Last month at the MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West ambushed the stage and grabbed the microphone from singer Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech for winning Best Female Video. West then launched into a contradictory rant congratulating while disparaging Swift, arguing that Best Female Video nominee Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was “one of the best videos of all time.” Choruses of boos from the audience followed. Beyonce was clearly surprised. Almost instantly, the blogosphere went into overtime with millions of Americans weighing in on the episode. Public sentiment ran approximately 90 to 10 in Swift’s favor. Even President Barack Obama made his feelings known by referring to West as a “jackass.”
The next day, West made several mea culpas, the most notable one while appearing on comedian Jay Leno’s new NBC program where the nighttime host asked him about what his late mother would think of his behavior. The often brash, in-your-face rapper seemed reduced to tears. Some media observers were critical of Leno for bringing up the rapper’s late mother as they discussed the MTV incident. I saw no problem with Leno’s questions. Such an inquiry was most appropriate given the content of the interview.
While West was justifiably criticized for his foolish and unacceptable actions, what I found just as disturbing was the amount of racially charged criticism that flourished on Web sites. From YouTube to Free Republic to Yahoo to AOL, bigoted and anti-Black male commentary reared its poisonous head. Criticism of West ranged from being called a “Black a…hole who should be lynched” to other more incendiary terms that I cannot repeat here. Once again, I repeat that West deserved to be admonished for engaging in such unprofessional, bratty and juvenile behavior. But nonetheless, I was taken aback at the overt, ugly racism of more than a few bloggers. The level of racial animus was unacceptable. Such an acerbic climate reminded me of the bigoted comments made about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick when he was under fire for slaughtering dogs.
Like West, Vick deserved the criticism and punishment he received, but I still have to wonder if the level of intense outrage (one blogger wrote that the “Nigger” should be slaughtered and hung like those dogs were) was because of Vick’s race. When I read such posts, images of former Seinfeld star Michael Richards having a meltdown at the Laugh Factory Comedy Club a few years ago flashed through my mind.
Most of us have witnessed the ongoing unrestrained hostility that has been directed toward President Obama. From birthers to tea baggers to the infamous, largely anti-Obama protest that took place in Washington last month to South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson yelling “you lie” in the U.S. House as the president delivered his health care address. Degrading photographs of the commander-in-chief being referred to as a “witch doctor” and a “lying African,” among other tasteless captions demonstrate the most blatant form of disrespectful behavior to the office of the presidency and to the man himself. Even former President Jimmy Carter contributed such a disturbing level of animosity from some protestors to the fact that President Obama is a Black man. Now that he has become the first sitting president to receive the Nobel Peace Prize since Woodrow Wilson the level of venom from segments of the political right (and some from the far left) has become increasingly vocal.
The fact is West and Vick are hardly the only recording artist and athlete to have engaged in less-than-admirable behavior. Who can forget British comedian Sasha Baron Cohen engaging in borderline obscene behavior as a certain part of his anatomy landed on controversial rapper Eminem’s face at the MTV Movie Awards. Let’s not forget renegade rockers Tommy Lee and Kid Rock exchanging blows at one another during the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards. I do not recall such bigoted comments populating Web sites and chat rooms after these incidents. The number of athletes who have engaged in violent behavior against animals and other human beings is numerous enough to write about for decades. Moreover, those who decided to criticize these men could have done so without resorting to a steady stream of racially charged rhetoric disparaging all Black men.
Our president deserves to be treated with more dignity and respect. The ugly specter of racial intolerance and resentment seems to be present in such outbursts. Such an environment reminds me of a skit where avant-garde comedian Paul Mooney discussed how Black men were often seen as boogey men and of how tiring and degrading it was to be depicted in such a manner. I agree. It is time for us as a society to retire the “all Black men are boogey men” mindset from our culture. Our society will be better for it.