LZ Granderson: Morgan Freeman doesn't want a Black History Month; neither do I
He says the actor's idea that we should stop talking about racism doesn't work
Recent controversies, including Sherman rant, Coke ad, show we're not in race-free utopia
LZ: Jerry Seinfeld says he focuses on comedy, not diversity; that's not good enough
Editor’s Note: LZ Granderson writes a weekly column for CNN.com. A senior writer for ESPN and lecturer at Northwestern University, the former Hechinger Institute fellow has had his commentary recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.
“I don’t want a Black History Month.”
Morgan Freeman said that to Mike Wallace during a “60 Minutes” interview in 2005. As you can imagine, Freeman – an actor so respected that he was even cast to play God – sparked quite the controversy with his provocative exchange with Wallace.
“How are we going to get rid of racism?” the anchor asked.
“Stop talking about it,” the actor said.
Three years later Freeman donated $17,000 to his old high school in Mississippi to pay for its first desegregated prom. Apparently even “God” knows that to solve a problem sometimes you have to do more than “stop talking about it.”
I don’t want a Black History Month either.
But after watching the backlash to Macklemore sweeping the rap categories at the Grammys, seeing the racist posts on Coca-Cola’s Facebook page after its Super Bowl commercial featured a multilingual rendition of “America the Beautiful,” and witnessing a Sikh model in a Gap ad become a controversial figure, I don’t see how any rational person can believe we are in a post-discrimination utopia.
One that doesn’t need laws to foster equality or regulate inclusion because it comes so naturally.
When the Texas Board of Education tries to downplay slavery as a cause of the Civil War or to scrub away Latino leaders such as Oscar Romero from its textbooks, you must know “stop talking about it” is probably not the best approach.
So while I don’t want Black History Month – or Women’s History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month, etc.– the reality is the sociological dynamics that necessitated these commemorative constructs in the first place are still very much at play. And this is true whether we talk about it or not.
It is nice to think discrimination died the day President Obama was elected. But then a Stanford graduate with no criminal record gives a passionate interview moments after making the biggest play of his professional football career and the world erupts with comment, some of it unabashedly racist, and we know discrimination hasn’t died.
It just evolved. Society’s privileged are still cloaking themselves with the truism: “I wasn’t alive then,” hoping not to be disrobed by the Stanisław Jerzy Lec aphorism: No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.
During a recent CBS interview, Jerry Seinfeld noted that the first 10 episodes of his Web show only featured white males and then trivialized the criticism of his show’s lack of diversity as “PC nonsense.”
“People think (comedy) is the census or something, it’s gotta represent the actual pie chart of America,” he said. “Who cares? … Funny is the world I live in.”
Which isn’t an inherently discriminatory thing to say but does come out of the mouth of a 59-year-old heterosexual white male who works in an industry – comedy – that is controlled by heterosexual white males as noted by numerous comedians who are not heterosexual white males such as Lindy West, Molly Knefel and Miss Bossypants herself, Tina Fey, who wrote in her best-selling book, describing the frat house atmosphere of “Saturday Night Live’s” writing rooms:
“Not all of the men at SNL whizzed in cups. But four or five out of 20 did, so the men have to own that one. Anytime there’s a bad female standup somewhere, some idiot interblogger will deduce that ‘women aren’t funny.’ Using that same math, I can deduce that male comedy writers also piss in cups.”
Seinfeld’s comments, while not malicious in intent, do highlight some of the nuances of privilege those in power enjoy but are unable or unwilling to see. And unless measures are taken to point out some of those privileges, those who have been inadvertently excluded will continue to be so. This is why Fox News isn’t concerned about “the war on Ramadan” and “Saturday Night Live” went six years without hiring a black female cast member.
“PC nonsense,” to use Seinfeld’s words, is employing unqualified women and minorities for the sake of fulfilling an HR checkbox.
But “PC nonsense” is also being challenged for not including women and minorities and then pretending you don’t see race or gender, only shades of comedy. In a country that is 51% women and 37% minority, living in a city (New York) that is 53% women and 66% minority, saying something like that just sounds stupid.
But his saying it points out why Morgan Freeman’s “stop talking about it” is counterproductive.
The pursuit of diversity is not an opportunity to point an angry finger or languish in guilt. It’s an invitation to appreciate the woven contribution of the collective. We all play some role in the joys and ills of our society; let’s stop pretending we don’t.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.