George Takei walks back 'blackface' remark about Clarence Thomas

Story highlights

  • Blackface is makeup worn by white theatrical performers to appear black.
  • It was common in the mid-19th century and into the early 20th century, but has since become regarded as perpetuating racist stereotypes.

(CNN)George Takei likely went where no critic of a Supreme Court justice has gone before.

But days after the "Star Trek" actor called Justice Clarence Thomas a "clown in blackface" following his dissent in last week's landmark same-sex marriage ruling, Takei said on Friday that his words "were not carefully considered."
"When asked by a reporter about the opinion, I was still seething, and I referred to him as a 'clown in blackface' to suggest that he had abdicated and abandoned his heritage," Takei said in a Facebook post. "This was not intended to be racist, but rather to evoke a history of racism in the theatrical arts. While I continue to disagree with Justice Thomas, the words I chose, said in the heat of anger, were not carefully considered."
    The spat began after last week's historic same-sex marriage ruling, when Thomas, one of four justices to dissent, wrote that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry is not denying them of their dignity.
    "Human dignity cannot be taken away by the government," wrote Thomas, who is black. "Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them."
    But Takei, a Japanese-American who is openly gay and was held in an internment camp during World War II, blasted Thomas's remarks in an op-ed published Wednesday on MSNBC.com entitled, "George Takei to Clarence Thomas: Denying our rights denies our dignity."
    "For many, (being interned) was indeed a great loss of self-worth and respect, a terrible blow to the pride of the many parents who sought only to protect their children from coming to harm," he said. "To say that the government does not bestow or grant dignity does not mean it cannot succeed in stripping it away through the imposition of unequal laws and deprivation of due process."
    And Takei took his criticism one step further this week in an interview with Fox 10 in Phoenix.
    "(Thomas) is a clown in blackface sitting on the Supreme Court," he said. "He gets me that angry. He doesn't belong there."
    Blackface is makeup worn by white theatrical performers to appear black. It was common in the mid-19th century and into the early 20th century, but has since become regarded as perpetuating racist stereotypes.
    Takei, however, said on Facebook that his comments were not racially-motivated and that he was merely drawing attention to what he said was "part of a racist history in this country."
    "Blackface is a lesser known theatrical term for a white actor who blackens his face to play a black buffoon. In traditional theater lingo, and in my view and intent, that is not racist," he wrote.
    Takei added: "I feel Justice Thomas has abdicated and abandoned his African-American heritage by claiming slavery did not strip dignity from human beings. He made a similar remark about the Japanese-American internment, of which I am a survivor," he said. "A sitting justice of the Supreme Court ought to know better."
    Efforts to reach Thomas for comment Friday were not immediately successful.