Actor/activist George Takei has apologized for referring to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as “a clown in blackface” while criticizing the jurist’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
The incident stems from the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in favor of marriage equality on June 26 and Thomas’ dissent, which states, in part:
“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.”
Takei and other critics said that Thomas was suggesting that since victims of injustice do not lose their dignity, there was no need for the government to do something about those injustices.
During an interview with Fox 10 in Phoenix, Takei said, “He is a clown in blackface sitting on the Supreme Court. He gets me that angry. He doesn’t belong there.”
Conservative commentators took Takei to task and defended Thomas.
Writing for the “Newsbusters” blog (“exposing and combating liberal media bias”), Scott Whitlock called Takei’s statement a “racist rant” and said that Thomas was simply “making an appeal to the inherent dignity of man, despite circumstances.”
Writing for Brietbart.com, John Nolte said, “Of course ‘blackface’ is racist, and of course he knows this. Accuse the Asian actor of being a ‘clown in yellowface’ and watch him lose his hysterical mind.
“Takei is also either lying about what Justice Thomas wrote, or is too ignorant to understand his point. Thomas never said or meant to say that slavery doesn’t strip slaves of their dignity. Thomas was responding to Justice [Anthony] Kennedy’s noxious notion that without legalized gay marriage, gays lack dignity.”
In a Facebook post on July 2, Takei said that he did not intend for “blackface” to be a racist term: “‘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.”
In a Facebook post on July 3, Takei wrote, “I owe an apology. On the eve of this Independence Day, I have a renewed sense of what this country stands for, and how I personally could help achieve it. The promise of equality and freedom is one that all of us have to work for, at all times. I know this as a survivor of the Japanese American internment, which each day drives me only to strive harder to help fulfill that promise for future generations.
“I recently was asked by a reporter about Justice Clarence Thomas’ dissent in the marriage equality cases, in which he wrote words that really got under my skin, by suggesting that the government cannot take away human dignity through slavery, or though internment. In my mind that suggested that this meant he felt the government therefore shouldn’t be held accountable, or should do nothing in the face of gross violations of dignity.
“When asked by a reporter about the opinion, I was still seething, and I referred to him as a ‘clown in blackface’ to suggest that he had abdicated and abandoned his heritage. This was not intended to be racist, but rather to evoke a history of racism in the theatrical arts. While I continue to vehemently disagree with Justice Thomas, the words I chose, said in the heat of anger, were not carefully considered.
“I am reminded, especially on this July 4th holiday, that though we have the freedom to speak our minds, we must use that freedom judiciously. Each of us, as humans, have hot-button topics that can set us off, and Justice Thomas had hit mine, that is clear. But 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, 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.
“I hope all of you have a wonderful, safe and joyously free July 4th, the first where all married couples in the U.S. can enjoy the full liberties of matrimony equally. It is truly a blessing to be an American today.”