You might have heard about the racist rant that former Seinfield actor-comedian Michael Richards (better known as "Kramer") made during a stand-up gig last week, captured on video and posted at TMX.com. Richards must have gotten an earful from his publicist b/c he made his rounds to various shows such as Jesse Jackson's nationally syndicated radio show, full of apologies and claiming that he was "shattered" that he was capable of such atrocious behavior. Whatever. I'd like to believe that he is personally disturbed by his actions and attitudes, but come on...were they really that latent to himself? If you watch the tape, you will see how his hateful words come from some deep-seated attitudes, not just a random slip of the tongue.
When the nightly news was covering this story, my family and I got into a big debate over how it is being treated. Some people argued that the media shouldn't even give the story so much coverage because it is just drawing more attention and publicity to Richards (and any other person whose image and character would be on the line). Though I do see some truth to that, I had a strong reaction in opposition. I feel that it's important to bring these kinds of racial incidents to light, especially when it involves public figures (even if they're has-been celebrities)...if we just ignored it, it would be as if the media was complicit in making it seem like these racist attitudes are no big deal.
I must concede, however, that there tends to be too much sensationalism around these kinds of acts of indivdiual racism and discrimination. The media's treatment of racism as simply racial rants and pejoratives belies the much more pervasive and insidious forms of racism that go unnoticed in the public consciousness such as instituational and cultural racism (e.g., inequitable economics, employment practices, public policy, aesthetic Eurocentricism).
The bottom line is that I think that the media should hold people in the public eye accountable for their individual acts of bigotry, but there should be greater attention to the forms of oppression that penetrate the very mechanics of our society.