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Irreverent Comments Demean Our History

October 01, 2002

Regarding "Comic Salve for Thin Skins" (editorial, Sept. 26) and Steve Lopez's Sept. 27 column, "Patrons at Real-Life Barbershop Have No Problem With Movie," let me be quick to say that this is not a call for censorship or a boycott, but a call for sensitivity. I am not calling for a boycott of the movie "Barbershop." My only concern is about the issue of dignity.

I enjoy good comedy. I have long enjoyed the humor of a diverse group of individuals, from Redd Foxx to Pigmeat Markham. I enjoy the comedy of Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Steve Harvey just as I enjoy Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Ellen DeGeneres and David Letterman. However, the disparaging references in "Barbershop" to Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. crossed the line from comedy to tragedy and from fun to insults.

Today, I hear people of all ages refer to the civil rights movement in the past tense. This is not a generation gap. This is an information gap. Civil rights is not a "was" issue, a struggle that took place "back then." It is not something that should be relegated to history. It is as current as Donovan Jackson getting his head slammed onto the hood of a car in Inglewood.

King was the father of the modern civil rights movement. There are certain historical figures who should never be disrespected, even for the sake of a few laughs. Their lives represent too much deep meaning and painful history to demean them through caricature.

Some say that the reaction to the lines in "Barbershop" by the families of King and Parks were knee-jerk reactions, taken out of context. People are aware that these odious comments were made in a particular scene and that they were called into disrepute by the other people in the shop. I am aware of how the scene played out. I am also well aware that our own life experiences color how we view things. Perhaps the pain is etched too deeply into my soul to allow myself to react any differently. In the end, it is my shortcoming. I do not see King in abstract terms. I marched with him. I watched him struggle for us.

I was born in the segregated South and could not attend certain movie theaters. That is my frame of reference, which is not dissimilar from millions of Americans who now live in a changed society, thanks in large part to the actions of King and Parks. We went on to fight for inclusion in Hollywood. We will continue to march for and fight for opportunities for writers, producers, actors and financiers, just as we will keep fighting for civil liberties and free speech. We admire these artists and are proud of their breakthroughs. However, the price for glory cannot be too expensive. Our dignity must remain non-negotiable.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson

Chicago

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