by guest contributor Kai Chang, originally published at Zuky
When now-disgraced comedian Michael Richards screeched into his microphone “Fifty years ago we’d have you upside down with a fucking fork up your ass!” followed shortly by “He’s a n—-r! A n—-r, look, there’s a n—-r!” he was obviously attempting to drum up the vibe of a lynch mob closing in on its target. That’s some funny shit, eh?
Here’s how hilarious it is: To your left, Lige Daniels, lynched in Center, Texas, on August 3, 1920. To your right, Rubin Stacy, lynched in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on July 19, 1935. Here are but two among tens of millions of murders attributed to America’s long history of genocidal white supremacy.
As you can see, these are mirthful family affairs. The children are smiling innocently. The parents are proud and upstanding.
I guess this is Michael Richards’ comedic vision of America, and that of all those who are defending his invocation of the twisted pathology of sexualized white supremacist violence.
Yes, the n-word is “just a word”: a word that has historically led to scenes such as these. If you’re cool with such scenes, by all means continue supporting this word’s use by “edgy” white folks (you say “edgy”, I say “coward hiding in a mob”). You know why black folks “are allowed” to use the n-word (though it remains deeply controversial in the black community)? Here’s a hint: look at the pictures and see if you spot any black folks among the living. Okay I’ll fill you in: they’re the ones being murdered; white folks are the ones doing the murdering. Get it? In the context of the n-word’s countless unpunished crimes, black folks are not the accused.
“Just a word”: what a moronic defense. I suppose “war” is “just a word” as well — unless you happen to be among those getting bombed and shot. “I intend to kill you and your family” are just words too, but if someone were to say those words to me, my response would be very unwordy. I think it’s bizarre that middle-class American liberals appear to have become so comfortably, mentally astral that they believe that language and reality are somehow disconnected; as though words and thoughts are powerless postmodern playthings that have no consequences in the real world; as though every actual atrocity in human history didn’t begin with “just a word”.
Michael Richards and his ruined career are not the point here. The point is that if we’re ever to move beyond our current racial strife, we need to begin with enough intellectual honesty to acknowledge and understand America’s glaring legacy of white supremacy. As this popular comedian’s tirade shows, that legacy is alive and kicking in the American psyche. Shrugging it off as a “politically incorrect” use of an insensitive “racial epithet”, or as some mysterious “hostility” that bubbled up out of nowhere, demonstrates a profound ignorance and denial of this country’s past and present. And as long as such ignorance and denial dominate our national discourse, we will remain unable to accurately and meaningfully talk about, think about, and transcend the blood-soaked, heavy-hearted legacy of the American Color Line.