Civility and consideration seem like two rather banal and inconsequential words. But in a society as diverse as our own, incivility and inconsideration can do great and enduring harm.
In partial defense of Michael Richards and even Mel Gibson, Bush America and an irresponsible media is to blame for their vile and inexcusable behavior. Richards' racist tirade is merely the latest manifestation of a profound problem.
Politicians like Rick Santorum and religious leaders like James Dobson openly and proudly use words that are painfully insulting to gay Americans. Senator Allen laughingly calls a college student "Macaca." Rappers and Reggae singers celebrate rape, murder, racism and homophobia. We pretend that it's humor, Biblical or a political statement, when in fact it is hate language that pollutes our society and even worse the minds and hearts of our children.
Rather than uncompromisingly condemn this behavior and language as disgusting, we debate it. We look for ways to explain it away and allow it.
The collective outrage over Michael Richards' "nigger" tirade rings hollow in a society were politicians are applauded for comparing homosexuality to bestiality, where millions of voters are indifferent to Macaca, where hate-spewing rappers, black and white are given record contracts and Grammy Awards, where openly homophobic Reggae singers are booked for concerts and religious leaders who use words like fag and abomination to describe their fellow Americans are allowed tax exemptions.
Partly it's because as a nation we have perverted and trivialized the value of free speech. Neither the Bible nor the Constitution were intended to justify intolerance and bigotry. Michael Richards is symptomatic of a badly damaged society. Tolerance is not an absolute; we do not tolerate murder and rape, nor should we tolerate homophobia, racism or intolerance for that matter.
As a society we must take harsh action against hate language regardless of it's source: the Bible, politics, booze or rage. As adults we can rationalize, excuse and trivialize, but in the meantime less sophisticated minds, our children, are listening and learning very bad things.
And our "free press" is oftentimes the most culpable in this mess. It's time to call bigots bigots. It's not a hard word to define, even a mediocre reporter could do so.
"Bigot: A person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices esp: one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance."
As far as I know that is not the definition of a conservative, a Christian or a rapper.
Conservatives don't boycott Wal-Mart for supporting the civil rights of American citizens. Bigots do. And our children need to know that.