Richards issued an apology on the David Letterman Show the next day, saying "For me to flip out and say this crap, I'm deeply, deeply sorry. I'm not a racist, that's what's so insane about this." But many feel that it's going to take more than remorse to deal with the issue. While Richards claims that his outburst was rooted in anger and humiliation, not bigotry, such blatant hate speech is a sign of real prejudice. The problem goes much deeper than an individual outburst: as Rev. Al Sharpton told CNN, 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.
The social taboo against a white person using racial slurs in public is clear, but use of racial slurs by members of the groups they are directed towards tends to be accepted. Black comedians have poked fun at racial stereotypes for decades, but whether the use of the n-word will continue in their routines, and whether it will continue to be funny is unknown. Many black leaders and comedians are now speaking out against the use of the n-word and other discriminatory terms by anyone, regardless of their skin color. The Laugh Factory is now planning to fine comedians who use it on stage and has banned Michael Richards from the premises. Paul Mooney, a popular black comedian and guest on the Dave Chappelle Show who frequently used the word for comedic effect, has since denounced the use of such ugly terms in his routines and is leading a movement to ban them from public use. "We've got to make something positive out of all this," he said.
Richards' tirade brought racial issues to the forefront of network media attention, a rare event in a time when its easy for most white Americans to believe racism no longer exists in this country. Racial prejudice takes many forms, often disguised by entertainment value and popular culture, and lines are further blurred by the prevalence of racial themes in comedy routines, movies and TV shows. Racial jokes may be funny to some, but they are based on the same stereotypes that produce hate speech such as that displayed by Richards - - where then do we draw the line?
Contributing Writer Anya Galli is a junior from Chico, Calif. She majors in studio art and in psychology.