A Jumbo For Sulu

SuluGeorge 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.




36 thoughts on “A Jumbo For Sulu

  1. Did I miss it? Did you get through that entry without mentioning Mickey Rooney?
    Should I be impressed?
    Or amused that you missed a perfect opportunity?

  2. Screw him and his family. He knew damn well what he was saying and was forced to apologize only when doubling down failed to get the media off his back. Ethical people don’t level that kind of naked racist hate, not even once. He insulted Thomas both as a jurist and as a man, and Thomas would in earlier days have every right to beat the wasabi sauce out of him. I think “hot-button issue” should be another ethics rationalization if it isn’t one already -I.e. “I was really REALLY offended, so ethics are suspended.”. Fuck you, Takei, you are as big a bigoted asshole as anyone on the right. Have fun channeling Dan Savage.

  3. Justice Thomas’ point is why I’m uncomfortable with the talk that gays were “denied marriage” until now. How exactly can the government really deny marriage? That’s not a privilege granted to us by Uncle Sam.

    If my marriage was not recognized by the State…I can’t imagine myself caring one bit more than I care that my baptism isn’t recognized by the State. Which is to say, I would care not one bit. (In fact, my marriage was a church ceremony that took place months before we were “officially” granted a marriage certificate, for reasons having to do with our marriage happening in another country. Goes without saying that I don’t consider myself to have been living in sin in the interim.)

    • His point is that they weren’t denied dignity. The state was certainly denying them marriage, as it was allowing others to marry, receiving government and social benefits that those not granted official approval to their unions were denied.

    • From the point of view of the State, marriage is just a very strict economic contract – the State can’t view it as a religious affair lest it cross paths with Establishment (1st Amendment). It decided to confer various benefits on pairs partaking in the contract. It then decided some people couldn’t take part in the contract. This crosses paths with Equal Protection (14th Amendment).

      States have 2 options: No licensing and let the market do what the market will. Everyone can get a license for an exclusive 2 person economic contract that confers benefits.

      Before someone says there’s a third option, that the State can license and just not confer benefits –
      a) Why then would we waste resources licensing?
      b) The mere act of licensing, which is government approval IS a kind of benefit, though it be almost unnoticeable if that’s all it was.

      • Question: if the state won’t perform marriages or sanction them or regulate them, how will a non-religious couple get married?

        The theories about getting government out of the marriage business is fanciful at this stage, and besides, there is an important ethical purpose served by the state officially endorsing marriage. Saying that the state should stop encouraging marriages because less than 5% of them are icky to some people is the epitome of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

        • if the state won’t perform marriages or sanction them or regulate them, how will a non-religious couple get married?

          why would anyone need the State’s “approval” of anything if that anything DOESN’T have benefits or costs legally associated with it?

          And yes, those notions are fanciful at this point, but I’m showing the only other option that ensures Equal Protection.

        • Hmmm, the logical argument might be that given a lack of benefit and the fact that bastardy is a social status not a legal one in the US that they’d have no particular need to marry.

          Of course that ignores why states thought providing benefits was a good idea in the first place. Defaults for inheritance and medical decisions, economic protections for a spouse who contributes less monetarily but in a still vital way. Traditionally this is by but not limited to keeping house and childcare (other things might include acting as an unpaid counselor, educator, chauffeur, goodwill ambassador, accountant, repairperson, decorator, tailor, or historically chandler, dairy maid, butcher, spinster, weaver…) It helps to have a system in place if the communist-collective (from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs) commonly called a family breaks up.

          • Then I think you do realize the usefulness of conferring benefits to the marriage construct.

            See, back when communities were small and everyone knew everyone, when a spouse died or was incapacitated, everyone knew who was their spouse and could accommodate without need of proof.

            But our nation went and got populated and now spouses were not readily recognized and so the greater community couldn’t easily confer “spousal benefits” without some more bona fides. Now in most communities and most situations, the recognition is relatively seamless, but things are complex enough that couples may need the governmental recognition as a fall back.

  4. Just so you know, his surname is “Takei.” You have it spelled “Takai,” which incidentally means “tall.”

    Also, if “true” black people are required to hold beliefs governed in some way by their heritage, and not to do so would be to not be black, does that mean that white people can indeed “become black” according to society at large by adopting black heritage, somehow, or is this a double-standard? I already addressed what would [i]actually[\i] be happening, but I’m curious as to how society would treat it. This human concept of “heritage” is rather weird, but I’ve got a working definition: “the cultural memes that you were raised with, which originated from historical conditions and events.” …Except for the part where an adopted person can research heritage that they weren’t raised with at all. Humans have weird sentimentality.

  5. Well, this didn’t take long, did it.


    Next step, abolish heterosexual marriage because it’s inferior. Which would also have the benefit of controlling over-population and global warming and rising seas in Brooklyn. And everyone would be better groomed and better appreciate art history and classical ballet. Who’s stupid enough to think humankind isn’t easily perfectible?

  6. I agree with all your comments, but really wish that the character’s name wasn’t used in place of the actor’s so many times. The character has already been portrayed in two newer movies by a different actor and many, many other other media which have nothing to do with Mr Takei’s opinions of legal judgments.

    • Just enjoying myself, and avoiding spelling “Takei.” Besides, he will always be Sulu, just as Leonard Nimoy will always be Spock. Moreover, the use of that name is designed to emphasize that the only reason George’s half-baked opinions on anything are considered newsworthy (by some) is because he lucked into a bit part on a cult TV show, and no other reason. And that’s not enough, nor does it give him status to insult a Supreme Court Justice.

      • When I was a boy my parents were very strict about always saying “George Takei’s character” rather than “Sulu” to make certain we kids were perfectly clear on the difference between reality and fiction. They were swimming against the tide, though, as the fact that this guy’s opinions, just shy of 25 years after the release of the last movie with the original cast, approaching 50 (!) years since the cancellation of the original series, and probably a decade since there has been any original Star Trek on TV, mean anything now.

        • PL called me out on noting that America Ferrera was attractive, which I regard as exactly as relevant as George’s identity as Sulu. Those are “qualifications” for these clowns, so over their heads that they can’t see the sky through all the water.

          • I might listen to someone like Fred Dalton Thompson, who was a lawyer, prosecutor (in fact the only actor to play one on Law and Order who was one in RL) and politician as well as an actor, but the opinions of some has-been from a sci-fi show, or some vacuuous, silicone-enhanced starlet, about politics and policy mean nothing to me.

            • I’m mad at Fred. He was a gutsy Senator and a moderate Republican (by Ted Cruz standards anyway, he was a natural leader, and he would have been a much, much better candidate for President than McCain or Mitt. He made a half-assed run, and obviously didn’t want it.

              • Ditto. In the 2008 Republican Primary in VA, I voted for Fred even though he had already officially dropped out of the race (but was still technically on the ballot).


        • By the way, TV trivia buff that I was, I never learned the actor’s name until long after the show was over. Never learned the name of the blonde ensign that was briefly Kirk’s love interest either. I’m sure she’ll be weighing in on the Iran deal any day now.

  7. Can Justice Thomas now sue Takei for “mental rape” and “doubt,” like that couple in Oregon did to the cake-bakers, the Kleins?

    Well, now I am as done with Takei as I am with Pete Rose. Hubris incurs costs. And I LIKED Takei: I even had long forgiven his outspokenness for sexual behavior that ought to be a crime in every corner and closet on earth. Now, I just want to see him beamed-up, up and away forever.

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