Tracy Morgan and the “R”-word double standard

By Matthew Hennessey

“Say, do you follow the news?”

“Sure I do.”

“Well, did you hear what Tracy Morgan said?”

“Who’s that again?”

 “The comedian from 30 Rock. Used to be on Saturday Night Live.”

“Oh, yeah. She’s hilarious. What did she say?”

“Tracy Morgan isn’t a she. Your thinking of Tina Fey.”

“That name doesn’t sound familiar.”

“Yes, you know her. Tina Fey is the one who always played Sarah Palin all the time. Tracy Morgan is, um, well, he’s the the African-American guy on 30 Rock. He also used to be on Saturday Night Live. ”

“Oh, right. That guy. Now I remember. What did he do? Said something terribly homophobic, didn’t he? That was pretty bad. I was horrified by that.”

“Yeah, it was awful. But that was two weeks ago that he said that. I’m talking about what he said last week.”

“No, I guess I missed it. What did he say?”

“Well, he made a joke about the mentally disabled. He called them retards and compared them to chimps.”

“Oh, is that all?”

“Is that all? How can you say that?”

“I’m sure he was just trying for a joke and, you know, when you’re an edgy comedian sometimes you miss, that’s all.”

“Yeah, but everybody hammered the guy when he said that he would stab his son if he ever found out that he was gay. This is just as bad. In fact, I kind of think it’s worse.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, within minutes of making the gay joke, everyone was blasting the guy. The disabled don’t exactly have a spokesman, you know?”

“Look, I kind of understand what you’re saying, but homophobia and violence against gays and lesbians is a huge problem. Gay teenagers are committing suicide because of bullying. In most states LGBT people can’t marry the person they love. This is a civil rights issue. Heck, even retards can get married.”

“Did you just say what I think you said? You know I have a kid with Down syndrome, right?”

“Oh yeah, I’m sorry. I forgot. I guess you realize I’m not very politically correct.”

“See, that’s what I’m talking about. You used that word without even thinking about it, without realizing that it’s terribly hurtful. And then when I pointed out how painful it is, you make it seem like I’m being the ‘thought police’ or the ‘word Nazi.'”

“I’m sorry if I offended you. All I’m saying is that there are bigger issues out there that we should be talking about and not just getting hung up on words, okay? Sticks and stones, you know?”

“Let me ask you: Why is the ‘N’-word verboten, but the ‘R’-word is just sticks-and-stones?”

“Well, there’s a whole brutal history behind the ‘N’ word.”

“Trust me when I tell you that there is a brutal history behind the way people with Down syndrome have been treated.”

“It’s not the same.”

“All right, never mind the ‘N’-word then. Why does the world have a heart attack when Kobe Bryant calls a referee a ‘faggot’—in fact, the NBA fines him for it—but there’s barely a peep when Lebron James calls a reporter’s question ‘retarded?'”

“You seem really focused on the gay thing.”

“No I’m not. Tracy Morgan created this by saying a terrible thing about gays one week and a terrible thing about the developmentally disabled the next. I’m just remarking on the official victim status afforded to certain groups. These are the people we can’t joke about. But the developmentally disabled? Ah, that’s just edgy comedy.”

“Would you prefer that there was a list of all the words that you can and can’t say? It would end up being a mile long. At some point you just have to use common sense.”

“I agree. And that’s why I can’t understand why people make excuses for Tracy Morgan, or Lebron James, or Jennifer Aniston, who called herself a retard at 9:30 in the morning on the Regis Philbin show. It defies common sense. This word is obviously hurtful to a vulnerable class of people who aren’t always in a position to defend themselves.”

“You’re getting so worked up about this.”

“Well, it’s not a joke to me. So many people think it’s okay to use that word. When you hear it, you should be as outraged as I am.”

“Well, we all have our issues that we care about, I guess.”

“Yes, we do.”


“Maybe you should just stop watching TV.”

“Finally something we can agree on.”

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