George Takei, the Japanese-America actor permanently enshrined in pop culture history for his role of Sulu in the original “Star Trek” TV series. He has essentially lived off that one felicitous part for forty years, recently acquiring less moldy, non-sci-fi following by being a gay rights advocate.
Takei recently skimmed, or just didn’t comprehend, Clarence Thomas’s audacious dissent to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling and Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion declaring same-sex marriage to be a fundamental right protected by the Constitution. Apparently he also does not comprehend that Supreme Court dissents are both stimulating and useful to legal scholars as well as those, unlike Mr. Sulu, possessing an open and curious mind.
Thomas made the unusual but provocative argument that human dignity is innate:
Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which
this Nation was built.
The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.
Thomas was expressing his disagreement with the majority that the government withholding the right to marry from gays robbed them of human dignity. I think it is a rather pedantic argument that has more validity in the abstract than in reality, but the position that rights come from creation rather than the government is a core concept in the Declaration of Independence, and one that statists, as in “modern Democrats,” like to ignore. If individuals are born with rights, they cannot be truly taken away. If citizens must look to the government to have their rights granted to them, then government is granted too much power in exchange. Thomas’s philosophical argument is classic conservatism. Naturally, that means, in Takei’s intolerant and partyist world view, that he deserves abuse.
Thus Sulu felt that Thomas’s daring to utter an opinion that varies from progressive and gay cant justified his subjecting a Supreme Court Justice to a racist attack. (Actors sure are shooting off their mouths these days as if they actually know something.) Here was Takei’s smear on Justice Thomas:
“He is a clown in black face sitting on the Supreme Court. He gets me that angry. He doesn’t belong there. And for him to say, slaves have dignity. I mean, doesn’t he know that slaves were in chains? That they were whipped on the back. If he saw the movie 12 Years a Slave, you know, they were raped. And he says they had dignity as slaves or – My parents lost everything that they worked for, in the middle of their lives, in their 30s. His business, my father’s business, our home, our freedom and we’re supposed to call that dignified? Marched out of our homes at gun point. I mean, this man does not belong on the Supreme Court. He is an embarrassment. He is a disgrace to America.”
No, ironically, the one who is a disgrace to America is has-been, mediocre actor George Takei, who is no more equipped to debate Constitutional law on the merits with Clarence Thomas than he is to play tennis with Serena Williams. A man with proper humility, education and respect would understand this. The Federalist’s Sean Taylor explains nicely, not that George is likely to read anything that wouldn’t be approved by the Daily Kos:
“Rather than somehow defending or dismissing the institution of slavery, Thomas actually elucidated the logic that formed the foundation of the abolition movement to end American slavery once and for all: that humanity and dignity come not from government…Far from minimizing the evils of slavery, Thomas was highlighting the revolutionary truth that led to America’s founding: “that all men are created equal, [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Takei, however, did not grasp this fairly elementary historical point. Rather than taking Thomas’ logic and asserting that it requires the right of marriage to be available to all people — Takei’s preferred outcome — Takei went in the exact opposite direction and basically called Clarence Thomas a race traitor for having the audacity to have an opinion not handed down to him by the government. I’m not old enough to remember what life was like when the government thought black people were not entitled to their own opinions, but Clarence Thomas certainly is. Unlike George Takei, Thomas didn’t just read about or observe vile, state-sanctioned discrimination against African-Americans; Thomas experienced it first-hand.”
Takei’s rant was ignorant, embarrassing, incompetent and dumb. Never mind: liberals will never forgive Thomas for being black, not realizing how hypocritical this is. Takei’s statement that Thomas is “a clown in black face sitting on the Supreme Court” is racist by any definition…except Takei’s, of course. Despite the fact that his insult was specifically aimed at the color of Thomas’s skin-–racist, in other words—Takei took to Facebook to deny that he demeaned Thomas because of his race. This is the Jumbo moment: “Elephant? What elephant?”
“A few fans have written wondering whether I intended to utter a racist remark by referring to Justice Thomas as a “clown in blackface.” “Blackface” is a lesser known theatrical term for a white actor who blackens his face to play a black buffoon. In traditional theater lingo, and in my view and intent, that is not racist. It is instead part of a racist history in this country. I feel Justice Thomas has abdicated and abandoned his African American heritage by claiming slavery did not strip dignity from human beings.”
This is why most actors do best with scripts.
1. Blackface is “lesser known”? Lesser known than what, to whom? Uh, we know all about blackface, George. Clarence Thomas, who is not an actor, almost certainly can teach you some things about it.
2. Oh, it was actor jargon, not a race slur? Exactly how stupid do you think gays and Star Trek fans are? Tell me, Sulu, if, say, Ted Nugent called President Obama a “clown in blackface,” would any public official journalist or pundit not pronounce his words inexcusably disrespectful and a racist slur? Hint: the answer is OF COURSE NOT, because it is a racist remark. And you know it, just like Jimmy Durante knew that he was accompanied by Jumbo, the biggest elephant in the world.
3. So is “black buffoon,” by the way. Or is that also just acceptable “theater lingo” when applied to an African American Supreme Court Justice?
4. What does George Takei know about Clarence Thomas’s African American heritage? Would any white politician dare to lecture Barack Obama about what his heritage obligates him to believe, or dictates his policies as President? Funny, I must have missed the memo that declared Japanese American bit players as official arbiters of what other heritages mean.
5. Equality for minorities and women is a sham if it comes with fine print requiring them to hew to narrow group attitudes, ideology and beliefs dictated by activists and politicians. Clarence Thomas’s race does not preclude him from any activity, statement, argument, position or opinion. Takei is trying to clap chains on a Supreme Court Justice of Takei’s choosing.
Coda: As I was finishing this post, Takei suddenly posted a big Facebook “never mind,” apologizing and saying in part:
“I am reminded, especially on this July 4th holiday, that though we have the freedom to speak our minds, we must use that freedom judiciously. Each of us, as humans, have hot-button topics that can set-us off, and Justice Thomas had hit mine, that is clear. But my choice of words was regrettable, not because I do not believe Justice Thomas is deeply wrong, but because they were ad hominem and uncivil, and for that I am sorry.
I often ask fans to keep the level of discourse on this page and in comments high, and to remember that we all love this country and for what it stands for, even if we often disagree passionately about how to achieve those goals. I did not live up to my own high standards in this instance.”
Much better, but the Jumbo stands. After all, Jimmy had to finally admit that he had that elephant too.