An ongoing debate between my wife and I has long been the appropriate way to respond to racism. My way: a swift kick in the bigot's ass or her way: ignoring him until he goes away or engaging him in dialogue. Enter Michael Richards. As I watched hatred spew like caustic bile from Kramer's lips I could not help but wonder what I would have done in that situation. Hmmm? Let's imagine this for a minute.
I have just paid my twenty or thirty dollars or whatever they are charging to get into comedy clubs these days. I've ordered the first round of drinks to satisfy the two-drink minimum, an orange juice mixed with Sprite for me and a glass of red wine for my wife. I'm wearing the $180.00 Armani pants my ex-wife bought me along with a grey and black shirt I picked up from Burlington Coat Factory's godsend of a big and tall section. My shoes are freshly polished and my socks match. My wife has spent more than an hour on her hair and make-up and her clothes are brand-new because she insisted that everything she owned made her look fat. We are giddy and excited because we don't get out very often with three kids and me with two jobs not including my writing and besides, that wacky guy from Seinfeld is performing tonight and he's got to be funny. He's funny on the show.
The night begins and the comics aren't bad. Not my usual cup of tea, I prefer Dave Chapelle or Kat Williams or even Chris Rock, but these guys aren't exactly terrible. My wife is starting to relax about how her new shirt bulges around her midsection where she's still trying to lose her pregnancy weight. We touch across the table and smile at each other in between laughs. She orders another glass of red wine and I think to myself, "What the hell, it could be a while before we get to do this again." and I order one too which makes my wife smile. I take a sip of wine and my wife laughs, reading my mind and knowing that I was sitting there wishing that I had stuck to orange juice and Sprite. I hate red wine. Then Michael Richards takes the stage.
His first couple of jokes are met with weak sympathy laughs from the audience. We laugh too, more out of memory of the crazy things he said and did on the show as Kramer than for any of his current material. I'm getting bored and fidgety and my wife reminds me that he just started and it's bound to get better. Then some young kids in the back start talking rather loudly amongst themselves and Michael Richards, the lovable Cosmo Kramer of the long running hit primetime sitcom Seinfeld, zeroes in on the group of young African Americans and attacks. My wife and I sit in stunned silence as "nigger" flies from the comic's lips over and over again. We are all for freedom of speech and so we wait patiently for a punchline as the hatred continues to spew from the comics lips in an unending tirade. My wife looks at me both worried that I'm going to jump up on stage and beat the life from this racist idiot and surprised that I have not already. I have more self-control than she gives me credit for and besides, I am stunned. I look around the room searching the faces of the audience and they are all just as shocked and confused as I am. Some of them have expressions teetering between humor and disgust as if still waiting for Richards to say something that would make it okay for them to laugh off the sudden and oppressive uncomfortableness. I look over at the brothers who the rant is being directed at and I see that same outraged, angry, shocked, hurt, embarrassed and confused look that I know must be on my own face. I hate ambiguous emotions and so I chose one and run with it, the one emotion I can act on, anger.
"Fifty years ago we would have had you upside down with a pitchfork in your ass."
I snap. I leap up from my seat. Security guards rush to intercept me at Michael Richards frantic insistence and a straight right, a left hook, an elbow and a knee, drop all three of the without slowing my momentum for even a second. As, I leap up on the stage, I see that look on Michael Richard's face turn from mocking insolence to abject fear and that's all I wanted. For him to realize that this is not fifty years ago. That Black people in this millennium will not sit passively by as we are treated like second class citizens, debased, dehumanized, and humiliated for the amusement of the ruling class. I wanted him to realize that Black people today do not have to and will not take this kind of shit from anyone no matter how rich or famous or white. My fist pistons into his face smearing his nose across his cheek in a spray of red, an elbow cracks his jaw so that it hangs stupidly as the comic tries to simultaneously apologize and call for help. I lace my fingers behind his neck and pull his face down into my knee over and over again, thrusting with my hips and driving my patella into his mouth in a spray of blood and teeth. He knows that he has fucked up. He has said the wrong thing to the wrong people. Every white face in the audience knows it too. I hear them whisper and mumble to one another:
"I knew that was gonna happen."
"I tried to warn him."
"You can't go runnin' your mouth like that nowadays."
"You know those niggers are naturally aggressive."
I see my wife's horrified expression as Michael Richard's face and head begin to lose shape, literally pulverized, the bones crushed into a lumpy pulp that resembles very little of the lovable quirky Cosmo Kramer. His head now looks like a ruptured sack full of strawberry jello. Blood runs like an open faucet from his nose, mouth, and ears. He's making a wretched gurgling and whistling sound as his hands claw the air reaching for anything that might save his diminishing life. I release his head and he flops onto the floor twitching and spasming in his death throes. I step down from the stage and grab my coat, take my wife by the hand and help her over the unconscious bodies of the fallen security guards wondering if any of this would be captured on tape, planning my defense on the grounds of a genetically and environmentally induced self-preservation response triggered by a genetic memory of slave beatings and Ku Klux Klan raids. The brothers in the corner who were the victims of Richard's diatribe give me a Black Power salute as I hastily make my way out of the building, making eye contact with me and letting me know with their expressions that they appreciate me sticking up for them. The few remaining white patrons look at me in horror and disgust obviously feeling that a few careless words uttered in anger were not worth a man's life and hoping that I'm given the death penalty when I'm caught, fearing that some liberal jury might let me off because of what Richards said before I pile-drived his face into my knee half a dozen times. My wife is still silent.
We drive all the way home to Vegas with me pulling baby wipes from the glove compartment to clean Richard's plasma off of my Armani pants while checking the rearview mirror for cops. My wife is shaking both in fear and anger, pissed off that I ruined the evening, scared that I will be arrested and she'll be left to raise our kids by herself, royally pissed that I can't control my anger in situations like that and that if she confronts me about it I'll accuse her of condoning racism, scared that she really won't ever understand what a Black man feels when he hears a white man say those words to him in anger, afraid for our children who may one day be put in the same position. I'm scared too and I'm angry. Angry because that asshole made me lose my temper. Angry that I had to stop kicking his ass and some gifted surgeon might manage to save his worthless life. Pissed off that I was the only one in the audience to get up and put that racist cracker in his place and wondering what would have happened if I hadn't been there. He'd have probably gone on David Letterman and issued some fake-ass public apology and then revived his career after enough years had gone by for everyone to forget. Then I hear the news on the car stereo. Michael Richards is dead. And I smile. Power to the people.
My wife watches the smile cross my face and shivers, wondering if I'm insane, wondering if she really knows me, wanting to ask me if I really think the man deserved to die for calling some kids niggers. I sit there trying to think up a reply before the question inevitably comes, because right then and there I can't think of a thing. All I know is how I felt, sitting there in my best clothes, out to have some fun with my beautiful wife after weeks of working hard, and hearing this rich white man get up on stage and call us all niggers. All I can think of are the generations and generations of my brothers and sisters forced to endure those words in silence. I don't know if Richards deserved to die like that, all I know is that I don't regret a thing.