Neal Brennan. Co-creator of Chappelle's Show and Half Baked. Director of The Goods. Comedian.
I asked if I could start a Tumblr for him, he said "ok" and that's basically all that's happened so far with it.
Seems like every other week, we’re treated to a celebrity caught in public saying something racist, homophobic, sexist, or religiously intolerant. We hear or watch the incriminating footage, give hollow acknowledgement that we’re lucky that every moment of our lives isn’t on the record, and then move directly into righteous indignation. I myself was all too happy to jump on Mel Gibson and Michael Richards for their infractions. But it took the recent Tracy Morgan fiasco to give me a new perspective. I’ve known Tracy for eighteen years, both professionally and personally. Tracy can be boorish and callous at times, but for the most part, he is a slyly perceptive and sweet guy. The night in question, he was unquestionably homophobic and pitiful. Words do matter. When someone’s speech is hateful, it is incumbent for all of us to stand against it, especially those who are the object of the hate. In this case, GLBT groups have condemned Tracy, and rightly so. To not take him to task would have been a dereliction of duty.
But my problem is with people outside of these groups who formed a lynch mob to punish Tracy. It was not the classic lynch mob of America’s disgusting past, drunk on it’s own presumed racial or political superiority. This mob was intoxicated by it’s presumed cultural superiority. It’s a mob that says, “We tolerate everyone: any gender, race, religion or sexual preference. Yet we will not tolerate those that are intolerant. We treat the intolerant the way the intolerant treat the black, the gay or the Jewish. Will our cultural lynch mob murder the intolerant? No. But we will publicly shame and ostracize them to the fullest extent allowable.”
Is a lynch mob espousing tolerance better than a lynch mob espousing hate? Absolutely. But be clear that they are both lynch mobs: full of righteousness and bloodlust. One may be nobler than the other, but both are born of dark impulses.
Then there’s the question of efficacy. A three-day cultural outrage over a celebrity’s misstep isn’t going to change things in the slightest. It would be nice if it would, but it won’t. Are black people better off after the media’s coverage of Michael Richards’ meltdown? Of course not. But outrage over Michael Richards is easy. To fight real issues in the black community (unemployment, disproportionate incarceration, HIV infection) would require time, effort, and funding. Why bother with all that inconvenience when indignation is far louder, far more public, and requires little more than rudimentary acting skills?
These mobs give their members a chance to showcase their open-mindedness and their “inherent” liberal decency. In my experience, this is rarely born out by their lives away from the mob. I’ve found that the louder someone exhorts, “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” the fewer Black or Latino friends they have. Much like the Larry Craig’s and the Ted Haggards of the world, members of the cultural lynch mob believe that brow-beating Tracy will increase the distance between themselves and their own less-than-commendable beliefs and habits. They doth condemn too much.
My suggestion to the mob is to put up or shut up. To shame the Tracy’s of the world and to claim “tolerance” for all types of people is the absolute bare minimum. Stop patting yourself on the back. Do you volunteer at gay organizations? Are you protesting the fact that gay people can’t legally marry in most parts of our country? And no, watching “Modern Family” doesn’t count.
You may “tolerate” all races of people, but are you trying to improve educational opportunities for Black, Latino, or poor white people? Again, loving “The Wire,” doesn’t mean a thing.. If you really gave a damn about the drug problems of Baltimore or anywhere else, you would go and volunteer at an organization that is working to end chemical dependency. Do I personally donate money or do volunteer work? Not much. Because, when push comes to shove, I don’t care enough to. And I don’t bother using my love of “The Wire,” or my co-creation of “Chappelle’s Show,” as evidence to the contrary.
If I’m being honest with myself, to some degree, I am racist, I am sexist, I am religionist, I am classist, I am politically bigoted, and I am homophobic. I’m not proud of any of these tendencies, but I know that joining a cultural lynch mob won’t indemnify me, much as I would like it to.
Every group stereotypes other groups. I have friends of pretty much every race, color, sexual preference and creed. I’ve heard my Gay friends slam Black people, Black friends slam Asians, Asians slam Latinos; Republicans slam Democrats, Muslim slam Jews, ad infinitum. Sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it was disturbing. Yet I remain friends with all of these people. Not because I have no standards, but because I am like them in some way. We all share these bigoted tendencies. Evolution has embedded them in our DNA. They are a form of tribalism.
As a race of people, overcoming these reprehensible habits is an absolute imperative. Some of us may be further along in transcending them than others. But the idea of jumping on Mel Gibson or Tracy or Michael Richards has less to do with their infractions than it does with trying to distance ourselves from our own all too human nature.
Tracy’s rant was pitiful, ignorant, barbaric and most of all, false. Rest assured, he’ll lose plenty of opportunities as a result. For a time, people will now associate him with something besides comedy, which is shame because he is extremely funny. Ultimately, there’s a Tracy Morgan in all us. But most of us are able to conceal it in public. If you no longer want to be a fan of Tracy’s, that’s understandable, but please stop pretending that you’re better than him.