Featherstone: 'Lynching' remark shows an elitist disconnect
The chief executive of bailout beneficiary American International Group (AIG) had to apologize last week after he said public outrage over his company's large executive bonuses was "just as bad and just as wrong" as a lynching.
The apology by AIG's Robert Benmosche is all very well, but his comments, made in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, reveal the victimhood mentality of our city's most privileged class. He's sorry he offended people with an insensitive analogy, but his sense of grievance is apparently so acute that I wonder if he understands just how delusional it was for him to make the comparison.
Most people associate the term lynching with the racist violence of the South. But in fact, New York City shares this ugly past. White New Yorkers who opposed the Civil War and the draft that came with it rioted for five days in 1863, turning their wrath on black New Yorkers. Thousands burned down an orphanage for black children, according to Leslie Harris, a historian who studies New York City slavery. Others hanged a black man, William Jones, and burned his body. Some victims were castrated. A mob beat black sailor William Williams, stabbed him with a knife and pelted him with stones, while a crowd watched, calling for "vengeance on every ---- in New York."
Even today such things happen in our city. Columbia assistant professor Prabhjot Singh , a Sikh man, was attacked last month by a mob of some 20 men who shouted, "Get Osama!"
CEOs may not like being criticized for living large off public bailouts. It's understandable: We all prefer praise to disapproval. But to compare the criticism to a lynching would be laughable if it weren't so off base.
Our city's elites are awfully sensitive for people who have it so good. It's certainly fair for them to defend high CEO pay or even government bailouts. But people who think going without a bonus is comparable to being fatally mutilated by an angry mob are in serious need of perspective. The mindset is so delusional that it seems more appropriate for a psychiatry journal than The Wall Street Journal.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.