To the editors:
Michael Miner’s critique of The Chicago Reporter article about Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed (Hot Type, April 7) is perplexing. The article, as was accurately summarized by Miner, showed how Sneed stereotypes Hispanics and their culture far more than other ethnic groups. Miner does not dispute that finding, but rather defends the practice of stereotyping by passing it off as “lively writing.” Identifying people by their diet is “an age-old” tradition, he writes, “often used affectionately.”
He chides Hispanics for being “oversensitive,” but softens the blow by saying other ethnic groups are equally soft-skinned. “Call an Irishman a “cabbage head’ or “potato head’ and you’re likely to witness the same result,” he laments.
But that’s just the point. You can’t witness the same result because, as the Reporter showed, Sneed doesn’t call Ald. Ed Burke, or any Irishman, a “cabbage head.” She hasn’t dubbed state Sen. John D’Arco the “Lord of Linguini.” We’ve never seen Ald. Bernard Stone as “The Bagel Boss.” And would she dare refer to the rift in the black community as “Watermelon Wars?” Of course not; it’s insulting. But she didn’t hesitate to tag a couple of Latino ladies as “two hot tamales.”
As the Reporter noted, Sneed’s Latino stereotypes didn’t end with what’s on the menu. She peppered her items about Hispanics with gratuitous references to Latino music, dance, phrases, locations and historical figures. Rarely did the person’s Latino background have anything to do with the action for which they were noted.
She often compounded the insult by butchering the Spanish language and confusing the various individual Hispanic cultures. (In one item she compared a Puerto Rican alderman to a Cuban revolutionary while mentioning a Mexican currency.)
Defending the use of stereotypes as “lively writing” merely reinforces the practice of using easy, unimaginative labels when writing about a group of people the writer has not taken the time to understand. Somewhere along the way even Sneed learned that, when writing about other ethnic groups, it is tasteless to take literally the maxim: “You are what you eat.” The lesson just hasn’t sunk in with regard to Hispanics.
The Chicago Reporter
Michael Miner replies:
The above letter is a perfect example of a point made straightforwardly, something coherent and persuasive that denies the reader all the pleasures to be found in trying to decipher indirection and high irony. I won’t be too hard on Mr. Schrag for completely misunderstanding my stylish Hot Type piece at Ms. Sneed’s expense, as other parties who concluded I was leaping to her defense include an editor here and my wife.