I don’t much care for Jesse Jackson. I have no problems with self-promotion, but I’m not really down with people who do so under the pretense of working for a Noble Cause®. Not many causes in the US are more noble than civil rights. That’s pretty much how I’ve always seen Jesse – a guy who’s willing to step up for what’s right and fair so long as there’s a camera crew in the vicinity. Not everybody is going to agree with me on this, I realize.
Anyhow, Michael Richards, in what is either a) a heartfelt desire to make amends for his outrageous racial attack on a couple hecklers in a comedy club last week, or b) an all-too-predictable publicity stunt designed to salvage his career, depending on your perspective, reached out to the good Reverend last week. Jesse is apparently having none of it (or at least he’s not swallowing the whole hook).
Though Richards made an apologetic call to the civil rights leader last week, Jackson said he wants to use the comic’s outburst as an opportunity to start a national discussion about “racial insensitivity and indifference” in American society.
“We want to raise the larger question of racial insensitivity … and have a dialogue,” Jackson said. (Story.)
This is fine, so far as it goes. Anything that gets us a little closer to Dr. King’s dream is a good thing, and a broader dialogue on our persistent racial problems is probably a worthy goal.
Later on in the story, though, Jesse says something that seems to miss an important point.
Jackson said Hollywood has a history of racial inequality and singled out “Seinfeld” for not reflecting reality. He noted that other than the occasional appearance of a black lawyer, the show was “lily white.”
Well, yes and no. Was “Seinfeld” lily white? Absolutely. But is that an unrealistic portrait of America? Let’s test ourselves.
You’re out in public in Average America. You see five people having dinner together. Maybe it’s a guys’ night out or maybe it’s five girlfriends hanging after work. Whatever. Now, what is the racial composition of this group?
Part two: you see a TV ad featuring five guys out or five women hanging after work. What is the racial composition of this group?
On part two, I can just about guarantee that you’ll have something like two whites, a black, a Hispanic and an Asian. The make-up will be something recognizably media diverse, and we have reached the point where if you see a Chili’s commercial with five white guys it’s jarring, and automatically so. That’s just not how TV looks in 2k6.
Back to part one, though. In real world America, that five-person outing is, in most cases, going to be far more racially homogenous. Less so in more progressive and racially diverse urban environments, to be sure, but make no mistake – racial homogeneity in close friend in-groups is the reality, whether those folks are black, white, brown, yellow, or Martian. The idea that you have a white guy whose three best friends happen to be white, and who moves in a social circle that’s predominately white – where’s the unreality in that? And since his milieu is fairly moneyed, there’s hardly anything radical in the idea that you’re going to have a preponderance of caucasians, right? So it’s probably fair to ask if the Rev. Jackson is the one who’s at odds with “reality.”
If the complaint were that the lily white world of “Seinfeld” did represent reality and that we’d be better off in a world with more racial diversity and a broader distribution of wealth, that would seem a lot more on the mark to me.
That would be a slightly more complex argument to make, though, and when the cameras are rolling you have about eight seconds to get to the point. With Rev. Jesse, the point is usually “look at me,” a case that’s perfectly tailored to the eight-second reality.