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
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.
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.
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.
[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