Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How The Kramer Incident Reflects Something Much Uglier ... and Much Larger

Something much more nefarious and sinister looms larger than what we think we see or hear on the stage of a Los Angeles comedy club. It really has less to do with "Seinfeld" star Michael Richards' (a.k.a. "Kramer") outburst than it has to do with vicious reminders of the nation's racial conscious. African Americans are, no doubt, closely observing the reaction to this latest episode to see if it will reach a level of critical mass comparable to the recent Mel Gibson episode. The major difference between the two episodes is that Gibson was drunk; Richards' appears disheveled, but not high or drunk - additionally, there are no reports of any drug use or alcohol. So, the question will be asked: will "Kramer" receive the same sort of perceived punishment or social backlash that Gibson received? Some can argue Gibson received little punishment beyond momentary ostracization since he's still making movies and appears financially healthy. A sizeable donation to the Anti-Defamation League probably does wonders to diminish one's anti-Semitic public image ...

This is a very important point because it's significant to gauge where this episode takes us as a society in the wake of some significant public policy changes taking place. Black Congressional members, to the obvious chagrin of their White colleagues and many White people, are in line to accumulate considerable political power during the 110th Congress. At the same time, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approve the banning of affirmative action in their state. In a proverbial flip of the finger, Republicans elect the racially-challenged Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) as their Minority Whip while denying Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R-MD) a chairmanship at the RNC, pretty much signaling a total rejection of any productive ties with the African American community. In addition, we have just witnessed one of the most racially-charged mid-term elections in recent American political history, the tenor of which was accentuated by brutal Senate campaigns in MD, TN and VA.

Enter Michael Richards.

Here's where the issue begins to appear much larger than Richards'. There is, first, an irony here: most informal surveys of African Americans will find that the number of Black people who did watch "Seinfeld" were initially attracted to the bizarre, yet cool-pose nature of "Kramer." The Kramer character drew an audience to "Seinfeld" that wasn't the intended demographic of the show.

But, more compelling than his apology appearance on Letterman is how the audience reacted to it – with laughter. Since we assume this was a majority white audience, can we assume they were laughing at him or the subject matter? And since he is now inextricably linked into the harsh reality of that subject matter, is it appropriate for a mostly white audience to laugh at something that painful? The fact that he’s made no effort to appear on any major Black talk show or media venue speaks volumes to his lack of sincerity and courage. Perhaps, it also speaks to the lack of sensitivity of those who represent him or the general lack of consideration White people generally show on matters such as this. Making an apology on Letterman actually trivializes the issue - do you think the larger White community cares?