Not all of my time goes to changing my Mego Wonder Woman doll in and out of her Diana-Prince outfits. No, no. Sometimes I also spend time thinking about race in the U.S. Allegedly it’s part of my job or something. Then again, I seem to think that my job involves blogging and watching That Girl on DVD. So I am often confused.
Over the past couple of weeks, a has-been sitcom star and his handlers went into “damage control” mode after he delivered a racist tirade. Okay, so this story is a bit old and well-discussed at this point. Hey, I never promised that CoG would be a timely blog.
For those who don’t know, Michael Richards, who played Krammer on the nineties sitcom Seinfeld, has been apologizing everywhere from David Letterman’s late-night show to Jesse Jackson’s radio program. He has also planned a tête-à-tête with those whom he attacked to make a personal apology and probably offer monetary compensation.
All of this started when four African American men interrupted Richards’ performance at a comedy club, noting that he was simply not that funny. Despite years of being a stand-up comic, Richards claims that he just had no idea how to handle hecklers. He therefore reached into the ol’ U.S.-white-bag-of-tricks. Apparently he was just so flustered that he decided to call the audience members “niggers” no less than six times and wistfully allude to a time when people like Richards lynched black men for such uppityness.
The next day Richards’ had a kicking bigot-fueled hangover. Shouting all those racial epithets felt plenty fun at the time, but dawn brought the pounding realization that his career could be even further in the grave if he didn’t offer some type of mea culpa.
“I'm not a racist, that's what so insane about this," Richards said when he first addressed the issue, "And yet, it's said, it comes through—it fires out of me.” Hmm – One wonders if there could be a less convincing way of phrasing that. How about: “I’m not a racist, I just play one on stage and screen.” Or, “I’m not a racist, I just say racist things.” Or, “I’m not a racist, I am really Trent Lott.”
The Associated Press noted that Richards had won the support of at least one individual: Mel Gibson. No, I am not joking. GayProf’s sense of humor is far more developed than that. "I felt like sending Michael Richards a note," Gibson told Entertainment Weekly,"I feel really badly for the guy. He was obviously in a state of stress. You don't need to be inebriated to be bent out of shape. But my heart went out to the guy." Apparently hate really can bring people together.
Gibson stopped just short of implying that he and Richards were the ones really being persecuted for their anti-Semitic or anti-black spews. Don’t people understand? He was bent out of shape? What else can you do in that situation but dehumanize an entire group of people? It’s hard out here for a Klans man.
You can just imagine, incidentally, how much enthusiasm I have for seeing Gibson’s celluloid-interpretation of indigenous Mexican civilizations. For over five centuries, white Christians have loved making themselves feel smug by castigating Mexica and/or Mayan civilizations. In particular, they love, love, love talking about “human sacrifice” as the ultimate sign of “barbarism.” I guess this makes the five hundred years of conquest seem more legitimate. Of course, they conveniently ignore that contemporary Europeans burned, drowned, or otherwise murdered Jews, heretics, witches and others to appease their own god. That, seemingly, we don’t consider “human sacrifice.”
Given Gibson’s history, just try to tell me that his helming a project about the “collapse of Mayan civilization” is not going to be fraught with problems. Early reports on that film suggest that Gibson decided to merge Mexica (Aztec) and Mayan history, beliefs, and practices. Seemingly in his mind all of those brown folk are interchangeable anyway. I will likely need to be restrained from slugging the first person who asks me if Apcocalypto "was really how it was." That, though, is another entry.
Now, which racist was I talking about? Oh, right, Michael Richards.
Richards’ rant shows how quickly all of those nineteenth-century racist mechanisms of oppression can be mobilized in a flash. Like the Texas A&M blackface video (No, I am still not over it), Richards shows how all of the racist language and stereotypes are instantly at hand when whites decide to pull them out of the trunk.
Racism is real. It has real consequences in this nation for people’s daily life. It has not gone away.
That seems like news to the few people who wishfully imagine that we live in a color blind society. Yes, it would be a good ideal if we didn’t “see race, but just saw people.” That’s just not possible, however, given this society and popular culture in which we were all raised. Racist language always stands ready in the side-curtains to come out when whites feel too challenged or at risk of losing their power.
For those who control major media, the Richards’ tirade was an unpleasant and uncomfortable reminder of all of that. At first, the media tried to present it as just the rambling of a single has-been nut. People of color, though, looked kinda pissed. As a result, the media decided that they needed to say something else.
Most newscasters, though, seemed at a loss on how to report on Richards’ racism. How many white, blonde newscasters have I seen within the past two weeks slip into a whisper when they said “the n-word”? Literally, they say “the n-word,” not “nigger.” Yet, they still felt the need to whisper. Their discomfort suggests just how hard it is for the media to even broach the concept of racism. No, I am not saying that I would prefer newscasters to feel at ease shouting “nigger” from the roof tops. Still, their lack of confidence or ability to talk candidly about racism means that racism is simply not discussed in this nation. It also makes words like "nigger" all the more powerful for whites' use and entertainment.
Most networks decided to sidestep this problem by dragging out any person of color they could find to talk about the incident. They didn’t have to be African American, either. As long as they weren’t considered “white,” the media shoved a microphone under the nose for any sound bite. It also didn’t really matter if these people supported or disparaged Richards, just so long as they kept the good white folks from having to talk about racism. So, as I sweated on the treadmill in my gym, I saw an endless parade of people of color stepping up to comment on the incident. Even comedian Paul Rodriguez had a comment. I was astounded. Who knew Rodriguez was even still alive? George Takei must have been out of the country
This tactic makes racism a problem with people of color. “If only people weren’t different,” they media claims, “then we would all be the same.”
This event, especially coupled with the New York shooting of a young African-American groom, should remind us just how much race still plays an important role in the United States. It should also bust apart the naïve vision that we now live in a “color-blind” society.