Fox News’ Laura Ingraham went viral this past week for her attack on NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Within two minutes, Ingraham single-handedly exemplified the unashamed racism of Fox News and the American tendency to expect minorities to fulfill entertainment roles with limited political agency.
It should be noted that James and Durant’s ESPN interview was contextually fitting. Two Black men and a Black woman were discussing their opinions on Trump and his racist comments in a relaxed setting. Considering that this content directly applies to their lives as Black citizens, they should be forefront in the discussion. This is what upsets Ingraham the most: that minorities are engaging their robust and vital voices within the American public and political sphere.
Although it would be valid (and enjoyable) to tear apart Ingraham’s commentary line-by-line, it would solely criticize her faulty argument, ignoring the larger problematic societal issues at play. What needs to be understood is that Ingraham feels legitimacy in arguing a foundationally racist point, and that Fox News and her viewers support these racist sentiments. The problem is how apparent the racist desire for the American dream to only materialize for particular population segments is today.
Besides Ingraham’s insults regarding language and intelligence, she endorses two problematic ideas: First, that the wealth of athletes, such as James, are illegitimate. Through Ingraham’s statement “and it’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who’s paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball,” she attempts to make James’ wealth negative as she connects it to his role as an entertainer who “just bounces a ball.” Although James’ life story speaks to the American dream, Ingraham and the public condemn his wealth and successful upward mobility because it challenges their desire to maintain the current socio-economic hierarchy.
Secondly, Ingraham endorses the idea that athletes can only have agency within entertainment purposes. Here is where the public expects their agency as a citizen to end. As entertainers, the public doubts their intellectual credibility to form an opinion. This works to deny these individuals a voice and their agency within the political sphere. In all, Ingraham and those who support this argument want to maintain their current status and its possibility for upward mobility. To do so, the voices and actions of minorities within the political sphere need to be suppressed. This is accomplished through the public endorsement and encouragement of minorities to fill the entertainment needs of society, yet in doing so, it allows people such as Ingraham to stifle their voice and agency within the political sphere.
The statement “shut up and ____”, with any activity from “dribble” to “stay in the kitchen” filling the blank, directly defies democratic values and freedom of speech. The following night, Ingraham tried to justify her shut up statement through her 15-year old book “shut up and sing” which has led her to say variant lines to criticize “political celebrities” of all races, backgrounds and gender. So now, Ingraham’s democratic values are drastically called into question as she believes in suppressing the voice and agency of any American citizen, especially those who question and shake the current hierarchy seen in America.
Ingraham’s statements portray the problematic and oppressive beliefs within American society that are in direct contradiction to democracy. We can criticize the American public’s idolatry of pop-culture icons, but to deny a citizen, such as James, the right to voicing their opinion is unjust and defies the freedom of speech sentiment that Fox News frequently preaches.
As members of MSU, a campus with the mission for diversity and inclusion, we must take note of viral messages such as Laura Ingraham’s. First and foremost so we can ensure that the athletes within our community feel supported in their activities and thoughts both in their competitions and within the community as a whole. With the tendency for viral videos and the language on national platforms to filter down to the everyday language of our lives, we need to take on the responsibility of standing up against messages of oppression if and when heard.