I admit that I was pretty startled when I first heard about Michael Richards recent implosion on the Laugh Factory stage when reacting to hecklers. I've never been a big fan of Seinfeld but I had held Richards in high regard since the release of UHF. Anyhow, the whole issue reminded me of something and I thought that I'd share it.
I grew up with very little racial bias and I look at it as being colorblind. I still remember how I met John Moy while attending Las Vegas Day School. Another student was trying to throw rocks at him and my entering the area near the jungle gym ended the assault. Moy was of Asian-descent. I always looked up to him when it came to test scores and his ability to hit a 3-pointer. It was at the same school that I met Princess Kirkland. She was a beautiful black girl that hopefully went on to modeling later in her life. I think about her often when I drive by where her house was. I tie my memories of Taco's "Puttin' On The Ritz" and Asia's "Don't Cry" to a swimming pool birthday party at her house. Life was pretty simple, people were what I believed them to be... people.
Just a few years later, I had moved on to Hyde Park Jr. High. I still had one or two friends from L.V.D.S. going there but not that many. But, I'd made several others including Jonathan MacArthur - who was black. He was very energetic but just seemed to be a magnet for trouble. In retrospect, I think he had A.D.D. as he did have some manic episodes (one included turning on the hose in our front yard and spraying down the house because I told him he had to leave.) We had a common interest in cartoons (although, I couldn't get his interest in Inspector Gadget.) Jon wound up getting the nickname Dig 'Em from our science teacher. The same science teacher that would forever make me question my cultural sensitivity.
Mr. Smith was a big black gentleman that always wore his lab coat in class. During one of our tests he added an extra-credit question: What racial group has the highest percent of A.I.D.S. affliction? I knew the answer but didn't. You see, I'd never really described my friends at this point in my life as black, white, Asian, Hispanic, etc. Even the word "black" at that point in time for me seemed imposing and negative. I hadn't heard the phrase African-American yet and the word "colored" (which I'd heard on TV here and there) seemed less bold to me. Boy, was I wrong! It was the first time that I'd ever been lectured by someone on race as he personally took offense to the word and pointed out that anyone that wasn't white was colored.
Suddenly, I went from thinking everyone was the same to thinking that everyone had words they wanted used to be described. I questioned my overall approach to people in general. I became over-sensitive in what I say while knowing that my being unsure of what word to use made me choose something that I thought was sensitive. That moment hasn't stop me from gaining some great friendships as I still enjoy people for who they are and not what they are. I guess this could be why I was uneasy with the Michael Richards tirade but felt a little bit better after reading something reported at New York Daily News attributed to his friend and fellow comedian George Wallace - who is black - when asked about his reaction to the incident: "It's about time someone told those Negroes to shut up."