First step for Gibson: admitting bigotry

August 06, 2006|By LEONARD PITTS JR.

Here's how I see it:

An excess of alcohol, like an excess of money, does not change a personality so much as magnify it. Booze and wealth make you more of whatever it is you already are, bring to the fore demons ordinarily kept under lock and key by civility, political correctness and plain old common sense.

Which brings us to Mel Gibson and his dual apologies for the anti-Semitic rant he launched late last month as he was arrested for drunken driving.

As public expressions of remorse go, Mr. Gibson's get high marks for its earnestness.

God bless him for calling his comments vitriolic.

God bless him for seeking treatment for his alcoholism.

God bless him for reaching out to the Jewish community.

God bless him, in fact, for everything he said. Everything but this:

"Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot."

Beg pardon, but yes, he most certainly is. What was it he asked Sheriff's Deputy James Mee? "Are you a Jew? [Expletive] Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."

Sorry, Mel, case closed.

It should, but probably does not, go without saying that his rant is wrong as a matter of simple fact. All of the putative children of God, Christians and Muslims emphatically included, have historically contributed more than their share to the wars and woes of this world. But let's shelve that argument for another time. Let's deal instead with that incredible claim:

"I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot."

The fact that Mr. Gibson can make such a statement with a straight face suggests a psychological affliction common to alcoholics: denial.

As in, the stubborn unwillingness to accept an unwelcome truth.

I don't say this to beat up on Mel Gibson. As already noted, he seems truly appalled by the bile that stewed up out of him in an unguarded moment. No, my only point is that it's a mistake to allow him or people like him to get away with disclaiming their hatreds, deluding themselves or others that the feelings they have inadvertently voiced are a thing apart, some sudden, alien thing to be blamed on booze, stress, fatigue or anger.

One would hope Mr. Gibson recognized this. Then he says he's "in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from."

But there is no mystery about it. Those words didn't come from a bottle. They didn't from out of the air.

They came from Mel Gibson. Maybe from a place inside Mel Gibson so dark and dank and deeply buried that it's a secret even to himself. But still, a place inside.

Until and unless he is willing to acknowledge that, his remorse and repentance are ultimately without meaning.

This is not, of course the first time Gibson - son of a Holocaust denier and adherent to a strict form of Catholicism - has been accused of anti-Semitism. The most notable incident was his 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ, a violent, controversial and moving account of the crucifixion of Jesus that led many Jewish leaders to accuse Mr. Gibson of an anti-Jewish agenda.

I never saw anything in the film to support that claim, a perception buttressed by the simple fact that every time I asked a Jewish person to point out what aspect of the movie was anti-Semitic, I got a different answer.

But the ambiguity of 2004 has hardened into the certainty of 2006, and Mel Gibson would be well advised to confront that certainty. Not to rescue his career, but rather, his humanity. If he does so forthrightly, he will offer a redemptive example to everyone who struggles with the demon of bigotry. Which is to say, everyone.

At some level, I think, we're all bigots. Some of us are just bigots in recovery.

For Mr. Gibson, the first step toward that recovery does not lie in excuses of temporary alcohol insanity.

Rather, it lies in confessing a hard but simple fact: My name is Mel and I am a bigot.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Mondays in The Sun. His e-mail is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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