Yet another comedian, in Los Angeles, has been brought to his knees, in a manner of speaking, for using the "n" word during a Saturday night parody of Michael Richards' notorious stand-up routine. According to TMZ, television actor Andy Dick was joking around, and imitating Richards' during his act at a comedy club, this weekend and, as he prepared to leave the stage, Dick yelled out "You're all a bunch of n---" to members of the audience. He meant his comment to be a joke, so he says, but it elicited the same outrage as its predecessor, hence Dick has also been asked for a mea culpa. This got me to thinking--what next? Would Lenny Bruce be able to go onstage at the Laugh Factory, tomorrow night, and talk about half of the stuff he did without offending someone? Do we need to amend the First Amendment so that it comes with an "R" rating? Is that how we avoid the use of one word, or another, that is offensive to one group, or another?
There is no way the above question is meant as an attempt to deflate Michael Richards' tirade, or Andy Dick's imitation of it, nor would I, for a minute, diminish the undercurrent of pernicious racism they both suggest. As a substitute teacher in East Los Angeles, in the late 1980's, I seldom sent a student to the Dean's Office, but using the "n" word was guaranteed to buy you a one-way ticket out of class as I put the "n" word in the category of "obscenity." That said, I recognized then, as I do even more now, that there are contexts in which racism poses a much graver threat, and these contexts are largely being ignored. In this current climate of hypersensitivity to celebrity racial slurs, no one seems to notice, or care about the flagrant disparity reflected in the number of African-Americans in our nation's prisoners, and/or on death row, when compared with their white counterparts
Our energy would be far better spent if we focused instead on social equality, economic equity, educational advancement, avoiding racial profiling and, when we're at the business of demanding apologies, looked instead to judges, prosecutors, district attorneys, and all those members of our criminal justice system who may deem the "n" word anathema, but whose practices have "n" written all over them.
As a society, we would be better served if, instead of paying lip service, we honored our Pledge of Allegiance's promise of a nation that is "indivisible with liberty and justice for all" in our classrooms, sweatshops, prisons, and not just in our comedy clubs.