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Kramer’s Racist Tirade: If it walks like a racist, and quacks like a racist…

By Dave Fox
Seattle, Washington

Warning: The following post contains language many people will find offensive. I find such language deeply offensive myself. I am including certain quotes in this post without censoring them because I don’t believe such speech should be sugar-coated. I believe the following incident should be exposed in all of its ugliness — and it should make you angry.

 

As a humor writer, I try to keep an open mind about the words of other humorists. When comedians tell jokes I find offensive, I tend to grant more poetic license than I might in some circumstances. Humor is an art form in which we risk offending, and sometimes, we humorists — writers, stand-up comics, whatever — go too far, because we are human. But Michael Richards, a.k.a. “Kramer” from the TV show, “Seinfeld,” deserves no such leniency for his racially charged tirade at a West Hollywood comedy club Friday night. There are limits to how “too far” you can go.

Richards was being heckled. And being heckled sucks, I’m sure. But it’s something all stand-up comics have to contend with. Richards
should know that, having worked side by side for 10+ years with one of the highest-paid stand-up comics in the business.

There are graceful ways to deal with hecklers. There are not-so-graceful ways to deal with hecklers. And there are downright idiotic
ways to deal with hecklers. “Downright idiotic” doesn’t begin to describe Richards’s behavior Friday night.

The two people heckling Richards happened to be African-American. Richards responded with a racially charged rampage. Here’s a partial transcript of a cell phone video of the incident, which was later obtained by CNN:

Richards: Throw his ass out! He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! Look! A nigger!

Audience member: That was uncalled for!

Richards: What was uncalled for? It was uncalled for for you to interrupt my ass, you cheap motherfucker! You guys  have been talking and talking and talking!

Audience Member: That was uncalled for, you fucking cracker-ass motherfucker!

Richards: Shut up! Fifty years ago, we would have had you upside down with a fucking fork up your ass!


Audience Member:
That was un-fucking-called for! That ain’t necessary!

Richards: Well, you interrupted me! That’s what happens when you interrupt a white man, don’t you know?

[If the words  don’t shock you enough, check out the article on CNN.com and click the link to the video of Richards’s performance. He shrieks his words with the same fury one might expect from a man in a sheet at a cross burning.]

Richards’s behavior is nauseating enough without what has happened since then. His handling of the incident and its aftermath has been cowardly.

Richards has apologized, but his sincerity is questionable. In an appearance on “Late Night with David Letterman” Monday, on which
Jerry Seinfeld was already scheduled as a guest, Richards spoke by satellite, saying, “For me to be at a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, I’m deeply, deeply sorry…. I’m really busted up.”

Fine, but he also says in his so-called apology, “I’m not a racist. That’s what’s so insane about this.”

No.

That’s not what’s so insane about this.

What’s so insane about this is that after his outburst on Friday, Richards returned to the same club Saturday night, refused to talk with
the press or acknowledge the previous night’s incident, and did his regular comedy act as if nothing was wrong. A sincere apology would have come immediately. Not three days later, after a video of his tirade made its way onto network news. Richards wasn’t “busted up” Saturday night when he was on stage joking around as if nothing had gone wrong the night before. He was “busted up” today, after he realized the entire nation was going to see a video of his behavior.

I haven’t yet seen the “Late Night” episode with Richards’s apology because it airs later tonight in the Pacific time zone. But a review on TMZ.com (where the above apology quotes are taken from) describes him as “looking sallow, drawn, and speaking in halting fragments.”

Let us not forget that Richards is a professional actor.

He wasn’t looking so sallow, drawn, and halting in his Saturday performance. If Richards were sincerely sorry, he would not insult all
of our intelligence by lacing his apology with a statement like, “I’m not a racist.”

A few people will rush to Richards’s defense, telling people like me to give him a break. He’s human, he was stressed, he was being heckled by a couple of assholes, blah, blah, blah. He’s also a very rich actor who has chosen to be in the public spotlight. He’s been in that spotlight for many years and he’s intelligent enough to know that language such as that he used on Friday causes deep wounds in America — not just to African-Americans, but to our nation as a whole.

Richards has permanently defiled his image and his career. Sadly, it’s going to rub off on the rest of the Seinfeld cast and crew as
well. I doubt I will ever be able to watch the show again without thinking of this incident. Actually… I doubt I will ever be able to
watch the show again — period. The sight of “Kramer” churns my stomach now.

I’m hurt and I’m disillusioned. A man I respected, a man who I thought was a comedic genius, has shown his true colors. He’s a racist punk who handles hecklers with the prowess one would expect from a three-year-old. His statement in the middle of his apology that he is “not a racist,” after spewing such a tirade of racist venom, trivializes and negates his entire apology.

Published on Tuesday, November 21, 2006

7 Responses to “Kramer’s Racist Tirade: If it walks like a racist, and quacks like a racist…”

  1. Random Person
    November 23, 2006 at 4:09 AM

    Umm… How come nobody is talking about the black person calling him a cracker?

  2. November 23, 2006 at 5:01 AM

    “Random Person” wrote:
    >>> Umm… How come nobody is talking about the black person calling him a cracker?
    Ummm… Dear “Random Person,”
    Is this a serious question, or are you just trying to rile people up? When someone posts this sort of comment anonymously, it’s hard to tell. But allow me to explain why I think the two are different:
    1) Sadly, thousands of racist remarks are uttered in America every day. In and of themselves, they are not newsworthy. Michael Richards is a millionaire celebrity. He is in the public spotlight. As such, his actions are newsworthy — particularly given their intensity in this situation.
    2) I believe it’s wrong to fight racism with racism, but under the circumstances, I think someone in the audience letting one racist word slip out doesn’t even begin to compare with what Richards did.
    3) According to Sinbad, an African-American comedian who was in the audience that night, before Richards went off on his blatantly racist rant, he was also taunting the audience telling them he was so much richer than they were. In addition to being a racist jerk, he is also an elitest jerk. If someone as rich and famous as Richards, a man with thousands and thousands of fans, does what he did, OF COURSE people are going to talk about it a lot more than some random schmuck in the audience. And I, as one of his former fans, want to know what he did.
    4) Some people will disagree with me, but I consider white racism against blacks more serious than black racism against whites. Why? Because white people have not had to endure the legacy of oppression and systemized discrimination that African-Americans have. Does this justify black-against-white racism? No. But seriously, do you honestly think that one word uttered by a random audience member deserves the same level of attention as Richards’s outburst? I don’t.

  3. John
    November 30, 2006 at 9:01 AM

    I don’t really know what it feels like to be anything but a white man, but I have fallen victim to one racist beating by a group of people of another color, a beating that almost killed me. I have also been on the receiving end of perhaps a dozen incidents of intimidation and violence by people of other colors. Am I more justified in being racist than someone of another color who has never been assaulted by a white man? I really don’t think so.
    I *do* understand how feeling victimized can make it tempting to hate the people who hurt you, I *can’t* truly understand what it’s like to have brown or black skin.
    At some point everyone, as a human being, has to understand that you cannot judge a whole race or nation by the actions of some. I am sure that it can be extremely difficult to undo years of conditioning. Many people around the world realize that not all United States citizens support our government’s actions, and do not hate us- and these include people who are getting bombed and watching their family members getting killed by our military. Perhaps we can take a lesson from them.
    Fueling and encouraging racism is a way to control people. I do believe that many groups and individuals in positions of power have absolutely no interest in people getting along. I think now is the time for all of us to question our attitudes and actions in relation to race. We can’t make excuses or justify racism. We can try to understand and have compassion for people with racist tendencies- especially groups who have historically been horribly oppressed. But we can’t trivialize or say it’s *more* justified.
    Just my 2 cents.

  4. brrre
    December 8, 2006 at 6:56 PM

    An asshole is an asshole.
    A racist is a rascist.
    Color does not matter.
    Period.

  5. brrre
    December 8, 2006 at 7:09 PM

    And Dave, you know I hate racism, but this comment is frogging stupid: “Because white people have not had to endure the legacy of oppression and systemized discrimination that African-Americans have.”
    Does that mean that you believe Israel has the right to occupy and suppress the Palestinians? That Mugabes followers in Kenya was in their full rights when they burned “white” farms and killed white farmers? That muslim terrorism is allright because of the western support to Arabian dictatorship?
    I really do not think you believe so. My advice to you must therefore be; when angry, even when justified, think twice! Learn from Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. Wrong doings can never be corrected by another wrong doing…
    Still your friend though!

  6. December 9, 2006 at 7:12 AM

    Brrre…
    I mostly agree with you. You caught me in a rare moment of America-centrism, when I was thinking from the perspective of racism in the United States, not global racism. But please be careful not to distort what I wrote.
    I NEVER said racism against whites is okay. On the contrary, I wrote, “I believe it’s wrong to fight racism with racism, but under the circumstances, I think someone in the audience letting one racist word slip out [in response to Richards’s tirade] doesn’t even begin to compare with what Richards did.”
    I stand by my statement that the audience member’s use of one anti-white slur toward Richards is not as newsworthy as Richards’s long and furious racist explosion — and I think that anyone who asks the question, “How come nobody is talking about the black person calling him a cracker?” is absurd in trying to equate the two. Quite honestly, it strikes me as a typical argument of a white American racist who is trying to deflect attention from the real news story and/or someone who is trying to rile people up just because he thinks it’s fun.
    That having been said, you are correct. While I think that an oppressed minority has every right to be pissed off when it is the target of racism, fighting back with more racism isn’t going to solve anything.
    Ummm… but Brrre… “Still your friend though!”
    Are we friends?!?! Damn! Not that I have anything against Norwegians, but….
    :-P

  7. brrre
    December 11, 2006 at 9:09 PM

    Okay then, we are not friends anymore;-)
    If you feel I distorted what you wrote, I would just like to say that I didn’t mess up the quote from your comment. I did a regular cut-and-paste… What I should have done to make my point clear was to quote the sentence just before the quote I used last time: “4) Some people will disagree with me, but I consider white racism against blacks more serious than black racism against whites.”
    Dave, I do disagree with you on this. Some subjects are not open for relativism(sorry Albert), racism is one of those subjects. Why? Because racism is in it’s nature wrong both when it comes to moral and when it comes to academic standards(what on earth did they teach you at Wisconsin?). Racism is passing judgement on someone based on etnitisty, religion or cultural background. Or put in an other way, passing judgement based on what you THINK, not what you KNOW about someone. Even if you have had bad experiences with one or more people from one group, it is just plain stupid to transfer that perception to other members of the same group. It does not make sense.
    I have seen Wayne Gretzky(?) play hockey on TV once, he didn’t score a single point. Does that make him a bad hockey-player?
    I wonder, if a colored person took you for a white-suprematist, based only on your lack of hair, would that be any less stupid or wrong just because there are some short-haired white-suprematist around? Even if that person had had some bad experience with white-suprematists?
    The problem is that you are using double-communication. On one side you say that all racism is bad, on the other side you claim that some racism is more understandable. When are we supposed to believe you?
    I do not want to distort what you wrote, but as I said: racism is not open to relativism, therefore I just had to arrest you on that.
    I do thank you for saying that I am correct(it does not happen to often)! Funny thing is that you agreed on this last time we got drunk together. That means that you are the only person I know who is more intelligent and open-minded when drunk and not sober. Not bad. Actually not bad at all!!
    Can we be friends now?

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