What’s the statute of limitations of racism?

The nominations for the 89th Academy Awards were announced last Tuesday, with La La Land pulling an astounding 14 nominations, 6 for black actors (#OscarsNotSoWhite anymore?), and Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge getting another 6 noms. Cue: outrage.

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Back in July 2006, Mad Mel was arrested for DUI (whether that stands for the influence of racism, or alcohol, is unknown), and told the arresting officer the now famous lines ‘Fucking Jews… the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?’. Then in July 2010 (it seems like July is a really bad month for him), in a telephone call with Oksana Grigorieva, the mother of his daughter Lucia, he said ‘you look like a fucking pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of niggers, it will be your fault.’ Those are some pretty clear-cut cases of racism, no doubt about it, the more interesting quandary is how to pinpoint the exact moment the public mind forgets someone for his past racist transgressions (or if such forgiveness is even possible)?

Another recent, somewhat related incident genuinely shocked me. Noted republican strategist Ana Navarro stated with a confident smile on CNN that she is ‘not sure there’s a statute of limitations of racism’ while speaking about Jeff Sessions. What she essentially said is that if you ever made the mistake of cracking an offensive joke, saying such things while drunk (that you would regret in the morning), or making a genuinely racist gesture (or getting thrust into an act of accidental racism), you are condemned for life, with zero chance of washing away that particular scarlet letter. You have to wear the mark of Cain wherever you go. One bad moment, and suddenly you are on the level of Jared Fogle, Charles Manson or Dylann Roof, and the jeering internet hate crowd will always find a reason to publicly denounce you, even if you are breastfeeding starving Ethiopian orphans 24/7.

Mel Gibson wearing the mark of Cain

So, what method should we use to find that magical moment of forgiveness? How about the ship of Theseus thought experiment, which asks if a ship that has had all of its parts replaced stayed the same ship, or did it become a new one? There is a similar, very popular theory floating around the internet about the human body, stating that every cell in your body regenerates in seven years, so you become a new person every seven years. Of course, this has been widely questioned, and more importantly, seven years hasn’t passed since Mel’s last incident, so it’s very likely he still has about 10-20% of his racist cells left. Maybe he should have tried the ‘I’m a comedian’ defense, like Trevor Noah did for his anti-semitic tweets? It would be like a hunter saying ‘Hey, I’m a hunter, that means I can shoot whatever I want!’.

Picture of a famous hunter

Americans love a good comeback story. Seabiscuit. The Mighty Ducks. Kim Kardashian. Winona Ryder came back from the shoplifting incident and charmed all of us at the SAG awards. Everyone knows what Robert Downey Jr. went through. What is it about Mel Gibson that makes it impossible to forgive him? His unwillingness to apologise? Winona had to go through a personal hell for her crime, too, but no one checks her every action to make sure she hasn’t stolen yet another purse. Crime is crime, and racism is racism, but maybe we should give Mel the same benefit of doubt until he commits yet another mistake?

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