Monday, July 02, 2007

Thank you, Jay Raskolnikov

Great post this morning on Jay Raskolnikov's blog on the racism question raised by Isaac -- and now that we know something of Isaac's background, a question quite understandably raised. And while I know I said I had given my final word on this topic, Jay's post, which I'm excerpting below (with props to you, Jay -- oh, sorry, is "props" racist?), really made me think, and I hope it makes all of you thought police to do the same.

"After the fallout of Don Imus I've been thinking about it, and this latest flare up has me asking is racism the new communism? Has McCarthyism just taken on a new cloak? We don't need a House Un-American Activities Committee now; there are more than enough people to do it on their own. Many of the people named weren't communists, just people who someone had a beef with, e.g. for a homophobe, there was no need to out somebody when you could just call them a commie...

There were actual communists in the US in the 1950's. Most of the people who were blacklisted were not. Elia Kazan named names, that is largely forgotten when we talk of him as a director. Simply naming names didn't end communism. And it won't end racism, though it can ruin a lot of careers...

In an environment as charged as the one we currently inhabit, it's easy for a mistaken word to be misconstrued and blown out of proportion. It is easy to lose context. It's easy to throw kerosene on a fire. It is far more difficult to put out a fire...
Should we just blindly look the other way? No, but simply calling people out won't change anything either. This is not specific to Leonard or Isaac. I think before we call others out, before we name names, we should take a moment of self reflection. What do you do in your actions? In your work? That speaks far larger than words."

As for me, I believe I did my part during the five years I was reporting, and I believe that I am continuing to do my part as a critic today. I do not believe -- and nothing that you can ever say to me will persuade me, so help me God -- that the phrase "What up, yo?" constitutes racially charged language, nor does the use of the phrase "P. Diddy and Howdy Doody," which is about wordplay, as I've said before. And while some of you say that Spike Lee said he would not cast rappers, there's been plenty of ink spilled in the last week in which Spike Lee says that he does not know how he's going to cast the play -- and if the rappers in question have talent, that's all I care about. I just think this is stunt-director casting, I think it is hurting the cause of artists of color who actually work in the theatre and have theatre chops, and I think that the whole lack of discussion about the Lee announcement in the blogosphere in the first place shows just how out of touch all of you are, anyway. You're like Pavlov's dogs: wave the politically correct flag and you all start drooling. But let's just remember who called you all out on your lack of discussion in the first place.

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parabasis said...

Hey Leonard,

I know we've e-mailed about this privately a little, and I really don't want to stoke the flames of this, considering I think there actually is room to have a productive conversation, but the part that you've consistenly lost me on is the "word play" thing. How is it wordplay to make a joke assuming a black director will cast a rapper (as opposed to, stunt casting wise, a black actor who is a relative stage novice... say, Jamie Foxx, for example)?

That part of this has been totally lost on me. And yes, I do know what word play is, I just don't understand how the joke you made fits into that. Thanks!

Alison Croggon said...

PC? Moi? I don't think so, boyo. That's an easy cop-out.

I'm not a big fan of imprecise writing, though. Not to harp on, which I know I am, but nobody called you a racist.

Leonard Jacobs said...

Please don't call me boy-o.

And if you're not a fan of imprecise writing, then you must be very busy correcting everyone in the blogosphere.