Michael Richards stands with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, left, after appearing on Jackson’s nationally syndicated radio show in Los Angeles on Nov. 26, 2006. Richards said on the program he did not consider himself a racist, and said he was “shattered” by the comments he made during a tirade at a Los Angeles comedy club. (AP Photo/AP TV)
by Jesse Washington
(AP)–It’s almost a cliche. First, someone talking about Blacks makes reference to fried chicken, watermelon, monkeys or dogs – or even uses the indefensible N-word. Then, along with the inevitable apology, comes the kicker: I’m not racist.
The latest denial is from golfer Sergio Garcia. Asked a joking question about having dinner with his adversary Tiger Woods, Garcia said: “We will serve fried chicken.” He later apologized for what he called a “silly remark,” then added, “but in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner.”
Perhaps the Spanish-born Garcia was unaware that chicken stereotypes have been used for at least a century to denigrate African-Americans. Maybe he was unaware of attitudes buried in his subconscious mind. As the backlash increased, Garcia did apologize further, calling his remark “totally stupid and out of place.”
But by then, he had secured a place on the lengthy roll of people who have offered justifications for statements widely considered offensive.
How can words so hurtful be so easily brushed off? And what does the word “racist” even mean if it doesn’t encompass people who use racial slurs?
“I think it’s human nature that if you’re a racist, you don’t want to admit it,” says conservative radio host Mike Gallagher.
“If Tiger said, ‘Let’s serve tacos at dinner with Garcia,’ the world would go crazy,” Gallagher said. “When a bigot tells a bigoted joke and they get called out on it, the pattern is, I’ll say I’m sorry and maybe it will blow over.”
The pattern is unmistakable. Said golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, after joking that Woods shouldn’t order fried chicken for the Masters champions’ dinner: The comments were “misconstrued.” Said comedian Michael Richards, after responding to a Black heckler with a lynching reference and the N-word: “I’m not a racist.” Said actor Mel Gibson, after claiming that Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world: “I’m not a bigot.”