Wide range of reactions to Richards tirade from activists, bloggers

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Mike Sheehan
Published: Wednesday November 22, 2006

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The intense scrutiny that has befallen 'Seinfeld' actor Michael Richards in the wake of his profane outburst last Friday is stirring discussion of familiar issues of race and prejudice in America--and new allegations that Richards had a previous, similarly caustic outburst against another group of people.

According to TMZ.com, which broke the original story of the actor's racial tirade at a comedy club in Los Angeles, Richards last spring "launched into an anti-Semitic rant" after a man in the audience said something to him in the middle of his performance. Richards allegedly screamed, "You fucking Jew, you people are the cause of Jesus dying," before storming off the stage. Richards' publicist contends that it was part of his act, which Richards described in a makeshift apology on Monday's 'Late Show with David Letterman' as being "very uncontrolled."

The new allegation comes just as Richards is beginning to deal with the national fallout from his Friday meltdown.

Richards on Wednesday contacted the Rev. Al Sharpton and offered an apology, which Sharpton did not accept, according to CNN. "I [told Richards] you need to sit down and deal with this," said Sharpton, per the article. "This is not about accepting an apology, this is about starting a process to really deal with the continual problem of racism in this country."

Sharpton continued, "I think that what he did was so injurious that he has to sit down with a group and decide how he tries to ... deal with healing the obvious problem he's got in his own mind and his own heart, because it couldn't come out of you if it wasn't in you."

Richards' publicist revealed that Richards also "called and spoke with civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Jackson accepted his apology."

The Hollywood chapter of the NAACP reacted in a press release:

"His declaration that he is not a racist is indicative of the type of denial that too often accompany racist rhetoric," the group said in a statement Friday. "Too many Americans are living in what has been called the 51st State--the state of denial. Before Mr. Richards and lamentably millions of other Americans can confront and correct the cancerous disease of racism that is hidden in their hearts, they must first acknowledge that it exists and that they have it."

Conservative author and columnist the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson condemned Richards' outburst as well, but in a press release also criticized African-Americans who use similar verbiage:

If the word "nigger" is so offensive and shocking to blacks, then why do black people themselves continue to use this word? The word is kept alive by black comedians and rappers, and is a part of the everyday language and fabric of the pseudo "black culture." Yet, whites are forbidden from uttering this word.

Black people cannot continue using this word, yet label others as "racists" when they do the same in a fit of anger, as Michael Richards did. By not allowing whites to express themselves, it only drives the problem underground and forces people to keep these emotions bottled up-in essence, the politically correct culture is helping to create people like Michael Richards!

Bloggers and media personalities are also reacting to the Richards rant, in a wide range of responses.

Mediastar at "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" writes, "I am so unimpressed with his sorry excuse for an apology. I get so sick and damn tired of celebrities and politicians making ugly, racist, ignorant remarks then coming back with a scripted 'I'm sorry.' What exactly are they sorry about? Sorry they have to apologize? Sorry they're ignorant? Sorry they're stupid?"

Says Rock at "Truth": "The thing that is galling is that he said such racist things, and then he goes and blurts another racist thing—-implying that the reaction to Katrina was based on race. Unacceptable racism followed by politically correct racism. I can only come to one conclusion now. Michael Richards is a racist to the bone."

Oliver Willis takes a different tack. "I hate white guilt," he writes. "People are not racist simply because of their race. That's actually kind of a racist thing to say. In my experience as a black American of Carribean descent I've probably personally seen more racism from my fellow black people than white people. The idea that every white person should walk around with the legacy of Bull Connor on his or her back is ludicrous, no more than the idea that black people are automatically filled with virtue and sanctity because our ancestors were treated as subhuman..."

A curious response comes from syndicated radio show host Michael Savage, who attempts to draw a political parallel to Richards' racist invective: "[T]his is what the subtext of liberalism really is. Under the surface, if you got them in a room alone, I guarantee you they'd say the same kind of hateful things about Catholics and about Jews and about straights and about soldiers. ... Kerry gave us a smaller version of it, by the way. Kerry did it in an albeit high-class way, but John Kerry did the same thing, in my opinion."

UK media correspondent Andrew Gumbel, in an entry at "The Huffington Post," had this to say, from a British point of view:

...[T]here's something about the sheer banality of the mass media pile-on that leaves me distinctly queasy. What does it say about a society, especially one with as bad a racial conscience as the United States, that it feels compelled to say over and over that Richards' repeated use of the n-word was offensive? Could it be that there isn't quite as much unanimity on the matter as everyone would like to pretend?

Why is it that show host after show host, on channel after channel, has felt compelled to ask why it was okay for black performers to say the word "nigger" but not for white performers? The first time I heard the question asked, I thought it was just a clumsy way of addressing an issue of at least tangential validity. By the third time, though, it just sounded like an excuse for a bunch of white men under the studio lights to vent their own latent racism and embarrass their black guests.