Wednesday, November 29, 2006

When Race Is a Four-Letter Word


I was in a restaurant the other night with a friend, who happens to be African-American, when a stranger, who was white, came up and said,"Terrible about that Michael Richards thing."

He apparently felt compelled to apologize to every black person he saw for the former "Seinfeld" comic's infamous racist comments that were front page news recently.

It was an odd encounter but I had to give the stranger marks for his sincerely.Which is more than I can say for Richards, and his partner incrime, Mel Gibson.

I can't look into a person's heart to determine the goodness or evil that resides therein. But when actors Richards and Gibson apologized for their unrelated but equally virulent racist tirades, I didn't believe a word of it.

Oh, I believe they're sorry. Sorry they attempted career suicide.

But I have never heard anyone engage in the kind of rants these two mouthed who deep down inside didn't believe that race is a four-letter word.

Kramer blamed a black heckler for his tirade, saying he lost his temper. I've been mad at people who just so happen to be black. I've been mad at Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. I've been mad at Ward Connerly. I've been mad at Harry Bellafonte and Bill Cosby. I've been mad at Koby and Shaq.

But unlike Richards, I've never resorted to using cheap racial slurs or to yearn for the good old days when lynch mobs roamed the American countryside.

Hatred, pain and degradation aren't valid debating techniques. And if that's all you can resort to, you've already lost the battle.

Some of this boorish behavior is attributable to the anything-goes atmosphere at comedy clubs where you get can soar past the boundaries of taste, as long as the audience thinks you're funny. But Richards wasn't funny. In fact, he was scary.

``It's a first time for me to talk to an African American like that - that's a first time for me,'' Richards said earlier this week. But reports have surfaced that Richard also engaged in an anti-Semitic rant this year at a comedy club. That makes him at least a two-time loser and one whose excuses ring shallow.

Gibson was full of tequila when he laid blame for the world's problems at the feet of the Jews. But even that has become a crutch.

Gibson said that he has "battled the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse." He added, "Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot."

But, as Pliny the Elder wrote in AD77, "In vino, veritas", or "Inwine, there is truth". Meaning that Gibson's views weren't formed by Jose Cuervo.

His is what they call a non-apology apology. Bruce McCall, in a 2001 New York Times piece, defined the term as referring to "sufficiently artful double talk" to enable you to "get what you want by seeming to express regret while actually accepting no blame."

Besides, Gibson can be frightening when he's sober. After Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote that Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" would inflame anti-Semitism, Gibson told The New Yorker, "I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick. I want to kill his dog."

It is apparent that while Gibson may suffer from the disease of alcoholism, he suffers from the disease of prejudice as well.

I do not long for world in which we all wear the heavy coat ofpolitical correctness. But I do long for a world where Michael Richards and Mel Gibson and all those like them will look inward and resolve the issues that have left them bitter and hateful.

When they do, it will be a better world.

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