Crucial Minutia
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Theo Gangi
National Pastimes: A Racial Conversation About Nothing
4 Comments | posted March 30th, 2007 at 12:21 am by Theo Gangi

Conversation about race today is about nothing. It belongs on Seinfeld.

The sitcom has an interesting history regarding race. Even at the height of its popularity, its ethnocentricity and racism was widely overlooked. Minorities who appeared on the show were hypersensitive rants impossible not to offend. The writers were smart enough to recognize this, and played to it in a brilliant episode where George, in order to prove that he isn’t racist, tries to make friends with every black person he sees.

At least Seinfeld could admit its problem. In public settings, it seems difficult for people to admit that they even belong to different ethnic groups, much less that they’re prejudiced. There is a pressure for people to say we’re all the same. What’s so great about sameness? Is it being confused with equality?

I recently had a conversation with two white colleagues who were amazed to hear me say there is a definitive Black American Culture and Latino Culture. Now this doesn’t mean that every black person subscribes to the same magazine. But there are some rooms where white people do not enter.

In order for a substantive conversation to take place, we have to acknowledge the differences in our roots as well as the similarities in our present. We should take a look at those homogeneous rooms we find ourselves in and ask, why wouldn’t someone different feel welcome?

It is unanimously clear that people shouldn’t act racist. But what about how people think?

There is no greater example of such neglect than the Seinfeld show’s recent contribution to the race discussion. After using the ‘n’ word like a sneezing fit, Seinfeld star Michael Richards apologized on national TV and had the nerve to claim he ‘isn’t even racist’. Then, like the eerily foreshadowing episode, he tried to make friends with every black person he saw.

Here’s a tip to white people: Never say in defense of yourself that you ‘aren’t even racist’. Chances are the minority you’re saying it to is already mouthing the words and rolling their eyes.

What that harrowingly sober Kramer should have done was say, ‘I’m racist and I didn’t even know it.’ Racism is like Keiser Sosay and the Devil. The greatest trick it plays is convincing people it doesn’t exist.

This entry was posted on Friday, March 30th, 2007 at 12:21 am and is filed under Race. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 4 responses

  1. Do you like Sarah Silverman? I think she handles race really well.

    March 30th, 2007 | 8:55 am
  2. Joie Jager-Hyman

    First, major props to Kimmi for her Sarah Silverman shout out! Second, Theo, I think your point is excellent, one with which I often grapple. When I first moved to Harlem a few months ago, I was aware that doing so meant surrendering my “white privilege,” or the luxury of not having to think about race that is enjoyed by white people in this country. Surrendering this privilege has been challenging. However, only when you take a walk in someone else’s shoes can you begin to understand their plight. For the first time, I am now a racial minority in my community. This experience has given me a much more nuanced view of race and racism in America than all the books I read in graduate school combined.

    March 30th, 2007 | 5:24 pm
  3. I still haven’t seen “Avenue Q”, but this post reminds me of the song from the show called “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Funny, but true. Our first step to making progress is to admit it.

    April 4th, 2007 | 12:08 pm
  4. Barbara K Gangi

    As a political junkie I loved listening to Imus interview with politicians, historians, Trump, reporters/commentary folks Mo Do, Jeff Greenfield, Chris Mathews Doris Kearnes Goodwin… his questions were sophisticated, his attitudes complex often unpredictable–his outrage that had the katrina survivors been white they would have been reasonably served by this admin.

    Years ago, when I first discovered Imus’ interviews I was totally engaged. then I heard the other stuff. I held my breath, held my nose , covered my eyes through his anti women, anti semitic, anti fat, racist, anti gay frat boy sludge. it reminded me of what it was like to walk past a construction site thru the whistles and cat calls, always assaultive but part of the inclement weather of life that would end when I was out of reach on the next block.
    Imus is crucified for our sins, mixing metaphors, he’s the goat to pay for the fact that neither we nor NBC, CBS never demanded that it stop, that he revise his format. In its outrage our society as tribal village ‘purifies’ itself with our scapegoat.
    Maybe he’s the goat/lamb/savior for my sin as well. I kept listening and enjoying the parts I enjoyed: watched MSNBC on mute until I saw that he had an interesting interview rather than the aforementioned sludge.
    I’m reminded of another sin I committed, of pleasure when one of the black kids I worked with said to me, worried that I would be taken out of her school, ‘but Dr. Gangi, you’re our nigger’. It felt like an honor, a gift that I will never forget. Treasuring that memory may be yet another sin.

    April 14th, 2007 | 9:36 am

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