Racism: We have not come as far as we think
November 30, 2006
The n-word – a word that has become more vulgar than any other profanity. Even the f-word has become mild with age as the n-word has grown in its implosion of despicable stench. High-powered executives, male and female, use the f-word. Frequently too. But the n-word can stop a meteor in descent, and even put it in reverse.
The most recent meteor whose brakes screeched in mid air was that of former “Seinfeld” star Michael Richards, now relegated to stand-up comedy; or, in his case now, lie down in career death comedy. His racial upheaval of the n-word to a couple of hecklers at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood, was not from the tragic-comic book of anti-establishment written by Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, or modern day, brutally honest social observations from Chris Rock.
Michael Richards coughed up the reeky contents of what has been building and swelling in his socially distended stomach since childhood, but the projectile was more repulsive and the stink more offensive than any sick discharge. The nauseating smell of vomit clears the air after a thorough cleansing. The revolting odor of Michael Richards’ public racial assault will not go away that soon.
But let’s be real. This column is not about Michael Richards. It’s about the four-alarm reminder of his meltdown that should have jolted us from our sleepy-time beds. How far have we come since the 1960s in our racial acceptance? I’m not just talking about the n-word. The n-word is a symbol of the deeply rooted prejudices that are planted in us at birth. All of us. We are all born with a bag of prejudicial seeds in our bellies that is sealed with soil made fertile as we are nursed and breast-fed by society.
The n-word? It’s just one word, which like the f-word, will fade in its impact as years are born and die. Uneducated blacks use the n-word more among themselves than whites do toward blacks. But what about the word spic? Cracker? Wop? Is it only because the n-word reaches back into the days of slavery as slang derived from Negro, which then sounded like “Negra” in the vocal delivery of a Southern man? In fact, why am I allowed as a writer to spell out the words spic, cracker and wop, but not the n-word? Just a question.
There is a song written by Sly Stewart (a.k.a. Sly Stone of the racially integrated pioneering rock band of the ’60s, Sly & The Family Stone) called “Underdog.” One line of the lyric prophetically urges, “Don’t hate the black, don’t hate the white; if you get bit, just hate the bite.” So, who does Michael Richards go to in an apologetic gesture to black America? Why, he goes to Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton, that’s who! Of course!
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Michael Richards, you are an idiot! Isn’t that like inviting Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to a class reunion at Columbine High School had they not killed themselves after the 13-person massacre? Or how about hiring Osama Bin Laden as an architectural consultant for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center?
Jackson and Sharpton are the biggest public perpetrators of racialism living today! What Michael Richards should do is personally apologize to the two black hecklers. And if you can’t take a little heckling, get out of the business, and get out of life as a public figure. Even the President of the United States – any President of the United States – has to study the chapter on how to accept public heckling in front of and behind the camera as a prerequisite to being sworn in office. Stand-up comedians? C’mon!
Personally, I think for every interracial friendship, marriage, and adoption we have now in America that scores one point for racial acceptance and prejudicial termination is tackled by what really lies somewhere deep in all of us. If a black man kills a white man who happens to be one of your family members, would you absolutely not use the n-word with unrestrained anger? If a white police officer holds down a black murderer or thief and whacks him with a club to maintain docile compliance, will other blacks hold back with effortless understanding on claiming it as an act of racial hatred made legal by the sheen of a white police officer’s badge? How about a white man and black man openly expressing outrage toward illegal immigration? Will not the immigrants who are legal fire back in defense because they happen to be Hispanic too?
Truth is, not one of us is and never will be 100 percent devoid of some type of prejudice, be it against race, gender, religion, working class, income level, lifestyle or nationality. In so many ways, it is worse than it ever was.
No. I do not think we have come as far as we think we have. I also think the real n-word here is “narrow-minded.”
• John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.