thompson wrote me:

Of all the people to weigh in on Dick Riordan's definition of the name "Isis" -- I'm still waiting on you!
One of my e-mail addresses has the name “Isis” in it—that’s what L.Y.T. is referencing. For the record, I am a fan of the name, but I’m not biased.

Former L.A. mayor, Richard Riordan, is currently California’s Secretary of Education. During an engagement at the Santa Barbara Central Library, a 6 year old girl named Isis was explaining that her name meant Egyptian Goddess. Riordan said it actually meant “stupid, dirty girl.”

I hadn’t really formulated a fixed opinion on this incident because I didn’t have all the facts. Initially, I thought that the media might be overreacting. Now that I have boned up on the incident, here’s my take.

First, I am a bit flabbergasted that certain journalists have defended Riordan. Members of the press have actually said Riordan is too old and has always had this wacky sense of humor. If only these folks could hear themselves. Too bad they didn’t become criminal attorneys.

L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten writes:

Here's what makes this whole ridiculous sequence a "gotcha" incident. This writer spent four years dealing with Riordan as the Los Angeles Times' city/county bureau chief. As anyone else who has ever spent time around him can attest, he has a quirky — frequently unsuccessful — sense of humor. What he never acquired during his eight years of elective office and subsequent run for governor was the conventional politician's habit of inauthenticity. For better or worse, Dick Riordan is always and everywhere himself.
He goes on to say:
But, at a vigorous 74, he is a man of a certain age, and men of his generation routinely used kidding as the acceptable way to show affection for children.

I don’t have children as of yet, but I know that I would be outraged if an adult, and one at the age of 74, at that, had called my child “stupid, dirty girl” in any context. If Riordan were a child, then yes, he wouldn’t be held accountable. Children say mean things to each other because they are immature and don’t know any better. Riordan does know better and should be held accountable for what comes out of his mouth. If he had enough intelligence to become an extremely wealthy businessman and mayor, he has the sense to know right from wrong.

I watched the video with an open mind. Yes, it’s obvious that Riordan was joking. Was anyone really arguing that he wasn’t? Just because people laugh at what you say doesn’t mean it’s funny. People also laugh when they are uncomfortable or sad.

It wasn’t just some stupid and ignorant comment, it was abusive. I’ve also read the argument that Riordan was perhaps acting like a parent or grandparent in a loving, joking way. Sure there are relatives of children who behave that way and say much worse. It doesn’t take a therapist to figure out that that’s abusive behavior, even coming from a relative. I don’t necessarily think that Riordan should step down as Secretary of Education, but he should not be allowed to be near children via his job.

P.S. I’m not spending more time on this piece because I don’t get paid to write here. Please read Steve Lopez’ well-written piece on said incident.

P.P.S. L.A. Observed has good coverage.

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