George TakeiOne would think that activist and former Star Trek actor George Takei would be happy. The Supreme Court ruled last week that same-sex marriage must be allowed in all 50 States. Obergefell v. Hodges went down in the history books exactly as Mr. Takei wanted. Instead of basking in the light of a new day, he used the legislative victory to a.) call Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas a “clown in blackface” while b.) demonstrating that he has serious reading comprehension problems.

News Busters posted the part of Justice Thomas’ commentary that made the actor explode during a recent interview:

“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.” — Clarence Thomas.

This seems pretty straightforward for anyone who doesn’t have partisan goggles strapped on so tight that blood flow to the brain is constricted. In short, dignity is something that all men have because they were created in God’s image. For whatever strange reason, Angry George doesn’t get it.

Here is what the actor told a Fox affiliate in Phoenix:

“He is a clown in blackface 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.”

It seems self-evident that telling a black man who grew up the South prior to the Civil Rights movement that he should watch “12 Years a Slave” is a pretty dumb move, so I’ll ignore that one. Instead, we’ll talk about World War II.

Author Laura Hillenbrand summed up Louis Zamperini thoughts on dignity in her bestselling book “Unbroken.” For those who are unfamiliar with Olympian and World War II hero Mr. Zamperini, I high suggest reading the book. Ms. Hillenbrand’s retelling of the veteran’s fight for survival at sea and in multiple Japanese P.O.W. camps will change the way you see the world.

“Few societies treasured dignity, and feared humiliation, as did the Japanese, for whom loss of honor could merit suicide. This is likely one of the reasons why Japanese soldiers in World War II debased their prisoners with such zeal, seeking to take from them that which was most painful and destructive to lose. On Kwajalein, Louie and Phil learned a dark truth known to the doomed in Hitler’s death camps, the slaves of the American South, and a hundred other generations of betrayed people. Dignity is as essential to human life as water, food, and oxygen. The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man’s soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrendered it. The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty. In places like Kwajalein, degradation could be as lethal as a bullet.” (Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken. Random House, Inc., 2004. 183)

That late Mr. Zamperini and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas both demonstrated a deep understanding of human dignity. Given Mr. Takei’s politics, it is no surprise that he would mistake the crystal clear message — all men are born with dignity because they were given life by our Creator — for an insult.

To Mr. Takei, dignity is bestowed upon men when nine judges in black robes essentially invent rights or the federal government doles out benefits to ‘Person A’ paid for by ‘Person B’ (usually without B’s consent). It is no wonder that the Star Trek actor is  such an angry man — he’s been waiting his entire life for someone to give him a certain kind of dignity that he always possessed.

Just under the surface of all those Facebook jokes and silly memes is man whose blood boils with red-hot rage. It’s unfortunate, because during a time when he should have just sat back and smiled, Mr. Takei decided to show the world that he — and not Clarence Thomas — is the real clown. A very sad clown.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

11 comments

  1. All this agitation over an extremely common confusion between the meanings of the words dignity and respect. You have dignity, a state of innate worthiness, but an outside party can ignore it, refuse to validate it, and can disrespect your dignity. You still have that dignity, but you may still be oppressed and abused. Dignity does not preserve you from harm or injustice by others.

    So Mr. Takei’s entire misbehavior consists of expressing it in an inelegant fashion. He didn’t say slaves, and those in internment camps, were treated AS IF they had no dignity. But that’s obviously what he meant.

    There is an irony in selecting this particular recitar from “I Pagliacci”. The character, Canio, has been cuckolded by his unfaithful wife, who loves an innocent harlequin. He has been disrespected, which is the source of his sadness. His dignity is of no use whatsoever. He has to suck it up, “put on the costume” (the name of the piece) and pretend because there’s a paying audience.

    1. Look at the way you contort yourself to excuse Mr. Takei’s boorish behavior. Why can’t you just admit that he came off looking like a partisan clown who went ballistic over a part of Thomas’ dissent that was artfully stated? Thomas was responding to Justice Kennedy’s assertion that there is essentially some sort of invisible clause on feelings in the Constitution the requires federal action when “the feels” are seemingly denied by individual states. That is a very valid critique of Kennedy’s stance, but Mr. Takei ironically can’t understand that because he’s overcome with emotion.

      If I wrote a blog post saying President Obama was “a clown in blackface,” then my guess is that you would think that I too had set my phaser to “angry jerk” and blasted myself in the face.

      Given your response, perhaps you’ll be happy to hear that the Supreme Court will be taking up Canio v Cuckold in 2016. I predict that Justice Kennedy will find a right to taxpayer dollars when a man is cuckolded so that he doesn’t have to “suck it up” and go to work in the morning when he is sad.

    2. He misspoke in the same way most people do and have done regarding the word dignity. That’s not contorting myself, or even a justification. It’s a simple observation of a common behavior, failing to say what you mean.

      Of course I don’t expect any actor to be as qualified to express a legal opinion as a Supreme Court Justice. What’s the point of being so jubilant that Takei spoke like an ordinary person instead of like a lawyer?

    3. George Takei is a gay rights activist. When he appears on shows it sometimes says “human rights activist.” He long ago dropped being “an ordinary person” and picked up a very large megaphone. He is paid to articulate himself in a way that influences a lot of people, so your suggestion that he’s just like the pizza joint owner down on the corner is laughable. That you would casually brush off such a disgusting comment is telling.

      As I said, if I seriously called the president a “clown in blackface,” I’m confident that you wouldn’t chuckle and then chalk it up to an innocent misunderstanding.

      Strangely enough, Marc Lamont Hill gets it: “If @GeorgeTakei were Ted Nugent, and Clarence Thomas were Obama, we’d be having a whole different conversation about his ‘blackface’ comment.”

      He continued: “Of course, context matters. And people’s histories matter. But we must check our allies when they say/do inappropriate things too.”

    4. Until this comment we were exclusively debating the common misuse of the term “dignity”. Now, you want to instead pivot and discuss the “clown in blackface” remark. That’s fine. We have no disagreement about that. It was insensitive and disrespectful, as it would be if directed toward any other person.

      I don’t really get outraged at insensitive speech beyond noting it. I wouldn’t be friends with someone who spoke that way on a regular basis. But people do speak without thinking, and make hurtful remarks as a matter of course. You can sigh or shrug, or say something to them personally if you get the chance. But outrage doesn’t do much beyond assuaging the ego of those who are angry. This is Planet Snark. We who value politeness are surrounded and outnumbered by those who enjoy using words as weapons both consciously and unconsciously.

    5. Until this comment we were exclusively debating the common misuse of the term “dignity”. Now, you want to instead pivot and discuss the “clown in blackface” remark. That’s fine. We have no disagreement about that. It was insensitive and disrespectful, as it would be if directed toward any other person.

      You were focused on the misuse of the word “dignity” in a way that essentially gave Mr. Takei a pass for his deplorable behavior. Then you followed that up by trying to make him sound like some guy you hit up at a “Cheers”-type bar when, in fact, he is an outspoken activist who is paid to have a firm command of words and how to wield them.

      That aside, I’m glad you acknowledge that the comment was insensitive and disrespectful.

      Takei has now apologized. It only happened after his bizarre attempt to say the “blackface” comment was no big deal failed, but at least he eventually did the right thing.

      “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.” — George Takei.

  2. Well said! You’ve nailed it all so perfectly. It’s actually a bit frightening when people don’t get this, “dignity is something that all men have because they were created in God’s image.” It also really drives the point home why some of us fight so hard for some Christian values and virtues. There’s a huge difference in how you treat someone “created in God’s image” versus how you treat a meaning less clump of cells that just spring up randomly. It’s an ideal that allows us to actually protect and preserve people rights.

    Not to cause trouble, but outside of the explanation that black folks have innate dignity because they were created in God’s image, what is the moral argument against slavery? I can think of none. Outside the idea that all those kids being currently sold into sex slavery have innate dignity and are created in God’s image, I can think of no argument against it outside of that context, either. That is the problem when we stray too far from God as the basis and foundation of our morality. Even a non believer should be able to grasp that.

    1. Absent God, all behavior becomes fair game. There have been some marathon debates on what exactly a godless world would look like. The old Soviet Union is a good place to start… North Korea offers another glimpse. Gulags, gulags, gulags.

  3. I like the essay on dignity, but let’s follow George’s train of thought here:

    1) He hates Clarence Thomas. probably because of his politics
    2) He hates Clarence Thomas because he is black, and black people are supposed to be on his side
    3) A black person not being on his side is treason
    4) He reads Clarence Thomas dissent and finding that certain parts resonate with him in an opinion that hurts his cause…decides to focus his rage on that part.

    This isn’t about dignity, it’s about hate. He knows perfectly well what he’s doing, but proceeds to try to twist the meaning of the word dignity anyway. The ‘clown in blackface’ phrase is a phrase he has probably used in private for years, in bitter outsized rage toward any person of color that opposes his world view. George, in his own pathetic way, is trying to strip Clarence Thomas of his dignity, by removing his heritage and casting aspersions on his character. He hopes to connect to the less informed members of his audience the idea that Clarence thinks that slaves were happy to be abused, that the internment camps were decent places…he knows that this isn’t Clarence’s meaning, but he also knows that the audience won’t care, and he really wants to destroy this man. George is closer to a Japanese soldier in WWII than he can imagine.

    1. “This isn’t about dignity, it’s about hate. He knows perfectly well what he’s doing, but proceeds to try to twist the meaning of the word dignity anyway. The ‘clown in blackface’ phrase is a phrase he has probably used in private for years, in bitter outsized rage toward any person of color that opposes his world view. George, in his own pathetic way, is trying to strip Clarence Thomas of his dignity, by removing his heritage and casting aspersions on his character.”

      Boom. Exactly. “Invisible Mikey” can pretend all he wants that an activist like Takei didn’t know what he was doing, but anyone who isn’t blindly partisan can see that he deliberately used “black face” to hurl as much invective as possible.

      Now Mr. Takei is trying to say with a straight (clown face) that what he said wasn’t racist:

      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. He made a similar remark about the Japanese American internment, of which I am a survivor. A sitting Justice of the Supreme Court ought to know better.

      It’s okay, because it’s all just obscure “theater lingo,” Shinden. 😉 Unreal.

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