Monday, December 04, 2006

Therapy for Michael Richards

I'm surprised that I haven't seen anyone in our intercultural community voicing an opinion about the Michael Richards affair in the US. (Richards was famous for playing the character "Kramer" in the TV series, Seinfeld) For those who haven't followed the story, several weeks ago, he was caught in the act of insulting black members of the audience in a night club where he was performing as a stand up comic. He shockingly used what in the US is now called "the n-word", a fact which has led to a complex debate about its use and non-use... but not, of course, about the absurd appellation, "n-word". I managed to see the scene on the Web, as captured in video on someone's mobile phone during the performance, and was shocked myself, but by the speaker's attitude, not by the word. Used to express hatred and contempt against people of a certain ethnic origin and, worse, cultural condescension, it is quite rightly considered to be utterly reprehensible, which is why blacks alone can and do call each other "nigger" (sorry, I wrote it!!!!). No one could suspect them of using it to express racial hatred.

Richards used the word repeatedly in the most odious way, directed at specific individuals, and that is disturbing. But far more troubling was his statement, "Fifty years ago you would be hanging upside down with a fork up your ass". (The press in the US squeamishly refuses to print the final word in full!!!!). Never having participated in a lynching, I remain blissfully unaware of the the ritual use of eating utensils (though I suspect that if you cover your entire figure with a tablecloth you might be thinking of what to do with the cutlery).

Whatever Richards manages to work out with his psychotherapist, he has revealed something that, in my naiveté, I find difficult to understand: the persistence of a semi-conscious nostalgia among modern "liberals" (Richards claims to be one) for a time when racial violence was "permitted" (of course it wasn't permitted even 50 years ago; it was merely practiced!). Is there any way anyone other than a died-in-the-cotton Ku Klux Klansman could regret no longer having the right to torture and murder blacks? And am I wrong to think there isn't a cannabilistic impulse that has come to the fore? (What, indeed, are the "literary" origins of the image of the fork?).

Rather than spend hours on the couch with an analyst, perhaps he could just be sentenced to spending a day listening to Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" (Nina Simone's version could also be used, for variety). For anyone who doesn't know the lyrics to that song -- composed by a New York Jew, Abel Meeropol, in the 1930s -- here they are:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is the fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

For more about this very special song: Strange Fruit

1 comment:

H. Lewis Smith said...


Los Angeles, CA., - Author H. Lewis Smith has written a thought provoking, culturally divided book that will not only spark heated conversation, but can also bring about real change. The N-word is often used in the African American community amongst each other and is generally not a problem when spoken by another African American. However, once the word is used by a Caucasian person, it brings on other effects. The question is "who can use the word and why?" Smith believes it is a word that should be BURIED!!!!

The book is written in a manner that all can understand. The points are well-taken and the wording is easy to follow. There are quotes from great people in our history including Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, James Baldwin and many, many others. Smith has mixed history with honesty, love with life, education with effects. This is a great book for educators, parents, managers, professionals, newsmen, and anyone else wanting an in-depth look at the N-word, the effects and the solutions. A MUST READ!!!!

To learn more about Bury that Sucka, please visit