Editors' Note: THE FOLLOWING COLUMN CONTAINS LANGUAGE THAT MAY BE OFFENSIVE TO SOME READERS. THANK YOU FOR YOUR ATTENTION.
In the crosshairs: Duane "Dog" Chapman.
Move over comedian Michael Richards, former baseball player John Rocker, former Dodger general manager Al Campanis, former CBS analyst Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder -- all of whom suffered for "anti-black" remarks.
Chapman hosts the top-rated A&E reality show "Dog the Bounty Hunter" where he and his family track down and turn in bail jumpers. The National Enquirer obtained tapes of two telephone conversations between Chapman and his son. Angered by his son's relationship with a black woman, Dog released a flurry of "n-words." He feared, according to the minute-and-a-half audio released of the conversation, that the son's "n-word" girlfriend might tape Dog using the n-word -- he admits that he uses the word liberally -- and she'd release the tape to the public.
Dog clumsily explained to his son that he didn't dislike all blacks, but he does use the n-word, and the girlfriend might tape him using the epithet and release it to the public. America "wouldn't understand" and he would lose "everything we got."
Much to Dog's dismay, someone taped this telephone conversation with his son -- his son.
The fast and furious reaction followed. A&E cancelled his show, and Duane "Dog" Chapman issued a statement of apology, apologized again on "Larry King," and he asked for the now-obligatory meeting with Reverend Al Sharpton for a grant of absolution.
Chapman certainly deserves condemnation for his racist tirade. But does it really surprise us that a man arrested over a dozen times and imprisoned for accessory to murder possesses a dirty and racist private vocabulary?
And what about statements made by serious, respected people who make racist, offensive remarks in public -- without apology, explanation or any condemnation?
Take Sharpton. The reverend once called the Central Park Jogger a "whore" and accused her boyfriend of the horrific crime. No apology. He falsely accused a white man of sexually assaulting Tawana Brawley. A grand jury later found Brawley's claims of assault completely fabricated. Though a jury found Sharpton liable for defamation, he refuses to apologize.
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, the former campaign manager of Al Gore, referred to the Republican Party as having a "white-boy attitude." This means, she said, "[The GOP] must exclude, denigrate, and leave behind." No apology, no explanation. Imagine if President Bush's aide, Karl Rove, made a similar remark about Democrats: "They have a black-boy attitude, in which they try to cater to and garner black votes." Rove, just ahead of a brigade of pitchforks, would have left D.C. under cover of darkness.
Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, complained about the then-Republican controlled Congress, saying, "It's not 'spic' or 'n--ger' any more. They say 'let's cut taxes.'" So tax cuts equal racism?!
Respected director Spike Lee, in a magazine interview after he released a movie about an interracial relationship, said he disapproved of interracial couples. "I give interracial couples a look," he said. "Daggers. They get uncomfortable when they see me on the street." No apology, no explanation, none demanded.
What about the notion that a private, taped conversation can threaten the loss of your job? Good people, both publicly and privately, try to conduct themselves with respect and civility. But how many of us could survive public scrutiny if someone recorded and released to the public our worst, most hideous private outbursts?
Does an outburst from a man like Dog truly affect one's self-esteem and self-respect? When I worked for a law firm as a young attorney in Cleveland, I once took the deposition of an orthopedic surgeon. The white opposing attorney and I sparred aggressively during the depo, but we respected each other's professionalism. So when we finished, we stood chatting in front of the doctor's office. Soon a raggedy car full of young whites slowly drove by, and one yelled, "Hey, n--ger! It's almost sundown! Get out of town!"
The jaw of my opposing attorney nearly hit the pavement, and he said, "Did you . . . did you -- ?"
I said, "And you were saying . . . ?"
The attorney again stammered, "Did you . . . did you hear?"
"Sure, I heard," I said. "But, look. I'm standing here, making [in today's dollars nearly $150,000], wearing a three-piece pinstripe blue suit, and carrying a leather briefcase. And those punks, who didn't even have enough guts to stop before calling me n--ger, probably couldn't even get a job working the deep-fry at McDonald's. No, it's going to take a lot more than that to ruin my day. Now, as you were saying . . . ?"
Can Dog's racism stop a child from doing his or her homework, from achieving in school, from graduating and going to college, or from applying for and getting a job? I think not.
I gave little thought to Duane "Dog" Chapman yesterday, and I intend to sleep soundly tonight.