A Little Kramer in All of Us?

Comedian Michael Richards—”Kramer” on TV’s Seinfeld—saw his racist tirade at African-American hecklers ignite a firestorm. Mel Gibson, whose earlier anti-Semitic rant made headlines, said he felt compassion for Richards.{1}

Lots of people have dark sides. Maybe everyone. Maybe you.

I do.

Remember Susan Hawk? Her infamous diatribe against another CBS Survivor contestant declared if she found her “laying there dying of thirst, I would not give you a drink of water. I would let the vultures take you and do whatever they want with you.”{2}

Richards—like Gibson—apologized profusely. Prominent African-American comic Paul Mooney says Richards told him privately, “He didn’t know he had that ugliness in him.”{3}

I can identify with Richards’ surprise at his darker inner impulses. My own failing was private rather than public, differing in degree but not in kind. It taught me valuable lessons.

Growing up in the US South, I learned from my parents and educators to be tolerant and accepting in a culture that often was not. Racism still makes my blood boil. I’ve sought to promote racial sensitivity.

One summer during university, I joined several hundred students—most of us Caucasian—for a South Central Los Angeles outreach project. We spent a weekend living in local residents’ homes, attending their churches, and meeting people in the community.

A friend and I enjoyed wonderful hospitality from a lovely couple. Sunday morning, their breakfast table displayed a mountain of delicious food. Our gracious hostess wanted to make sure our appetites were completely satisfied. It was then, eying that bountiful spread, that it hit me.

I realized that for the first time in my life, I was living in Black persons’ home, sitting at “their” table, eating “their” food, using “their” utensils. Something inside me reacted negatively. The strange feeling was not anger or hatred, more like mild aversion. Not powerful, not dramatic, certainly not expressed. But neither was it rational or pleasant or honorable or at all appropriate. It horrified and shamed me, especially since I had recently become a follower of Jesus.

The feeling only lasted a few moments. But it taught me important lessons about prejudice. Much as I might wish to deny it, I had inner emotions that, if expressed, could cause terrible pain. I who prided myself on racial openness had to deal with inner bigotry. How intense must such impulses be in those who are less accepting? Maybe similar inner battles—large or small&edash;go on inside many people. I became deeply impressed that efforts at social harmony should not neglect the importance of changing human hearts.

Holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur testified during the trial of Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi leader responsible for killing millions of Jews. When he saw Eichmann in the courtroom, he sobbed and collapsed to the floor. Dinur later explained, “I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable to do this. . . . Exactly like he. . . . Eichmann is in all of us.”{4}

Jeremiah, an ancient Jewish sage, wrote, “The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”{5} A prescription from one of Jesus’ friends helped me overcome my inner struggles that morning in South Central: “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to [God], he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”{6}


1. “Mel Gibson Feels Michael Richards’ Pain,” Associated Press, November 29, 2006; AOL Entertainment News: http://tinyurl.com/vh2nf, accessed December 3, 2006.

2. Tim Cuprisin, “Susan Hawk stays afloat on ‘Survivor’ celebrity,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 23, 2001; http://www2.jsonline.com/enter/tvradio/jan01/survive23012201.asp, accessed December 3, 2006.

3. “Paul Mooney Cites Richards in N-Word Ban,” Associated Press November 29, 2006, http://tinyurl.com/5pxnxy, accessed December 3, 2006.

4. Charles W. Colson, “The Enduring Revolution,” excerpts of his 1993 Templeton Address; http://www.gcts.edu/communications/contact/fall04/article03.php, accessed December 3, 2006.

5. Jeremiah 17:9 NLT.

6. 1 John 1:8-9 NLT.


© 2006 Rusty Wright