We've all heard by now about Michael Richard's racist rant at a comedy club. (If not, click here for the video.) The mainstream media has condemned the former Seinfeld star's hateful remarks and water cooler talk across the country has been full of the "Oh. My. God." variety. First we had Mel Gibson's angry spew of anti-Jewish craziness and now Kramer goes off the deep end too.
So what gives? Why are we seeing all of these racist tirades? Why have two men shown the entire country their personal bigotries?
I think the answer has to do with the way our country has been heading as a whole. Are we really, truly, that shocked at Gibson's anti-Jewish comments and Kramer's repetitive "nigger" screams? Every day we have religious figures and politicians using bigoted and homophobic language - without condemnation from either the media or society as a whole. As my friend writes on his blog Proceed At Your Own Risk:
Politicians like Rick Santorum and religious leaders like James Dobson openly and proudly use words that are painfully insulting to gay Americans. Senator Allen laughingly calls a college student "Macaca." Rappers and Reggae singers celebrate rape, murder, racism and homophobia. We pretend that it's humor, Biblical or a political statement, when in fact it is hate language that pollutes our society and even worse the minds and hearts of our children.
Rather than uncompromisingly condemn this behavior and language as disgusting, we debate it. We look for ways to explain it away and allow it.
The collective outrage over Michael Richards' "nigger" tirade rings hollow in a society were politicians are applauded for comparing homosexuality to bestiality, where millions of voters are indifferent to Macaca, where hate-spewing rappers, black and white are given record contracts and Grammy Awards, where openly homophobic Reggae singers are booked for concerts and religious leaders who use words like fag and abomination to describe their fellow Americans are allowed tax exemptions.
While, of course, I also condemn Richard's and Gibson's racist remarks, I'm left wondering when someone will condemn the remarks I hear regularly about myself. When will the American people stand up and say "Enough. We will not tolerate the degradation of our fellow citizens based on your own personal prejudices."?
Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Jewish, gay, disabled, straight, whatever - people are people. They have many differences to be celebrated and discussed. But not disparaged. And perhaps when we start speaking up for all people - I'll stop feeling so hollow inside when I see folks all worked up over Kramer.
But until then, I blame the media, fundamentalist Christians and far rights politicians for bringing an ugly part of American history shockingly back to life. After all, you lead by example.