I read a great editorial by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post about Michael Richards’ recent racist tirade in a comedy club. Richards publicly apologized multiple times after the incident, claiming that he’s “not racist.” Robinson dismisses his claim of not being a racist, and I’m so glad to see that opinion out there. Robinson says “Don’t tell me racism is dead. It just shuns the light of day.”
Its disheartening to see so much of the reaction towards Richards’ tirade calling for people just to forget it, let it go. Forgiveness is appropriate, yes, but we must all take the opportunity to learn from something like this. I believe that Richards is truly sorry for what he did, but he’s still not getting it.
Richards claiming that he’s “not a racist” is a way to shirk responsibility for the ugliness that lurks in his heart. And how can he help it? He lives in the same racist culture that we all do. It is impossible to live in this world and not learn prejudice and racist attitudes, even if we’re not aware of it.
However, the words that he spoke were shocking, truly jaw-dropping. What he said was hurtful and ugly, not just something that someone blurts out in a turrets-like outburst. It seems to me that the nature of what he said had to have been calculated and premeditated. He had to have known exactly what he was saying in the moment.
One of the best ways to resist racism is to recognize it in yourself and take responsibility for it with purposeful change. It’s not pleasant to recognize ugly prejudice in yourself, and its humbling to admit that its there. But the only way to really change is to admit that you need to in the first place.