Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Racism: The Richards Rant

I didn't see any more than a few clips from the now-notorious Richards rant, Bush. It was ugly. Like most people, I guess, I had known him only as the goofy Kramer on the Seinfeld show, and had always found him endearing in that role. But what he showed that night at the Comedy Club was ugly, no two ways about it. I did find his apology on the David Letterman show, however, and there could be no doubt that the man was shattered by the experience. He offered no excuses, acknowledged the rage that opened the way for his tirade, and made an apology that was too spontaneous, too halting, too vulnerable to disbelieve.

The key parts of the apology, for me, were two places where he seemed to recognize that this was not some aberration, but rather a deep truth about himself that he needed to address. Near the end of the interview, he said simply and, to me, believably, that he had "personal work to do." While he insisted in almost the same breath that he was "not a racist," that recognition of the racist in him was more important than the more proper--and much more familiar--insistence on denial.

I tend to believe that we are all racists, Bush. It's a distressing part of our human heritage. We struggle to hide it, but I don't suppose there's a person alive who is free of racist feelings and reactions. Some of us are ashamed of them, and work hard to keep them out of sight--our own and others'. And some are not. Some seem to take pride in them. But for those of us who know in our rational minds that racism is wrong--dishonorable, arrogant, instinctive--something from which we would want to dissociate ourselves at all costs, it's important not to slip into that comfortable zone where we allow ourselves to forget our baser selves, the dark side of our being.

So that Richards rant, as I see it, was a healthy thing for our society. It was not pretty, certainly, but it held the mirror up for us to look into and see some part of ourselves--whether black or white: the part that hates and rages. (The part, Bush, too, that declares war on other human beings.) Particularly healthy, too, was Richards' refusal to let himself off the hook with a quick, easy apology, and his understanding that he had "personal work" to do. I honor him for the recognition, and for acknowledging the hurt he inflicted on himself and others. His rage and the outburst of hidden hatred was grievous. His stunned recognition and regret, an example to us all. Let's wish him a difficult stint of personal work, and an eventual recovery.

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KB said...

I love this article. It is right on. And I thank you for writing it.

Cardozo said...

Ditto, PaL. And thanks for linking to the apology, which was pretty remarkable.

So interesting that the audience had such a hard time NOT laughing, even when Mr. Richards was being utterly serious. He could not have been MORE serious.

Context is everything, which is why I believe him that, on a conscious level, Richards is no more a racist than the average white American.

Lee said...

I said on another blog that I honestly believe that he was extremely flustered by the hecklers and in a rush of blood to the brain he just tried to dredge up the most hateful thing he could without really having any meaning behind it. So I don't think he's a racist as such but just threw the most vile insult he could think of at the time.
Doesn't make it right at all but he's got to live with it now and I can't imagine being more embarrassed at my conduct.

PK said...

Thanks for the post Peter. I do believe you're right, anyone put in a position of being heckled like that might lash out... "but it held the mirror up for us to look into and see some part of ourselves--whether black or white: the part that hates and rages."... It could have been one of us...

GringoWithoutBorders said...

Sounds like Mel Gibson. Sure hope people give Mel Gibson the same forgiveness as they seem to have already blessed Richards with.

Wonder why the press difference between the two? Heck, one was drunk the other sober. One was between two individuals and one was among a public crowd.