On Friday, CNN news correspondent Roland Martin posted an essay that defended Tracy Morgan. It was posted at 7:55 pm, hours after the comic had repudiated his own hateful words by saying,
“…even in a comedy club this clearly went too far and was not funny in any context.”
Roland Martin took exception to Morgan's decision to apologize, asking why he did it? The title of the article “WTF? Comic Tracy Morgan Has Offensive Material?” goes a long way to giving Roland Martin's dismissive and superficial take on the topic.
Martin starts by acknowledging that people will find a disconnect between his condemnation of Michael Richards in 2006 and his current position of support of Morgan. He provides a pre-emptive strike at the inevitable hypocrisy accusation by saying:
Oh yes, you’ll say, “But Roland, you criticized Michael Richards for using the N-word.” Sure did. What’s the difference? I said then and now that Richards directly attacked an audience member and his use of the N-word had nothing to do with his routine. If it was in the context of a routine, it would not have been received the same.
I will leave it to the reader to decide if Michael Richards using the N-word in the context of a routine would have been received without complaint. Also consider if the context was perhaps a joke about burning down black churches in the south. Please also consider the likelihood that Roland Martin might have felt the impetus to write an essay defending and excusing Michael Richards under such hypothetical circumstances.
Martin includes an odd statement:
Yet whether we want to admit to it or not, it is the DNA of those in the chosen profession of comedy to say stuff that no one could get away with if they weren’t on a stage.
I think we can agree that comics are a unique lot. But chalking it up to DNA seems a little dubious. No, Mr. Martin, I don't think there's anything hard-wired into the genes of comics that renders them incapable of participating in a civilized society that respects boundaries of what is acceptable and not acceptable discourse. Trotting out DNA is a clever pseudo-science hook though to make your point sound smart.
Martin goes on to list a litany of offensive jokes he dug up, some of which do truly push the boundaries of good taste, but it's all just his attempt to distract from this particular incident.
It is a massive effort of obfuscation for Martin to try write off Morgan's remarks as a just another, run-of-the-mill comic offense. Martin even throws in the phrase “par for course.” But, such a framing does serve well to play into a homophobic stereotype that those noisy gays are just always getting hysterical and just have their panties in a bunch over nothing. It's a dog whistle to bigots that will surely draw some to enjoy Martin's take on it.
His basic defense seems to be that no one should be surprised that Morgan was offensive and comedians are always offending people. This might be valid if you believe there is no basic difference between doing a limp-wristed, lispy-voice routine and making a joke about stabbing your own gay son in the face. Same thing, right?
No. Not really. The first is offensive to many in the LGBT community, but also a staple of comedy clubs every night (go out tonight, I'm sure you'll find evidence). The second example, I can't think of anything so extreme outside of a Westboro Baptist/Fred Phelps protest or a National Organization for Marriage sponsored rally.
Does Martin honestly believe that June 4, 2011, was the very first time in 2011 a comic told a joke that offended a gay person at a comedy club? I certainly don't recall any other dustups this year between Human Rights Campaign, Gay And Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the grassroots LGBT community and the stand-up comedy community. So, this must have been the first time a comic told an joke that the gay community found offensive, right?
Or perhaps the circumstances were indeed, extraordinary?
Comedian Chris Rock can discern the difference between extraordinary and “par for course” offenses. After initially defending Morgan's right to say “foul inappropriate shit” he says he looked back on what was said and concluded, “i get it that shit wasn't called for and i don't support it at all.”
Perhaps the most telling detail into the mind of CNN's Roland Martin is how he chooses to end his defense of Morgan with a quote from Bernie Mac in Kings of Comedy:
“It ain’t what you say it’s how you say it. It’s jokes. It’s fun. But it’s the truth. In the back of your mind, you be wanting to say this shit sometimes.”
“But it's the truth,” and “you be wanting to say this shit sometimes.”
This was Roland's parting message he placed at the end of the essay where every good writer knows it will be the final takeaway for the reader. “It's the truth.”
I really think it falls into full-disclosure territory for Roland Martin to remind folks what he wrote in 2006 in response to Reverend Al Sharpton's appeal to Black Churches to be more accepting of gays. In January 2006 Reverend Sharpton delivered a challenge to Church leaders at the National Black Justice Coalition:
“The black church must not be refuge for those who want to scapegoat and use violence on any community, including the gay and lesbian community.”
But Martin disagreed. He said Sharpton's message would “fall on deaf ears” because rejecting Sharpton's call to denounce violence towards gays,
“isn't being homophobic. It's being a Christian. And no one should have to apologize for that.”
Viewed through this context, it begs the question, does Martin believe that substance of Morgan's rant was also not homophobic, but “Christian?”
Is it Martin's belief that homophobic views are “nothing to apologize for” that led him to ask:
“Why is comedian and “30 Rock” star Tracy Morgan issuing a mea culpa?”
Was Martin moved to express his disagreement to Morgan's decision to apologize because—from the CNN correspondent's perspective—Morgan betrayed “Christian” values by doing so?
It can certainly be deduced that Martin would have no quarrel with Morgan's assertion that gay is a choice and “something kids learn from the media and programming.” Martin himself espouses the idea that gay is a choice that can be untaught. Another full-disclosure detail might be that Martin has a vested interest in reinforcing the idea that gay reparative therapy is effective. After all, his wife has been in the business of offering it.
Martin has tried to deny his association with the practice of gay reparative therapy. When I mentioned it on Twitter, he called me a liar.
@Clarknt67 @CNN Nice try, dude. My wife runs no such program. Never has. But you sure don't mind spreading lies!
Martin was responding to my calling attention to a disclosure he made himself in his own column on February 3, 2006, still online, where he said:
My wife, an ordained Baptist minister for 20 years, has counseled many men and women to walk away from the gay lifestyle, and to live a chaste life.
Max Blumenthal at The Uptake managed to question Martin in 2008 on whether his wife was running a gay reparative therapy program. At first, Martin repeatedly and emphatically denies having anything to do with such practices.
But challenged with evidence of his own column, he admits his wife helped “a man.” And he continues to present it as a singular incident.
(Martin also continues on to say there should a place in the Democratic party for homophobic politicians, just as he has made it his cause celeb to defend homophobia in black churches and, now comedy clubs. Do we see a pattern here?)
Was Martin fibbing in 2006 when he said “many men and women?” Or was he fibbing to Bluementhal and the Uptake camera crew that it was only one man? The facts as relayed by his own statements are contradictory. Perhaps Martin's wife can be persuaded to provide some clarity on behalf of her husband. It certainly seems to be placing him in a position of fielding some uncomfortable questions. How extensive is her work in helping people “walk away from the gay lifestyle?” Was it “one?” Or was it “many?”
How ironic that this same week Martin's colleague at CNN, Anderson Cooper has been doing some excellent investigative reporting on the horrible and debilitating lifetime effect gay reparative therapy can have on kids who are subjected to it.
I hope that Martin and his wife got a chance to watch Ryan Kendall's testimony on his experience at a Christian-based, gay reparative therapy still being run by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Kendall told CNN this week:
[7:10] “What they did hurt me. It tore apart my family, it lead me to periods of homelessness, to drug abuse, to spending a decade of my life wanting to kill myself. It lead to so much pain and struggle and I want them to know, what they do, hurts people, hurts children, has no basis in fact, and they need to stop.”
This on the the heels of Jim Burroway of BoxTurtleBulletin's excellent investigation that the star success story of the movement actually didn't become heterosexual, but did live a troubled life. He killed himself at 38 and his family blames the “therapy.”
Such practices do need to stop.
There is no evidence they are “effective.”
There is much evidence they are harmful.
Whatever methods Martin's wife is using to help people “pray away the gay,” at the end of the day, all such practitioners are selling scared and vulnerable people snake oil. At least, Martin doesn't claim in his column the “many men and women” became heterosexual. No, his wife appears to only offer the promise of a “chaste life.” A lifetime of celibacy. Terrific. The American Dream for the country's Second Class Citizens. Ah, how many of us have dreamed of the day we can grow old and die alone?
Frankly, I wish that Martin, rather than dress his defense up as some sort of principled stance or a facile understanding of the stand-up comedy world, would tell us directly—and not obliquely through quotes—“Tracy Morgan spoke the truth.” I wish he would clarify for us if he disagrees with the substance of what Morgan is alleged to have said. Would he tell us if he considers Morgan's views out of the mainstream, or if Morgan was presenting a valid side to the public discussion of LGBT issues that deserves to be heard by a wide audience of people?
If this is truly what is “in Martin's heart,” why be coy about saying so?
I think if Martin found in himself the courage to say it, we'd find in substance, Martin actually agrees with Morgan's rant far more than he disagrees, and he would have been one of the people in the audience slapping his knee and yelling “Go Tracy!” And this is exactly what provided him with the impetus to write a post defending Morgan; he would like to see more of this type of “comedy.” But unlike out and proud gay and lesbian Americans, Martin doesn't have the courage to speak his own “truth,” so he dressing it up in rhetorical trickery. “Come on, it's what people say!” Martin says. Yes, I'm certain it is what people around Martin say.
Maybe none of us want to accept that as a comedian, Morgan is keenly aware of what society actually thinks, and he simply said it onstage.
And, I personally cannot offer disagreement that the rant Morgan said is indeed what many people do think.
As Martin fancies himself as a man of God, I would invite him to do some internal soul-searching. Because the important question in this debate is not so much “Was it wrong for one man to SAY these things?”
No. The key question in this debate is, “Is it right that people should BELIEVE these things?”
Unfortunately, it seems Martin thinks it is right.
I am not the first to call “bullshit” on Martin. Comic
Wanda Sykes piped in on Twitter. She said:
They went on to have a robust and entertaining debate which was chronicled at this AmerciaBlog post. It included references to black face and picnicking at public hangings. And Sykes aptly demonstrated how a talented comic can touch on potentially explosive topics and still be funny, informative and stay out of the national crosshairs.
Martin challenged Sykes on this:
We can do better.
Who is “we,” Martin asked?
It should be noted, Sykes has a foot in a many of the communities that are involved in this debate.
She is a very successful comic, and has a lifetime of experience in the club circuit.
She is an African-American.
She is a lesbian.
She is a parent.
She is a human being.
Regardless which hat she was wearing when she said “we,” she was right. And I think unlike Martin, she's got the cred to speak with authority to this topic.
By contrast, Roland Martin is both a hack journalist and a hack “Christian” and he wasn't defending Tracy Morgan. He was doing exactly what he's always done: defending animus, hostility and hatred toward gay people and he dressed it up with 100% bullshit.