Subscriber Services Weather

Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, November 20, 2006

Kramer Gone Wild!

If you've read this blog for even a day, then you know I'm not a hyper sensitive guy. And I'm not about hyper-political correctness.

But why has Michael Richards lost his mind?

That's rhetorical; don't answer. But if you don't know, Richards is the crazy-haired dude who played Cosmo Kramer for nine seasons on Seinfeld.

According to this story and this video, apparently captured on a cell phone during a standup comedy act Richards was doing last Friday at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles, a couple of black men in the audience were heckling Richards.

He replied by calling the hecklers N-words and telling them to shut up 'cause 50 years earlier those hecklers would have been turned upside down with pitchforks shoved into their behinds.

When one of the hecklers yelled back to Richards that that word "was uncalled for," Richards told him "that's what happens when you interrupt a white man."

One of the hecklers also called Richards a "cracker-a$$" after his rant and got up and walked out. For the record, I don't think that was right either.

So I was driving a round-about route away from an interview this afternoon and heard a regional talk radio pundit yammering about the Richards incident and how he felt that word was despicable and should not be used by anyone BUT that he was troubled by the "double standards" applied to its usage.

I like this particular pundit. I disagree with him a lot but I like his style. So that revelation about the "double standards" annoyed me.

I say baloney. He - along with all the other pundits who raise this issue from time to time - is no more confused by the "double standards" with that word than they are when a gay man calls a friend, a fellow gay man, a certain sexual epithet. Like it or not, some people take words once used against them and turn them into terms of endearment with each other.

Regardless, I still don't think that anyone should use that word.

But some stuff is just common sense. I wouldn't walk up to a white friend or colleague and call them a racial epithet, something that denigrated white people.

So why is this so hard to get?

If you really feel the need to call people names, then do the universally acceptable thing: be shallow like the rest of us and call people names because of their weight, or their low brain power, or their body odor, or their poor fashion sense, or their hair style, or their jacked up teeth - all things that arguably, unlike skin color (unless you're Michael Jackson), they can change.

Tip to Michael Richards: You'd have been OK and in the clear if you'd just called the hecklers A-holes or something like that, something that reflected on their actions and not on an inconsequential trate like their race.

17 Comments:

  • I think any word or phrase can be twisted to have negative connotations. You know what they say, communication is less about WHAT is said and more about HOW it is said.

    By Blogger The Dummy, at 6:09 PM  

  • There's just no place for that word. Can't imagine there ever was. Growing up during the '60s, the word seemed more commonly used than now, but it sounds just as offensive - maybe more so today.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 7:02 PM  

  • The legal term used to differentiate discrimination from other legitimate decisions (especially in the work place) is "immutable traits."

    Courts have ruled that it's okay to discriminate in employment when employees refuse to conform to dress codes such as prohibitions against cornrows or the like, but not for traits that are inherent and are not merely style choices.

    Makes sense to me. I saw the video today and it was disturbing. Honestly, I feel defensive when I hear the black man using racial epithets in anger so I agree w/ you that the guy should have just taken the high road.

    I mean, I felt two things. Absolute disgust that Richards reacted that way and just a bit defensive about the anti-white comments.

    Regardless, it was really, really sad. I wish I hadn't seen the video at all but I'm always curious. Awful.

    Btw, no "buggary" going on w/ this "Stifler!"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:29 PM  

  • The thing that was most disturbing to me about the video was that the racial epithets were not a precision rifle shot fired at the man's enemies but more like automatic weapon fire sprayed across a crowd. The innocent bystanders included everyone in that room and everyone who saw the video thereafter.

    I disagree w/ a comment by this Hispanic comic that there are limits to free speech and that Richards had found them. As a trained journalist, I appreciate that our country has freer speech than most European countries.

    One of Richard's comments touched on that. "I'm going to get ARRESTED for calling a black man a [expletive]."

    I think you should definately have the right to say that if you want to live with the consequences: most decent people not liking you anymore. Anyway, I wish I hadn't seen it in the first place. But that's the Internet, good and bad.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:48 PM  

  • One more thing, James. I hope I wasn't offensive. Btw, I once wrote a graduate law class paper entitled, "Hate Speech As Free Speech." My professor was a former member of the Black Panthers. He liked it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:57 PM  

  • Dummy, my friend I agree wholeheartedly.

    I won't lie. I've had black friends call me that word and I thought nothing of it, 'cause I knew they meant it as a greeting and nothing more. And then I've heard people who didnt' look like me use it and I felt bad 'cause I didn't know what the hell their intentions were.

    Double standard? Maybe. But I'm not justifying the word's use. I still don't like it.

    And Matt, I'm all about the 1st Amendment. What I don't like is in this age of copping out and not taking responsibility, people want to be able to say what they want with no consequences.

    The Constitution guarantees you that right to free speech. It doesn't say anything about having immunity when you step on your tongue in the course of free speech.

    I didn't like the audience member's response to Richards either. Reacting to bigotry with bigotry doesn't justify the response. But I have to disagree with you that Richards sprayed his comments generally over the whole crowd. He gestured to a heckler and yelled over and over "He's a N-----!"

    That seemed pretty pointed, pretty targeted.

    And Matt, I told you before you don't have to justify yourself to me. Trust me, I have a thick skin. But I didn't find what you said offensive anyway. So it's a moot point.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 8:52 PM  

  • How bizarre. When I came home today and heard about this I thought it must be a stunt, like something Andy Kaufman would do. Now I think he just lost it. Amazing. And everyone knows what words to use and not to use, but I have a problem with other people telling me what words are apropriate. There's a time and a place for every word. Context is the thing.

    By Blogger Fathairybastard, at 11:57 PM  

  • Damn...I was reading this and they just played it on the radio...even before he gets to the word, the tone and feeling is not funny at all...it's gone beyond humor into some angry stuff there...it felt a bit like getting socked in the stomach.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:50 AM  

  • This is an instance in which free speech has served us quite well. If everyone was barred from using "that word" or similar language it would be much more difficult to discern who deserves to be taken out and shot versus those genuinely well-meaning people who sometimes trip over themselves verbally.

    The First Amendment has allowed Richards to show exactly who he is and demonstrate what he is capable of spewing. We, the public, are free to deal with him accordingly and let his career founder as his ticket sales plummet.

    I disagree that the patrons' bigoted statements are on the same par as Richards however. Richards is a professional comic and hecklers come with the territory. He (Richards) should have conducted himself as a professional and dealt with them accordingly. Those hecklers were definitely bigoted jerks, but Richards was the guy who literally held the spotlight and should be held to a different standard.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:42 AM  

  • This is an instance in which free speech has served us quite well. If everyone was barred from using "that word" or similar language it would be much more difficult to discern who deserves to be taken out and shot versus those genuinely well-meaning people who sometimes trip over themselves verbally.

    The First Amendment has allowed Richards to show exactly who he is and demonstrate what he is capable of spewing. We, the public, are free to deal with him accordingly and let his career founder as his ticket sales plummet.

    I disagree that the patrons' bigoted statements are on the same par as Richards however. Richards is a professional comic and hecklers come with the territory. He (Richards) should have conducted himself as a professional and dealt with them accordingly. Those hecklers were definitely bigoted jerks, but Richards was the guy who literally held the spotlight and should be held to a different standard.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:44 AM  

  • Every time I hear stuff like this I have an immediate "pucker reaction." I watch and think "Oh no, you are not going to say that... oh you did. Terrific, there you go, setting us back fifty years, thanks a lot a--hole."

    Personal squeamishness aside, this is the type of instance in which free speech serves our society quite well. If everyone was barred from using "that word" or similar language it would be much more difficult to discern who deserves to be taken out and shot versus those genuinely well-meaning people who sometimes trip over themselves verbally.

    The First Amendment has allowed Richards to show exactly who he is and demonstrate what he is capable of spewing. We, the public, are free to deal with him accordingly and let his career founder as his ticket sales plummet.

    I disagree that the patrons' bigoted statements are on the same par as Richards however. Richards is a professional comic and hecklers come with the territory. He (Richards) should have conducted himself as a professional and dealt with them accordingly. Those hecklers were definitely bigoted jerks, but Richards was the guy in the spotlight and should be held to a different standard.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:49 AM  

  • Queen and Claudia I agree with you both. I cringed when I heard it 'cause I've been a fan of this man.

    And Fathairybastard, in terms of context I can tell you I didn't feel "the love" from Richards that I've felt when friends in the past have called me that word.

    I don't believe in raw censorship (within good sense), 'cause like Queen pointed out, if we stopped people from talking we'd never see some folks' true colors.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:18 PM  

  • You know - it always sort of twists me up a bit when people call it a "double standard" because some people can use the N word and others cannot. Too effing bad!! I don't like it when black people use it, either, but I feel like that choice is theirs. I do not ever think it is appropriate for a non-black person to use this world. It's just how the history of the country goes, it'll always be offensive coming from someone non-black, but particularly if a white person says it.

    Do I think that the person in the audience who called him a "cracker-a$$" was in the right? Absolutely not. But I do not equate that term with the N word, either.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:32 PM  

  • Amen!

    By Blogger Dayngr, at 2:18 AM  

  • Yea, obviously that isn't the context I'm thinking of. But, for instance... I'm out with a bunch of guys some years back, my cousins and their buds, dove hunting. They are drinking a bit, shooting doves as they fly over a plowed field. My cousin shoots one, which lands out in the field and flops around, and he looks at me and says "go get that." I think to myself, "walk out into a field in front of a bunch of loaded rednecks with shotguns?" I look at him and say, "Dude, I'm not your nigger." His buds crack up laughing. He looks at me like he wants to beat my ass, and goes to get his own bird. Not a single Black person within miles around to take it personal and be offended, or it would never have come out of my mouth. There's yer context. I still giggle about it.

    By Blogger Fathairybastard, at 1:58 AM  

  • Fat Hairy, yours is the same logic that asks if a tree falls in the forest and no one's around to hear it does it make a sound. You're suggesting that since no black people were around to hear you say that word it wasn't racist coming out of your mouth.

    I get your context. Now get mine about the stigma that comes with a white person saying that word outside an academic setting:

    Our exchanges online have been friendly. And I've had no reason to doubt that you're a nice guy. But the fact that you can use that word as a joke, use it in jest to represent a subservient person, a "slave" even in a group consisting soley of other white men, makes me instinctively suspicious of you.

    I repeat my rhetorical question from an earlier comment: While no one - black or white - should use the word, given its ugly history why in the world would any white person even want to use it? No one's saying you can't use it. Free speech, First Amendment, yada, yada. But why would you even want to?

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:02 PM  

  • I see your point, and ask myself that question often when situations like this arise. But I don't think words, in and of themselves, are bad. It's the intent of the user that is bad or hurtful, and it IS the context of the use of the word that matters, or should matter. Otherwise we're talking the flat demonization of a word, and that's silly, approaching adolescent. Many words can cause many people a lot of emotional harm, but only because we invest them with so much power. My cousins are working class country boys, usually harmless, not PC in any way, who use the word now and then. They use it in my presence, knowing that I don't like it. So my use of the word was ironic, to turn it back on them. That's why his friends were amused and he was so offended by my use of the word. I was turning it around and aiming it at him. He was pissed, I wanna tell ya.

    I'm not going to fall into the trap of going on the defensive, trying to show in some way that I'm not racist because you may be offended by my use of the word. About the worst thing you can insinuate about a white person in our culture today is that we are racist. You can be forgiven for almost anything other than that. That's one price we pay collectively for our history, and it's why you would assert that we should never use the word. I'm cool with that. I teach history for a living, and only use the word in it's historical context whenever it comes up. It has a lot of power attached to it, and the feeling is elevated when a white teacher uses the word. I do it carefully, knowing how people will react to hearing me use it, just as I did with my cousin. I use the "F" word every once and a while too, in context. People are shocked, but the fact is, words don't hurt, actions do. So I guess that explains my feelings about context.

    If I went to a grocery store and told the black cashier "Nigger, get me that pack of cigarettes", everyone seeing and hearing me would know me to be a horrendous bigot (they have the profile laid out in their mind), and they'd know that I was probably about to get the shit kicked out of me. There wouldn't be an excuse I could make to explain myself. However, if I went out alone in the deep woods and shouted that word at the top of my voice, over and over, exhausting myself in the process, would anyone NOT there to hear the word be really hurt by it? I don't think so. The only power the word has is the power of context and the power that the user and the listener invest in it.

    Not planning any trips to the deep woods, so relax. I see my cousins once a year these days, at family reunions. Very polite times. No expletives allowed. Not the right context.

    By Blogger Fathairybastard, at 11:15 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home