Jeremy Kappell and the Pathology of Racism

Take It Down events

Outside Community of the Savior, 4 E Henrietta Road (College Town). One stop in the traveling exhibition Take It Down! Organizing Against Racism [Photo: David Kramer]

[Editor’s note: In Comparing Rob Blair and Jeremy Kappell, two fired weathermen: A case study, we looked at academic discussions of “racial slips” in the public arena.  Today, George Cassidy Payne offers his own perspective on the issue.

To learn more about racism, visit the traveling exhibition Take It Down! Organizing Against Racism where visitors can “explore the story of one local carousel panel and join in the meaningful dialogue it encourages on individual, institutional and structural racism.”]

Jeremy Kappell and the Pathology of Racism

George Cassidy Payne

At the risk of feeding into a story that has probably received too much attention already, I feel compelled to make a point about the firing of meteorologist Jeremy Kappell. For those readers who are unfamiliar with the story, during a broadcast Kappell said “Martin Luther Coon Park” when referring to a downtown park named after Martin Luther King Jr. He was promptly fired by WHEC-TV. During an interview with Don Lemon on CNN, Kappell said:

It was a mispronunciation and I could tell that I was fumbling the words a little bit. The moment I realized that I was fumbling I immediately put the emphasis on King, not knowing that I had made a major error. I did what all of us journalists do. I moved on.

Fired weatherman accused of using racial slur says he didn’t even know what he said (CNN)

William Clark, president and CEO of the Urban League of Rochester, released a statement commending the News10 NBC leadership “for taking swift and decisive action.” Clark added:

As a child growing up in the South in the 1960s, I am personally well aware of the racist intent of this word, which is used to dehumanize and degrade African Americans, portraying us as less than human…I know there is still great work to be done to diversify newsrooms in the Rochester Community and across this country. Perhaps, if there were more African Americans and people of diverse cultures on staff and on the management team, someone might have caught that disgusting, insensitive, and racist word sooner.

So, on one side you have Kappell and his supporters who state that he had no intention whatsoever to use that slur. It was just a flub. On the other side, you have those like Mr. Clark who see his use of the word as “disgusting and insensitive.”

But what is not being talked about is the pathology of racism. Setting aside what Kappell did or did not mean to do when he used that word, white people in America are infected with a disease. More often than not, they are totally unaware of the way this disease is incubated within the subliminal regions of their mind. The reason why these types of “slip ups” occur is because racist thoughts, innuendos, proclivities, stereotypes, prejudices, and concepts swirl around in the unconscious mind. These thoughts and feelings are rarely invited in by the host. Instead, they are transferred from generation to generation like genes disposing one to cancer.

From the

From the Take It Down! Organizing Against Racism brochure

UCLA’s Roya Rastegar has written:

Racism is not about right or wrong. It is not something that can be turned on and off. Pathology seizes the entire body – not just of the individual, but the collective body of society. Pathology infects the way we see, and bleeds into the ways we experience the world… this pathology manifests through desire – not just sexual, but also social and cultural – to occupy, control, and consume everything until the myth of white manifest destiny is concretized in law, laid in the foundation of an entire economy, and preserved by culture.

To be candid, from what I have observed in the Kappell video, I do not believe he meant to say that word. Nor do I believe that he harbors malice towards MLK and black people. If there is a history of such hate filled incidents in his past, they have not been brought to light — at least not to my knowledge. Nevertheless, on some level, that does not matter. As white people are repeatedly told by people of color, the intentions of individuals do not matter as much as the consequences of institutional and pathological racism. Given that racism is a disease, we should not be surprised when white people in America say racist things without even knowing what they are doing. Just as a rash breaks out — or some other physical manifestation of illness seemingly appears out of nowhere — the truth is a bacterial organism has been gestating for centuries.

In The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud wrote:

Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech…The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder.

What You Need to Know About Freudian Slips (verywellmind.com)

[Editor’s postscript. Again, the Take It Down! Organizing Against Racism is a very relevant resource for continuing these conversations.]

NOTE: George’s essay was reprinted in the Feb 5 – Feb 11 2019 Minority Reporter

Minority Reporter, Feb 5 - Feb 11, 2019

Minority Reporter, Feb 5 – Feb 11, 2019

SEE

Comparing Rob Blair and Jeremy Kappell, two fired weathermen: A case study

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  1. George

    Bill, I appreciate you chiming in. You write: “Haven’t we learned through the campuses dictating who is allowed to be heard that the freedom to not have your feelings messed with is not a healthy freedom?” Excellent point. Were your feelings hurt by my article? Do I not have the freedom to express my views? Are you so “deeply disappointed” that you wish that I never shared my point of view? Now who is the one being too sensitive?

    I also find it interesting that people automatically dismiss everything Freud had to say, yet he is one of the most influential minds of his generation. He created new fields in psychology, the history of religion, and philosophy, but you have the nerve to write him off with a flippant “Bringing Freud into this is ridiculous.” By quoting him I am bringing into the conversation the research of a man who knew more about the active role of the subconscious than any other person.

    You are right about one thing: it is possible to say anything at any time. You demonstrated that quite well in your rushed, accusatory, and shallow reply.

  2. George

    And thanks for clarifying that “people of color do not march to my tune.” I am glad that you know what people of color do and do not do.

    I am not interested in “calling out racism,” as if it is a dog that can be whistled at and put in a cage. I want to confront racism from the inside out. It’s not always comfortable nor should it be. Whether you want to admit it or not, this nation is haunted by the specter of racism, infected at a national-cellular level by racism, and conflicted in this very conversation by racism.

    That being said, I do not believe he should have been fired right away without a proper review. This likely violates his First Amendment rights. And you are right to point out that intention matters. If he did not intend to say it, he should not be punished so severely. If I were him I would consider taking up a free speech lawsuit.

    But no matter what he does or intends, the situation is the same. The situation is pathological in nature. I stand by my thesis that white Americans are infected with the disease of racism. Freudian slips are a manifestation of this disease. He heard it somewhere, he said it somewhere, he internalized in somehow. Only in a racist society can the word “coon” be racist. It is a healthy practice, Freud often said, “to be honest with ourselves.”

    • dkramer3@naz.edu

      As written in the piece, I hope further discussions encourage people to visit the traveling exhibition that allows more comprehensive dialogue.