Completely Missing the Point

George Takei, the actor most famous for having been Mr. Sulu, made a comment to the effect that Justice Thomas was a "clown in blackface." This occasioned some comment, as you might imagine. Mr. Takei has put out a statement on the subject.
A few fans have written wondering whether I intended to utter a racist remark by referring to Justice Thomas as a "clown in blackface."

"Blackface" is a lesser known theatrical term for a white actor who blackens his face to play a black buffoon. In traditional theater lingo, and in my view and intent, that is not racist. It is instead part of a racist history in this country.

I feel Justice Thomas has abdicated and abandoned his African American heritage by claiming slavery did not strip dignity from human beings. He made a similar remark about the Japanese American internment, of which I am a survivor. A sitting Justice of the Supreme Court ought to know better.

I have expressed my full thoughts on the matter here.
I'll leave it to others to decide whether "blackface" is, as he suggests, not a racist term in this context. (Whether it is "a lesser known theatrical term" as well.)

What strikes me as more important is that he completely misses Justice Thomas' point. What does it mean to say that the slave's dignity is not harmed by the chains? It is to say that the dignity of the human soul is a high thing, so high as to be beyond the grasp of tyrants. It is to say that all the human efforts to reduce the dignity of the slaves were wasted, were foolish as much as they were wrong.

Perhaps human dignity can be surrendered, but on this account it can never be stolen. It could, perhaps, be laid down. It cannot be taken away.

That is a very positive message and a very traditional one in the Christian church, which believes the Divinely-crafted soul is the seat of dignity. Such a faith in a human dignity that could not be destroyed was the deadly message of Christianity to the slaver, the consolation of the slave, the harbinger of the abolitionist. I'm surprised to find an educated man who is deaf to Justice Thomas' message.


Anonymous said...

Everyone knows what "blackface" is, and most know that it originated in vaudeville as a makeup style. We know this because the NAACP has tried to hound people out of their jobs for wearing halloween costumes.

I do not see how Mr. Takei's remarks can be interpreted as anything but a deliberate, race-based insult.


Texan99 said...

Ace again: why is anyone even listening to this guy? Not even his character was interesting, and not even if you liked Star Trek. So now he gets the bullhorn?

"The other thing Shatner talked about is how Sulu was always angry that Sulu was not promoted to Captain (until the last Star Trek movie). Sulu wanted to be promoted to captain ages ago. He wanted his own command.

"Shatner tried to put this delicately to Stern: Did Sulu not understand that if he got his own command, on his own ship, he was off the show and out of the movies?

". . .But this braying jackass really did think that if Sulu got promoted, somehow, there would in fact be a new movie franchise called Sulu: That Guy Who Used to Sit Next to Checkov."

E Hines said...

If "blackface" really is a lesser known theatrical term, then I have to wonder why Takei chose it to make his point rather than a better known term or phrase. I'm led to the conclusion that he felt the need to hide his racism behind euphemism.

He's a racist and a coward. I have expressed my full thoughts on the matter here.

Eric Hines

Assistant Village Idiot said...

He was a competent minor actor on a show that developed a cult following. It is perhaps an indictment of our society that this makes him important enough that people have to take the energy to refute him.

These are high-school excuses.

jaed said...

"...that is not racist. It is instead part of a racist history in this country."

" I wasn't racist when I used it. Other people are racist when they use it, though, because it's part of a racist history. And this country is racist, and I used a racist term because I am so righteously outrageously outraged. About racism. Other people's racism. Them, over there. See?"

And the terrible offense, for which he threw a racial insult at Thomas, is that Thomas affirms the inalienable dignity of every human being. An American Supreme Court justice "ought to know better" than to believe a human being has any inherent worth.

You cannot make this up. If I ever invent a time machine and go back ten years and describe this to my earlier self, said self will fear she is destined to develop a pychosis, or at least some bizarre delusional syndrome.

Grim said...

Taranto turns the knife:

"Until yesterday George Takei was best known for playing a minor role in the original 1960s 'Star Trek' TV series—that of Hikaru Sulu, the character later made famous by John Cho."