During the late hours of November 17, Michael Richards – who played the character of Kramer on TV’s “Seinfeld” – was on stage at the Laugh Factory in West Hollywood.  At one point in his act, he was heckled by Black audience members which resulted in Richards verbally lashing out with a tirade that included more than one use of the “N word”…

As a consequence, a video of the incident made its way onto TMZ.com [1], then YouTube and eventually many websites around the world.

The tirade itself cannot be ignored or justified, but as Michael Richards gets slammed in multiple arenas on the internet, television, and in print – there’s one important question to ask: Was he simply responding to the taunts of the heckling audience member in an inappropriate way, using language he knew would make him angry, or…

…Is Michael Richards really a Racist?

Michael Richards After Kramer…

The cast of "The Michael Richards Show" with Tim Meadows, William Devane, Bill Cobbs, and Amy Farrington.

The main characters on “Seinfeld” were all white with the occasional Black extra and (as far as I recall) only one recurring Black character, Jackie Chiles – the lawyer who represented Kramer a few times along and appeared in a couple more episodes including the finale.

However in Michael Richards’ self titled series [2] that aired in 2000, two of the five main characters were Black: Saturday Night Live alumnus Tim Meadows [3] and actor Bill Cobbs. [4]

Def Poetry Jam Support

Michael Richards Arriving at Def Poetry Jam Party (click to view Shooting Star Agency photos)

In October 2003, Russell Simmons and Stan Nathan hosted a “Def Poetry Jam” party in Los Angeles to kick off its 32 City Tour.

And although there was certainly more than one Caucasian in attendance, it is ironic to see the Shooting Star Agency’s photos of celebrities arriving at that event … and Michael Richards is the only white guy shown [6]

Recognized by the United Nations and Global Vision for Peace

Former U.N. Assistant Secretary General - now Senior Advisor to the U.N. Foundation - Gillian Sorensen presents Michael Richards with the Dove of Peace Pin.

In February 2004, Michael Richards was invited to be an honorary artist of the new initiative: “Artists for the United Nations”, a partnership between the United Nations and the Global Vision For Peace (GVP) . That same year, the GVP’s focus was on “the crisis of AIDS, particularly in Africa, which has been devastated by the HIV virus” [7].

And in fact, one major result of this Laugh Factory controversy is that Michael Richards  has succeeded in the role he was given as a recipient of the Dove of Peace Pin…

“Artists for the U.N. recognizes and honors the role of artists within a society as embodied by the philosophy of author Mordechai Richler: “Be an honest witness to your time.” Artists play a unique role in culture: to be beacons of consciousness, to transcend politics and partisanship, to autonomously hold up a mirror to their time – the illusions, ideals and ideas. [8]”

And as a direct effect of Michael Richards reaching out to the Black community, prejudice is once again in front of the public.

In an Associated Press distributed article, veteran comedian Paul Mooney – who has written for Richard Pryor, Red Foxx and television shows that include “In Living Color” and “Good Times” -  discussed why the Richards’ incident inspired him to renounce the “N-Word” [9].  And Black Entertainment Television (BET) wrote that Jesse Jackson is also supporting a ban of the “N word” in all forms of media and entertainment: [10]

“Now, in light of the recent scandal involving “Seinfeld” co-star Michael Richards’ on-stage racial rant, Mooney has announced he would no longer use the N-word and is challenging everyone else to follow suit…. (Jesse) Jackson also called for a boycott of the word.

However, Jesse Jackson is also calling for a boycott of the Seinfeld Season 7 DVD release:

“Rev Jackson, who had condemned the outburst as “hateful” and “sick”, is now calling on members of the public to boycott sales of the seventh series of Seinfeld. [11]”

However, according to TMZ, this boycott doesn’t seem to be harming sales…

“Sales of season seven of “Seinfeld” are up 75% over season six and 90% over season five — after one week of sales, according to website DVD Empire. Meanwhile, DeepDiscountDVD.com reports a staggering 178% increase over season six.”

So in Conclusion…

Since the Laugh Factory incident has motivated leaders of the Black community, and even Members of Congress, [12] to combat Hate Speech and use of the “N word”… it turns out, in an odd way, that Michael Richards has achieved precisely the role set out for him by the United Nations.
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Sources:

[1] -  TMZ video: http://www.tmz.com/2006/11/20/kramers-racist-tirade-caught-on-tape/

[2] – The Michael Richards Show at Epguides: http://www.epguides.com/MichaelRichardsShow/

[3] – Tim Meadows on IMDB.com

[4] – Bill Cobbs on IMDB.com

[5] – Def Poetry Jam is a theatrical production of slam-style poetry, made famous on HBO specials, which won a Tony Award for its Broadway engagement.

[6] – Shooting Star Photos from the Def Poetry Jam Party, October 2003: http://www.shootingstaragency.com/eventsx.php?eid=DefPoetryJamLA_1023_SM_SS

[7] – From ‘current News’ on the Global Vision for Peace website

[8] – ibid

[9] – “Paul Mooney Cites Michael Richards in N-Word Ban”: ABC News via the Associated Press

[10] – “Jesse Jackson, Paul Mooney Call for End of N-Word”: BET Entertainment

[11] – “Jackson Demands Racial Slur Ban”: BBC online

[12] – “… Rev. Jackson says he’s been talking to members of Congress about making the use of hate language prohibited in mass media.” CBS2 Chicago