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Racism in 'Kramer' is in us all, even Sean Hannity

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I'm not sure what is more offensive - actor Michael "Kramer" Richards' recent racist tirade or right-wing blowhard Sean Hannity's unscientific claim that only 2 percent of white Americans harbor similar racist views.

On Tuesday, Hannity was offended when a guest, comedian Patrice O'Neal, suggested that most white people keep racist anger bottled up inside, or see it come out in ways that aren't as public as the Richards' incident.

"You're all racial," O'Neal told Hannity and his sidekick, Alan Colmes. "If white people don't admit that they're racial, we can't have these conversations, because you always go 'Who, me?' You never had that [n-]word in your head, ever, Sean?"

Hannity: "No. Do you have that word in your head? Do you use that on stage?"

O'Neal: "I use it when I wake up."

Hannity: "Is there a difference? Is there a difference, though? Is there a line that you don't cross? For example, when [Richards] says that, he's that angry, I'm going - I feel like I'm listening to Robert Byrd, a Klansman [NOTE: Byrd was a Klansman many years ago and has since denounced those views, and conservative yahoos like Hannity always bring him up when discussing racial topics]."

Hannity: "Ninety people [out of 100] say they don't think like that, maybe two out of 100 [do].

O'Neal: "Are you serious? Where are you doing your studying, Sean?"

Hannity: "I don't know people like that."

Hmmm. I guess Hannity does not know Virginia lameduck Sen. George Allen, who called an Asian man a slang term for a monkey this year.

I guess Hannity does not know Sen. Trent Lott, who the Republicans recently elected as minority whip despite his admiration of renown racist Strom Thurmond. Or Hannity does not know any of the Republican senators who voted for Lott for that position, and thus approved of his racist views.

I guess Hannity does not know Sen. Jefferson Sessions of Alabama, who once belittled a black assistant U.S. attorney by calling him a "boy," a term long used by racists towards African Americans when they couldn't publicly say the n-word and get away with it. Sessions also once said he thought KKK members were "okay" and charged the NAACP with being "un-American" and "Communist-inspired."

I guess Hannity does not know Sen. Bill Frist, who was a member of the all-white Belle Meade Country Club in Nashville, Tenn., in the 1990s and a key force behind the intimidation of minority voters in recent years.

I guess Hannity does not know Karl Rove who helped with the racist Willie Horton ad in 1988 and oversaw the racist 2000 South Carolina smear campaign against Sen. John McCain, which alluded to McCain's "black child," his adopted daughter from Bangladesh. I guess he does not know Dick Cheney, who also approved of such racist tactics and as a Congressman supported apartheid in the racist South African regime, even as it crumbled. I guess he does not know George W. Bush, who was directly involved in the Horton and McCain smears, spoke at segregationist universities while refusing to speak before the NAACP, and ignored the plight of blacks in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

I guess Hannity does not know former Rep. Cass Ballenger, who a few years ago admitted publicly that he had "segregationist" feelings and called Rep. Cynthia McKinney a "b*tch." Ballenger has also kept a racist black jockey on his lawn, which he had painted white in 2002 in a shallow gesture.

I guess Hannity does not know former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who launched his career as a GOP operative in 1964 by harassing black voters.

I guess Hannity does not know any of the leaders of the Republican Party during the late 1960s who devised a strategy to capture the southern racist vote by opposing affirmative action, supporting the rights of states like South Carolina to fly the Confederate flag in front of public buildings, and similar positions.

Or does he?

Hannity is as big a racist as Richards – the difference is that one let his racist feelings spew out openly when he was under pressure, while the other is more controlled about expressing them and only gives us hints of his racism.

Polls give us hints that there are many more Americans who harbor racist thoughts than just 2 percent, as Hannity alleged. A Gallup Poll released in August 2006 found that 39 percent of Americans surveyed had racist feelings towards Muslims and thought they should all be treated differently, such as giving them special IDs like the Nazis gave Jewish people. In another recent Gallop Poll, 31 percent of Asians and 26 percent of blacks said they had been discriminated against in their workplaces.

I've long wondered how many people there are who secretly harbor racist views that they would denounce in public. A few years ago, I contacted the authors of 20 postings to white supremacist Web sites, asking if I could quote them in a story using their real names. Only three replied granting permission to use their names.

Jessica Coleman of Texas claimed her grandfather was "a powerful knight [of the KKK] in South Carolina," and she thought all blacks should be shipped "back to Africa and all of the wetbacks back to Mexico." Tom of New Jersey, who would not give his last name, wrote about a high school field trip to Philadelphia, which sickened him so much to see blacks that he "wanted to take out a machine gun and shoot everyone of them."

Are these people really just aberrations to be ignored again until the next Richards-like race-related blow up in this country? Or do they represent the suppressed voices inside the average white Republican - and, Democrat - who don't dare let such thoughts reach the surface?

In the family in which I grew up – which includes my parents, brother and sister – I'd have to say two of the five have expressed racist feelings as adults, two others condone such attitudes, and one actively fights against those attitudes while acknowledging racism is all around us. So in my survey, that's 3 out of 5 people - I count the two who condone the attitudes as a total of one - who harbor racist feelings, or 60 percent, much higher than Hannity's 2 percent.

In my immediate family – my two young kids and their mom – all four of us work at bridging racial divides and go out of our way to reach out to people of other races. But sometimes, race confronts us when we least expect it. I was recently watching a TV show with my 4-year-old daughter, and there was a black Santa on it. My daughter piped up, "Santa Claus is not black; he's white."

I've never talked to her about the race of Santa; this is a conclusion that she has reached in her limited experience. Despite my efforts to say Santa is color-blind, the incident points to what even families like mine that sincerely try to get beyond this racial divide are up against in our society.

Racism is ingrained in our society, in our system. It's as big a problem today as it was 50 years ago, only it's gone undercover until a Michael Richards blows it out of the water, and we are forced to confront its ugly underside once again.

For his part, just as Hannity claimed he was not racist and did not know any people who were, despite much evidence to the contrary, Richards claimed he was not racist, despite being caught on camera calling black people the n-word and even referring to lynchings. Richards claimed the words "fired out of me" in a rage.

Someone on a blog wrote that sometimes when someone is extremely angry and says something in a rage, he is saying it because he believes that will offend the person the most, not because he really believes it in his calmer periods. It makes little difference why Richards said it as much as that he said it. The words were there and came easily to this actor who has made a career of being good at improvisation. Why could he not improvise some other way to express himself? Is it because there was no other way to express what was really in Richards?

Richards was raised in the Catholic religion and is a master Mason – two groups that are well-versed in secrecy and repression. Repressed thoughts and feelings come out eventually. Ask Cheney, who not too long ago told a U.S. senator on the Senate floor to go f*ck himself. Ask Bush, who has had several public profanity sessions of his own.

Unlike Bush, Cheney, Rove, Limbaugh, and many other racist Republicans, Richards did not dodge serving in the Vietnam War. He didn't see active combat, but he produced shows that actually dealt with issues such as race relations for the military. Unlike Allen, Lott, and others, Richards doesn't seem to have a history of obvious racist behavior before this. But even so, when he was pushed, that racism ingrained in us all fired out, as he said.

Republicans like Hannity denounce such exhibitions as Richards' and call them sick. What they see in Richards is a reflection of themselves. It's a reflection of our entire society.

Many Republicans and Democrats publicly call for a colorblind society, yet live in their mostly-segregated neighborhoods and practice racism when it suits their political agendas.

What will it take to eradicate racism?

As with all big problems that have built up over centuries, it will not be done easily or overnight.

Start by admitting that O'Neal, the comedian Hannity ignored, is right. Racism still exists in all of us, not just 2 percent of us.

Then get to work tearing down that wall, brick by brick.
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Jackson Thoreau is the pen name of a Washington, D.C.-area journalist/writer. Books include Not Our President: The Movement for Democracy and Against GOP Fascism [updated in 2022], The King of the Internet [2019], and Born to (more...)

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