One of the most popular videos on YouTube.com recently was the controversial clip of Michael Richards, best known for his role of Kramer in the television show Seinfeld, where he seemed to come unglued when black patrons began to heckle him while during a standup routine at a comedy club in L.A.
Suddenly, like a Tourette’s patient on an acid trip, he spewed the word “nigger” over and over again, as if the mere weight of the word would beat the heckler into a bloody pulp. Controversy and outrage ensued which many have said may be the nails in the coffin of Richard’s acting career.
On the set of the highly popular series Grey’s Anatomy, a fight between actor Isiah Washington and the man affectionately known by women everywhere as “Dr. McDreamy,” Patrick Dempsey, erupted because of Washington’s callous use of the word “faggot” in referring to co-star T.R. Knight, who soon after publicly admitted to being gay.
Soon after news of the incident hit the press, the public outcry was so great that Washington checked into some sort of “cover-my-ass” rehab program in an attempt to save his job, if not his entire career.
A few years ago, a powerful graphics program said to rival the industry-leading Adobe Photoshop was released under a Creative Commons license, which means the program may be downloaded and used by anyone for free.
The program was named the GNU Image Manipulation Program, “affectionately” known by its acronym, the “GIMP.” Years later, the backlash for choosing such a derogatory name for such a highly regarded program has been none existent.
Some may argue that the word “gimp” is not nearly in the league of words like “faggot” or “nigger,” but I wonder how many of those people are disabled, have suffered the humiliation and scorn of being regarded as a defective human deserving pity rather than respect?
Have they faced a world where they are treated like lowliest creatures, more like a talking chimp from a circus sideshow than a loving, caring, smart, sensitive human being as alive as any other?
But then I remember that Blacks have gone through all of these things based merely on their non-white skin, and gays are still looked upon as insubordinates committing the unforgiveable sin of sharing love in non-traditional ways.
And that’s not to mention the robbing and murder of the Native Americans, who rightfully own the land we Americans stand on today, nor the Jews systematically exterminated like plague of insects. Surely they must understand our plight. Surely they all would care, right?
Yet despite the fact that the disabled hold no monopoly on discrimination, I have the sad feeling that had the ignorant word of choice been “gimp” rather than “faggot” or “nigger,” the outcry would be minimal, if not occurred at all.
And I wonder how the creators of The Gimp will react when I point out to them the true meaning of their chosen name. Will they show the compassion and understanding that every human should share with one another and respond appropriately, or will they chalk me up as some crackpot busybody looking for an ax to grind with any scapegoat I can find?
But an even bigger question at the end of the day, far more important than the intolerance of Michael Richards, the insensitivity of Isaiah Washington, or whether the world at large would show as much passion if we had been the victims of such callousness is how will you react now?
Because if we don’t give a damn about how people see us, then no one else will.
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