Racism = Impolite Speech?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Racism = Impolite Speech?

Apparently Michael Richards's recent outburst where he said to hecklers:
"Fifty years ago we'd have you hanging upside-down with a fork in your ass," then continuing "You can talk, you can talk, you're brave now motherfucker! Throw his ass out, he's a nigger, he's a nigger! He's a nigger!"
is only getting so much attention because he lacked sufficient self-control, you know, just like the rest of us. Well, at least according to John Derbyshire.
Michael Richards committed a gross breach of those customary rules and restraints—a severe etiquette malfunction, just as much as it he'd started fondling a female audience member. The inner Kramer—the one kept in rein by all those internalized restraints that make civilized life tolerable—just broke out for a moment. To assert that this proves him to be different from you and me in some fundamental, essential way—he is a "racist" and I am not—is just an absurd kind of moral preening. Richards may be a bit shorter on self-control than you or me (and that's deplorable enough, in a highly-paid stage performer)... but that's a continuous variable, too, not a binary quality.
Speak for yourself, Derb. A "gross breach"?

There are so many things to say about this, but I will just say this-- maybe Derb has to suppress the urge to scream racial epithets at people when he gets angry but many of us don't. It's like he's taking the so-called liberal notion that all of us are prejudiced in some way or another and expanding it to include any and all forms of prejudice because there are no varying degrees, no distinctions to be made. I could understand Derb's point if Michael's comments were insensitive, or if they were an offensive joke or were taken out of context, but they weren't. I can't believe that Derb is trying to make this out to be some kind of universal, everyman problem when it really is limited to certain people with a particular mindset-- and that is a very racist one.

Derby can't seem to decide if what Richards said was racist-- I think most people with an ounce of sensitivity can give an unequivocal and emphatic YES. What Richards said wasn't even borderline or questionably racist, not only did he call someone a nigger in anger he also expressed resentment that we can't turn the clock back 50 years so that the "nigger" could be adequately lynched. That's not even mildly racist or ignorant, that's some serious old school racism.

One thing I am having a hard time suppressing is my urge to call Derb a stupid fucking asshole. As for what Richards said, I won't be able to watch Kramer in Seinfeld reruns the same way again.

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