Comedian Michael Richards publicly declared that he would reach out to black leaders and the black community to make amends for his racial tirade. With much public fanfare, he hired Rubenstein Associates Inc., a pricey, well-connected, high profile New York PR firm to burnish his image and sell the notion that he is truly repentant for his racial misdeeds. He went on the safe and cozy confine of Jesse Jackson's national talk radio show to do a kind of, sort of carefully rehearsed mea culpa, and again promised to do much more, up to and including meeting with the two black men that he racially insulted at the Laugh Factory.
I took him up on his offer and formally invited him to appear and participate in a roundtable discussion on Saturday December 2 in Los Angeles with black community leaders, residents, and activists. The discussion would be a frank talk on the impact of the continued use of the N Word and other racially damaging words and terms.
I faxed and emailed my request to Howard Rubenstein, the president of Rubenstein Associates. I was assured in a phone call with a company aide that Rubenstein (and presumably Richards) took very seriously his responsibility to undue the damage that his racial tirade caused. I took this as a good sign of Rubenstein and Richard's sincerity and good faith in wanting to make a bad situation right.
I was wrong. Two days later, I received a polite call from a Rubenstein associate. The gist was that Richards had carefully considered my offer but had decided that he must decline. My assurances that the discussion would be polite, civil and designed to promote understanding were brushed aside.
The brush off, or should I say, duck and dodge by Richards was hardly a surprise. The chest thumping half baked apology he made on the Letterman show a day after his body-in-the mouth spectacle was the first tip that Richards still didn't get it, or worse was a phony. He trotted out the shop worn I am not a racist line that the legion of politicians, celebrities and notables utter when they get nailed for a racist charged crack, gaffe, slip, or flat out put down.
What else would they say? After all, it's not politically correct let alone fashionable to be considered a bigot these days, at least publicly. Even David Duke, the Aryan Nation, Identity, neo-Nazis, Skinheads, the motley menagerie of minor key racist kook, crazies, and zanies and yes, the Klan, say the same thing.
Richards has also played for time. The hope is that the rage will die down, and that there will be a well-spring of sympathy for poor, put upon Mike. That's not a bad ploy. I have received tons of emails nationally in response to my column on "Richards, Blacks and the N Word," that alternately blasted me for hammering Richards, even though the point of the column was to slam blacks for the double standard in using the word while pounding whites that use it. Many went further and fawned empathy for Richards, and bashed the black patrons at the Laugh Factory for allegedly provoking downtrodden Mike. Even Mel Gibson (of all people) weighed in and expressed sympathy for him.
Richard's dodge of a bona fide offer to meet with community leaders makes his public pledge to make amends nothing more than PR fluff and opportunism. This evasion increases my suspicion that he has not accepted full responsibility for the racial furor and division he ignited with his racial rant.
I'll be very curious in the coming days to see just when, where, or more likely if, Richards actually puts his body where his mouth is and tells what and why he did what he did, and what he will do to promote racial healing. Or maybe he already did at his tour de force appearance on the Laugh Factory stage that ill-fated night.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and social issues commentator and the author of The Emerging Black GOP Majority (Middle Passage Press, September 2006).