Some stories have legs, but really none to stand on

November 29, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Legs. That's the term for a news story we media types milk for all it's worth. We'll suck it dry until the circulation drops or the ratings go down.

The most current story with legs concerns Michael Richards, a comedian who was reminded the hard way that heckling is a hazard most, if not all, comedians face. During a recent appearance at a Los Angeles nightclub, two black men hurled directly at Richards the most humiliating insult a comedian can hear, and apparently it cut the man right to the quick.

The hecklers told Richards he wasn't funny. Yes, I hate that too in a comedian. But Richards responded with what's been called a bit of racist invective and shouted the dreaded n-word at both men. Since then, Richards has been tagged with the dreaded r-word -- as in racist -- and no doubt would have been compared to archbigot Eugene "Bull" Connor of 1960s Birmingham, Ala., if Rep. Charles Rangel of New York hadn't already pinned that label on President Bush.

Now here dopey me was thinking that comedians take their chances when they perform at nightclubs. Hecklers are an occupational hazard. And an even dopier me was thinking that hecklers get what they deserve, even if it's being called the dreaded n-word.

That's why I have no sympathy for Richards' "victims." They did have the option of either walking out or shutting up.

And, for the umpteenth time, let's not forget where Richards got the gumption to use the n-word in the first place. That would be from other black folks. Billy Dixon, from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute's class of 1978, agrees with my assessment.

"Who in our community decided it was OK to reinvent the N word in the first place?" Dixon asked me in an e-mail. "And why won't black leaders take a stand against it?"

I met Dixon at Polytechnic Institute's annual alumni dinner. We talked briefly about the Richards situation. Dixon said it was black folks who have kept the n-word on the table for years. The most graphic example, but by no means the only one, is Baltimore's own notorious Stop Snitching DVD.

How many times is the n-word used in Stop Snitching? A lot more than Richards used it in his rant. In the spring of last year, one of my teaching assistants in my writing course at Johns Hopkins University had to select a film to show the class. For reasons I have yet to comprehend, she chose Stop Snitching.

Most of the students in the class were white. They were also absolutely appalled at the overuse, misuse and abuse of a word they had probably been taught was among the worst of racist epithets. The students weren't feeling the message in the DVD either.

Some of these students are the same ones now being called "racists" because of a "Halloween in the Hood" party a Hopkins fraternity threw last month. That's another news story that has legs. In fact, the Hopkins story has such legs it's run several marathons by now.

The story of the shooting of a Morgan State University student -- which happened around the same time as the Hopkins story -- has barely run a five-yard sprint. On Halloween night, Dasheem Washington was shot in the groin. He told police that he was taking out the trash when an unidentified man riding a bicycle shot him.

Further investigation revealed Washington's story wasn't true. Someone had shot him all right, but he knew the guy. The culprit was allegedly Michael Hinkle, a friend of Washington's who police say fired the gun in the air as a Halloween celebration.

Take particular notice of how we media types have reacted to each story. In one, a black college student was actually shot and made a false report to police. In the other a bunch of daffy college kids issued a party invitation with racially offensive language and put a noose around a dummy dressed up like a pirate. Which story did we consider more important?

Judging from television and newspaper coverage, the latter one. And we didn't stop there. We reported on the charges made by black Hopkins students and the Baltimore branch of the NAACP that many non-black Hopkins students were at worst racists, at best "racially insensitive." Those same charges were made about Hopkins administrators also.

No one made that Brobdingnagian leap of logic about Morgan's administrators. There was no hint that they were somehow responsible for the Washington-Hinkle fiasco. Nor should there have been. But if Morgan's officials get the benefit of that doubt, why not Hopkins officials?

One group of administrators is predominantly black, the other predominantly white. You can decide for yourself if a double standard is working here and why Hopkins officials didn't get the benefit of white privilege in this case.

Ah, white privilege! It just ain't what it used to be.

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