Like many people, especially black people, I am more than a little bit bothered by Mel Gibson's latest rant, but my vexation comes from different perspectives.
By now, you've probably heard the story. Gibson's ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva claims the actor has been physically abusive. This was her reasoning for taping and releasing parts of a phone conversation she had with Gibson. On the tapes, the actor verbally unleashes a barrage of violent, misogynist and racist insults. At one point in his telephonic attack pertaining to the way Grigorieva dresses, Gibson reportedly says: "You look like a f***ing pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n***ers, it will be your fault."
Without controversy or public utterances suggesting friction, Gibson has shared co-star billing with activist/actor Danny Glover and was directed in a film by Bill Duke, an African American. This, however, does not mean he doesn't harbor racist sentiments. Besides his recent outburst, during a 2006 DUI stop, Gibson reportedly spewed anti-Semitic epithets at a Los Angeles police officer.
Now, a part of me wants to wage an all-out attack on Gibson. But I can't. Simply going off on him is too convenient. It also serves as a diversion from the topic of embedded conditioning and African American double standards that the Gibson's rant underscores.
For starters, let's analyze his words: "... raped by a pack of n***ers ..."
We may never know whether his tirade stemmed from some form of kinky fantasy or if it was an attempt to scare Grigorieva into a more modest mode of attire. Clearly, Gibson felt that the specter of rape by a bunch of "niggers" packed more wallop than her being gang-raped by a group of white guys.
Is rape by black men somehow worse than rape by white men? Somehow, due to centuries-long racial conditioning, we've been taught that there's something extra-thrilling or extra-deadly and dangerous about black rapists. It's a perception that's been reinforced and validated through mass media for centuries. Black men as sexual predators predates slavery and has been an ongoing cinematic theme from D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" in 1915 to the 2009 Oscar- winning Sandra Bullock film "The Blind Side."
We live in a society that tends to light on one or two superficial incidents to draw definitive conclusions. If a white, high-profile person said "nigger" publicly or privately, he/she is painted as a "racist." Yet, if average people were honest, they'd admit that they, too, fear black people, speak of them condescendingly, repeat stereotypes or say negative things about blacks in private that they wouldn't dare say publicly.
Are they racists?
It's easy to condemn someone like Gibson who uttered the N-word. What's harder to acknowledge or challenge is average people who cling to N-word-type perceptions.
Two years ago, psychologists from Stanford, Pennsylvania State University and the University of California-Berkeley released a study revealing that a disturbing number of Americans still subconsciously associate blacks with apes. The researchers detailed societal norms that condone violence against black criminal suspects based on the fact that many Americans are still unable to accept blacks as fully human.
University of Illinois Professor Travis Dixon published results in 2008 from his study that found that the more people watch either local or network news programs, the more likely they are to absorb and draw on negative black male stereotypes. Even those who consider themselves "prejudice-free," Dixon noted, will see blacks as intimidating and violent. Added to this perception is the research led by Michigan University professor Dr. David R. Williams which showed that 45% of Whites think Blacks are lazy, 29% think they are unintelligent and 56% feel Blacks would rather live on welfare than work.
These observations in the real world are far more damaging than an actor who let the N-word roll off his tongue during a heated phone conversation. Further, it's hypocritical to hate on Gibson or other white people because of what they say or think without taking black folk to task for what we do.
If Gibson is a "racist" for saying "niggers" then the label should apply to all black folk in the entertainment industry who casually use of the word and promote misogynistic messages that validate the dehumanization of women. Our credibility is strained when we condone black entertainers, especially hip hop artists and comedians, whose lyrics and jokes are saturated with "nigger-humor" and exploitative sexual and violent stereotypes.
How can we participate in the promotion of ourselves as buffoonish, sex-crazed, gun-toting, "niggers," allow media moguls and their minion producers, hosts and directors to facilitate the onslaught of racial negativity and then turn around and become outraged when whites articulate what we advocate, support and sell?
It's easy to write Gibson off as just another racist nut job. Elements of that description may very well hold truth. But the collective response is still too expedient. It negates the need to flip the mirror, look deep inside and explore the embedded societal conditioning that quietly and consistently validates and reflects Gibson's ugly sentiments.
Gibson's career will sustain further damage from a private conversation gone public. However, until we start to think critically, the public perception that validates and fuels such thoughts will, more than likely, go unnoticed and unchallenged. Mel Gibson, like millions of Americans, is just another victim of racial brainwashing.
Dwelling on Mad Mel as a racist is an easy distraction. We must vow to get to the root of America's race problem. We must stop the Brainwash! We must!
Follow Tom Burrell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ThomasJBurrell