Juan Williams and the beiging of America

Or, America has PTSD and better start telling the truth again before it's too late

Politically correct America, listen up. We have PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. And painting the world beige is not helping. We need to stop being afraid of our truths.

We started wanting everything politically correct -- beige, pretty much -- before the bad guys flew the airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania. But the images of those burning towers collapsing, people running through the ash-white streets of New York, human bodies falling out of the sky from far up high, and flames shooting out of Pentagon windows, none of this did America's psyche any good.

So we all ended up with PTSD. We have all the symptoms. We are hyper-vigilant. We have recurring nightmares and flash-back fears of bad guys flying more airplanes into more places where people will die, especially when we are riding elevators to the 40th floor or getting on airplanes ourselves. We are jumpy. And we have structured our nation's response to quell the symptoms of our disease -- evidence of the PTSD symptom of doing everything we can to avoid ever, ever reliving the trauma for real. (Maybe someone should write a book about how our great battle and security strategies arise out of survived trauma.)

So what does all this have to do with Juan Williams? Let me tell you something. Juan is our brother. He has PTSD just like the rest of us. Juan told us a truth about how he feels. He told us that when he gets on an airplane and sees people who look a little like the bad guys who flame broiled and jettisoned our New York and Pentagon brothers and sisters (some of whom looked like the bad guys, by the way), Juan gets a little nervous. Big surprise, right? Then he got fired for telling the truth about the symptoms of his psychological disorder. Maybe he should sue NPR for a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Meanwhile, a bunch of other guys who seem normal but who also actually suffer from PTSD, joined Juan in an interesting "strange bedfellows" support group. Who'd-a-thunk Jeffrey Goldberg from the Atlantic, Bill Crystal from the Weekly Standard, and (oh heavens yes) Bill Reilly on Fox, would be Juan's BFFs. But you know, this really is not unusual; group therapy often involves surprising cross-cultural populations bonding together in support.

Jeffrey Goldberg said that Juan's rather brief and really rather bland personal comment "reflects the views of the vast majority of people who fly in this country." Is that untrue? Bill Crystal and Juan both said that Juan is not a bigot. That's true. He has PTSD like most of the rest of us. And it will not be cured by painting our nation beige. Blind acceptance is not intelligent, safe, or helpful. Neither is bigotry.

"If those in charge of our society -- politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television -- can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves." (Howard Zinn, historian and author.)

So how do we balance our beautiful melting pot culture with successfully protecting ourselves from real threats of real, declared guerilla warfare in the air and on the streets of our country? Certainly not by painting our world beige.

We need to show our true colors. The first step to cure any psychological disease is to admit we have a problem. The only way that we will conquer our fears of each other and truly bring people together is to tell the truth about how we feel. If we stop telling the truth in this country, if we are fired for telling the truth in this country, then this country is not the United States of America our founding fathers and generation after generation of soldier and statesperson risked their lives for. They did not risk their lives and die for platitudes.

So we have a job to do: Tell the truth. Don't be afraid. Otherwise, we will never be cured.

Fehrman is a Legal Skills Professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego. She can be reached at

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1 UserComments
Qasem 11:34am October 28, 2010

An emotion, is not "a Truth". If an emotion is "a Truth", than what would its opposite be? You are a legal skills professor, not a philosopher, I think that is why you have confused yourself and anyone else that reads this article. You want to defend Juan, but you have chosen an argument that is incoherent and irrelevant. This debate is not about truth, or lies. Juan can say whatever he wants to say in the countless many venues that exist (have you tried booking him for a speaking engagement lately? its nearly impossible to find an open date). This is a debate about emotions and irrationality. Those people who have given us "PTSD" (which is another false assumption; I for one have never heard someone tell me they fear going into tall buildings any more than they fear walking to their car at night) were coincidentally dressed like every other terrorist that has hit America (McViegh, Rudolph, Roeder, Kopp), that is in modern western attire. Thus why do we fear "Muslim garb"?