Monday, November 27, 2006


Steve Gilliard wrote a post recently on the racist comments of Michael Richards (who played Kramer in Seinfeld). His post has much food for thought and I strongly urge you to read all of it, but this is the bit I found most interesting for the purposes of my blog:

His tone was deeply racial and mean. I've been called nigger before, but never has anyone said I should be lynched. That kind of hate comes from a feeling of racial superiority, that other people are lower than you (e.g Borat and the Gypsys) and that is the natural order of things. When the two neatly dressed men walked in the group, he said as they did "here comes the blacks and mexicans" They weren't in hoodies, they looked like young professionals. Yet they were racially abused.

But it's not that Richards is or is not a racist which is the issue. It's misanthropy. The hatred of everything, of every one.

Someone who says Afro-American in 2006 is stuck in the past. I would bet this is hardly his first disgusting outburst when challenged. If he had called someone a fat cunt, he might have slid, because that's just bad taste. But his repeated slurs and his imperious comments means more than just disliking black people.

You must have already guessed that I'm going to address this:

If he had called someone a fat cunt, he might have slid, because that's just bad taste.

There are two ways of interpreting this, and the one I think Steve had in mind is the way men all over the place use "cunt" as an insult to each other. Add "fat" to it and you've got a double insult: "Man, you're a fat cunt today. Stop messing my game up." The reason why it doesn't seem that bad to some is that a man doesn't have a cunt and the particular object of this comment might not be fat, either. So the insult is sort of unspecified, not race-related, for example, and doesn't directly attack the man.

This is taken to an extreme when the argument is that as anyone can be "a fat cunt" there isn't even anything sexist about the slur. I'm a fat cunt and you are a fat cunt and so nobody is really a fat cunt at all. See?

No, I don't see that, actually. To me being called "a fat cunt" is a sign of sexism at best and hatred of women at worst, even if it doesn't register as such inside the brain of the person using the slur. It's certainly less of an insult than suggesting that certain blacks should be lynched, for example, and less than many other insults I read routinely on the net or the things Michael Richards said about blacks. But it's not just something in bad taste.

Sexism is considerably more mainstream than racism, these days, by the way*. For example, several broadcasters have been fired for racist comments but sexist comments are perfectly fine, even funny, as MSNBC anchor Contessa Brewer's recent allusions to "catfights" and "cattiness" when talking about Nancy Pelosi demonstrate. On the whole they don't affect the person who makes them that much. I doubt many here remember Jerry Lewis's outburst about women. And sexist jokes are seen as perhaps jokes in bad taste, or jokes that shouldn't be told in mixed company. But not as sexist jokes.
*This doesn't necessarily mean that there is less racism than sexism; just that we have a lower tolerance for openly racist comments in the media.