Everyone remembers that awful rant Michael Richards had at the Laugh Factory comedy club back in 2006 that effectively ended his career. The short version is essentially a few black hecklers made him lose his temper and he launched into an explosive, and unambiguously focused racist tirade. I say “unambiguously” because most racist rants are scatter-shot uses of derogatory words wildly fired at their intended targets, Michael Richard’s rant on the other hand actually brought up the historical context for his hatred and used it as a weapon. As a result, his insistence that he isn’t actually racist come off as laughable, and his apologies to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton (as if they were the representatives of all black people) are just plain insulting.
As a long time Seinfeld fan, seeing this bothered me a great deal. There is no way I’d ever quit watching the show as others publicly declared, and I’m not even going to stop loving Richard’s character Kramer (so you can guess where I fall in the “separation of person and art” debate), but this still stung. It leaves a black mark on the legacy of one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. Strangely enough however, that is not what bothered me the most about this incident. Look, there are definitely countless other white celebrities who hold similar views, hell, American film icon John Wayne was an admitted white supremicist, but the truly troubling outcome of this incident are the countless “double-standard” arguments that sprouted up as a result.
1. “Why can black people call each other the n-word but we can’t?”
2. “Chris Rock makes fun of white people all the time, but no one gets mad…”
3. “Those hecklers should not have been heckling if they didn’t want to hear him fight back!”
These arguments, which are still being used to this day for numerous other racially charged incidents, had a sudden surge of popularity during the outbreak of this scandal. Arguments like these come from a place of faux righteous indignation (the worst kind of all!) and are generally used by people who don’t want or expect an answer to their sentiments. They say it to feel secure in their racism because they don’t want to feel like racists since years of cultural conditioning told them that it’s wrong to be one. Even though my refutation to these arguments will never reach the eyes of these people, I feel like I should say them anyways.
1. Black people calling each other “Nigger” is acceptable because there is no aggressive historical context to it. Looking at the history of the word, and the reasons it was used should tell you all you need to know about why it’s uncomfortable for a lot of black people to be called that from a white person. This should not be questioned really, no one asks why it is less acceptable for a man to call a woman the many derogatory terms people shouldn’t use to address them than it is for another woman to do the same. I’m aware I just used a double-standards argument to address a double-standards argument, but my point still stands. Personally, I don’t feel like anyone should use the word to address someone else, but I really don’t think I should have to explain why white people definitely shouldn’t be doing that.
2. When a comedian pokes fun at a race, it doesn’t come from a place of legitimate hatred. When a racist bursts into a rant targeting a minority, then of course it comes off as offensive. But that’s just the surface level of it, the truth is minorities can get away with it because of the way society is structured. White people hold most of the power, have a history of racial discriminatory actions that have ensured they kept that power, and are a lot more subtle about clinging to it these days; so hearing them voice their frustrations at having to deal with a minority is obviously in bad taste. Most people intrinsically know this, so questioning it is the equivalent of loudly declaring someone with a visible disability “looks weird”. You just don’t do it.
3. Heckling is wrong. Racist rants are worst. Saying hecklers are asking for racist rants is just as bad as any other stupid victim-blaming argument.
This subject just barely touches on what I feel is the most visible and modern version of racism that exists, and that is any statement that can be reasonably pre-faced with “I’m not racist but…!” that people seem to be making a lot of recently. Incidents like Michael Richard’s rant are important reminders of what is inside a lot of people’s hearts. Racism is never going to go away, but looking at it head on is the best way to fight it, even if it does feel pointless at times.
Quote of the Day:
I don’t want Sterling to end up with a woman like Lana Kane? My god, a black
ops field agent.
Malory Archer – Archer