Oh. Well, my mistake then. Yesterday I thought he was saying something racist.
What did this guy think his critics were accusing him of, if this is his “clarification”?
A few fans have written wondering whether I intended to utter a racist remark by referring to Justice Thomas as a “clown in blackface.”
“Blackface” is a lesser known theatrical term for a white actor who blackens his face to play a black buffoon. In traditional theater lingo, and in my view and intent, that is not racist. It is instead part of a racist history in this country.
I feel Justice Thomas has abdicated and abandoned his African American heritage by claiming slavery did not strip dignity from human beings. He made a similar remark about the Japanese American internment, of which I am a survivor. A sitting Justice of the Supreme Court ought to know better.
The first time I read that, I thought he was suggesting that people had misunderstood his “clown in blackface” remark to be a more straightforward racial slur, equivalent to calling Thomas a “black clown.” Reading it again, he seems to be making an even dumber point, which is that the practice of “blackface” isn’t necessarily racist. I … guess that’s true — Fred Armisen’s “blackface” as Obama on SNL wasn’t grotesque and intended to demean the subject, the way blackface usually is — but it’s almost always racist and it’s certainly racist when used to denigrate the racial authenticity of someone who’s actually black. It’d be like calling Thomas a “Sambo” and then claiming there’s nothing inherently racist about that nickname, even though it’s widely culturally understood to carry that connotation. When the left calls Thomas an “Uncle Tom,” which they do much more often than you’d expect in 2015 America, they at least have the good sense to defend themselves with a simple double standard (“leftists can’t be racists”) rather than a tortured argument about the etymology of the term.
If Takei’s being honest here and not feigning stupidity as damage control, he genuinely doesn’t see the problem in comparing Thomas to a white actor playing a “black buffoon.” He’s practicing racial essentialism — if you’re black, your position on slavery and inherent dignity is as follows — and then presuming to excommunicate Thomas from “authentic blackness” because, as someone whose family experienced internment in the 1940s, he somehow has the right to do that now. That’s insulting in the abstract and even more so when applied to Thomas, who, as Sean Davis reminds us, actually grew up in the Jim Crow south and knows something about maintaining one’s dignity during oppression. I wonder if Takei knows that about him — or maybe he does know and just figures that he’s entitled to lecture Thomas anyway because, as a gay man and former internee, he thinks he’s got victim trump cards to play. Either way, we’ve reached an interesting new turn on the path of progress when someone who’s not black is once again entitled to tell a black man what to think and how to behave.
Yesterday I called Takei’s comments “high-five material for jerkoffs.” Here’s Exhibit A.
Update; Third time’s the charm.
I recently was asked by a reporter about Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent in the marriage equality cases, in which he wrote words that really got under my skin, by suggesting that the government cannot take away human dignity through slavery, or though internment. In my mind that suggested that this meant he felt the government therefore shouldn’t be held accountable, or should do nothing in the face of gross violations of dignity. When asked by a reporter about the opinion, I was still seething, and I referred to him as a “clown in blackface” to suggest that he had abdicated and abandoned his heritage. This was not intended to be racist, but rather to evoke a history of racism in the theatrical arts. While I continue to vehemently disagree with Justice Thomas, the words I chose, said in the heat of anger, were not carefully considered.
I am reminded, especially on this July 4th holiday, that though we have the freedom to speak our minds, we must use that freedom judiciously. Each of us, as humans, have hot-button topics that can set-us off, and Justice Thomas had hit mine, that is clear. But my choice of words was regrettable, not because I do not believe Justice Thomas is deeply wrong, but because they were ad hominem and uncivil, and for that I am sorry.