I got to work one day in the middle of last week to find that the top story on every one's minds would not be included in that morning's broadcast. We would be airing stories of mainly local interest while the rest of the country murmured excitedly about the spectacle Michael Richards had made of himself at a comedy club a few days before. I admit I was schocked. I was even more shocked when I went to youtube and watched the full video made during his racist tirade against a couple of noisy audience members. Shocked by the language and anger, yes, but also shocked because I would have expected Michael Richards to have gotten used to hecklers by now. This man has been in the business of comedy for decades, you would think he'd know how to handle a noisy crowd.
My shock turned to disappointment when I later saw him on Letterman, doing his best Hugh Grant/Mel Gibson impersonation and offering meaningless apologies to the audience, and to the African American community in general. I understand the need to get in front of the bullet and make your apologies, but it was the same old 'I'm not a racist' crap you hear from everyone who gets caught being a racist, and it was so obviously not meant, that the overall apathy I felt towards the incident turned into the anger that most people had already felt.
See, in the end, no matter what pretty things we try to say, we are ALL racist. At least a little bit. We all see someone walking down the street and immediately form a snap-judgement based on what we've been brought up to believe. It's something that everyone does, and it's not going to go away in my lifetime. Most likely not in my daughter's lifetime, either. I admit it, I immediately make incorrect judgments about people I see when I first meet them. All that talk about not judging a book by it's cover is never going to be accurately applied in the real world. The thing is, as human beings capable of rational thought, we dismiss those judgments and allow ourselves to form a more informed opinion. But sometimes, rational thought leaves us, and we're left with these horrible stereotypes that we see everywhere. As in what happened to Mr. Richards.
If Mr. Richards had done the talk show rounds and admitted to being a racist, admitted that it was how he was raised, and that he tries to deal with it but apparently he's going to need help, I would have respected the man. Instead we've taken another opportunity for a few people to have an open conversation and covered it up with generic apologies that no one really means.