NPR logo So, What Did Asra Mean Exactly?

So, What Did Asra Mean Exactly?

I was going to take a break from the blog today because I was trying to get some administrative stuff done, but I feel I have to answer some of the comments coming in about yesterday's Mocha Moms. In the segment, guest and Mocha regular Asra Nomani used the phrase "white trash" as part of a much longer answer about her reaction to the Sarah Palin story, and the whole issue of Sarah Plain's pregnant teenage daughter — if indeed that is an issue. For the record, here is partial transcription of what Asra said in this week's Mocha Moms:

I feel really conflicted, Michel. It's painful, actually, because, you know, I'm sitting here in England right now, and I'm having to do a lot of explaining about a concept that we know there in America, but folks here are wondering what white trash means. And I hate to say those words, and it's, you know, in its own way racist. But, unfortunately, that's the kind of politically incorrect conversation and internal dialog I'm having.

I have no way of knowing and certainly cannot control what folks are doing when they listen to the program — or if indeed they are listening or are just reacting to what somebody told them. But some who are writing to us have completely misinterpreted what Asra was saying. Context matters a very great deal. Asra was (and remains) overseas and was reporting about the kinds of conversations she was overhearing and to which she had been subjected. She took the additional step of identifying the phrase "white trash" as racist, which it is, and described how uncomfortable it made her.

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This is no different than a reporter describing that she heard racist remarks directed at Barack Obama and that word was the "N" word, but for the fact that there is not a readily available euphemism to describe what she heard, unlike the "N" word. The complicating factor here is that Asra was trying to describe the fact that, as an American, she felt called upon to defend and explain conduct of which she disapproves. It may be that one should never use language which might somehow be misinterpreted. But my long experience in the media (and as a human being) suggests to me that anytime you open your mouth the possibility exists of being misinterpreted.

I don't take issue with any disagreements people might have with the substance of our guests' remarks. (i.e. Many of you are incredulous that another of our Mocha regulars, Leslie Morgan Steiner, says she is considering voting for the McCain-Palin ticket.) But I have to speak up when I feel that listeners are not, well, actually listening and raising objections to what they think was said, rather than what was actually said. I hope this helps.

Asra may want to weigh in herself later on as she is able. As I mentioned she is overseas, so when she gets back to us, we'll post what she has to say.

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