Many comedians were discussing an interview done with Jerry Seinfeld this week, in which he seemed annoyed with a question concerning the lack of racial and gender diversity on his Internet show Comedians in Cars Drinking Coffee, or something like that. I watched the interview where he basically dismissed the question, probably because of a combination of being questioned at all and also the intimation that he might have gender or racial insensitivities or blind spots. And Gawker, due to some combination of personal animosity towards Seinfeld and a Woodward & Bernstein-esque commitment to web clicks posted the shamefully misleading title “‘Who Cares’ About Diversity in Comedy Says Jerry Seinfeld”. This was once again, in my opinion, for liberal web media to find a new villain, where we least expect it. Wait a second – JERRY SEINFELD IS RACIST???? No, not really. He might be a slightly ornery or dismissive, rich 60 year old white guy, but this was a ridiculous stretch. There are a lot of nuanced points I would like to make regarding this, but it is not even worth it to me, if only because IT IS A SHOW IN HIS CAR.
But more significant to me in the we-are-not-a-post-racial-America were two other stories this week. In one story, George Zimmerman will be boxing in a “celebrity” boxing match against the rapper DMX. In another story I saw an outpouring of universal praise and sadness for the heroin-related death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The Zimmerman story is so obviously appalling on its face. His celebrity stems from the shooting (murder) of an unarmed black male teenager. From his subsequent run-ins with the law and his immediate weight loss and hair shaving since the trial should demonstrate that he took the judicial system for a ride. Even if you are in the most hardcore defense of George Zimmerman you should acknowledge that this is offensively tasteless at best. At worst it is a slap in the face of Trayvon Martin’s family and young black men everywhere who can rightfully view this as salt in the gun shot wound of Trayvon. Are there any other killers (I am not saying murder since legally he was acquitted of the crime) of unarmed people that have parlayed their infamous act into an opportunity at celebrity? Maybe there are, but none are coming to mind for me.
However, the treatment of Philip Seymour Hoffman I found more subtly troubling. He was a great actor with addiction problems. There is no problem mourning his loss and I found the general lack of tasteless jokes refreshing. However, when I learned that he had children and a substantial stockpile of heroin in his apartment I was reminded of the backlash I observed on social media after the death of Whitney Houston. As great an actor as Hoffman was he was still not to American acting what Houston was to American singing. And yet many more people were willing to post things like “Why are we mourning this irresponsible crack whore who wasted talent” or “she was a singer but we don’t care about the troops that are dying for our freedoms.” I have yet to see any posts like these for Hoffman. Why is that (obviously the NY Daily News posted a somewhat harsh cover for Hoffman, but I am just referring to the sample of my associates on social media – not scientific, but still worth noting the differing responses). And as The Black Guy Who Tips tweeted “Did anyone arrest Whitney Houston’s drug dealer?”
The point is, as the late, great Patrice O’Neal said, ” Black people are mad now because white people now have that racism that we can’t prove.” But is there any way to articulate the reason for why Zimmerman can even be considered for a celebrity event or how Houston can be examined so critically versus Hoffman without at least a subconscious racial discrimination being at work? If there is I would love to hear it.
So instead of picking apart Jerry Seinfeld to manufacture a racist villain we can just tackle the ones that are right in front of us.
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