Equal speech shouldn’t elicit unequal responses

I hate when people constantly play the race card. Not every single incident of rude or inappropriate behavior that involves people of different ethnicities has to do with prejudice or racism.

However, sometimes there are those instances where one cannot help but wonder that if things were different, whether people would respond the same.

Isaiah Washington, star of ABC’s hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, was accused last October of calling his co-star T.R. Knight a derogatory name used to describe gay men. Later, Knight announced he was, in fact, gay, and that Washington indeed called him the f-word in front of other co-stars.

Months after the “alleged” incident, Grey’s Anatomy won a Golden Globe for best television drama. According to CNN, Washington said in a press conference after the award ceremony, “No, I did not call T.R. a faggot.”

ABC and several gay and lesbian advocacy groups were outraged about Washington’s anti-gay comment and demanded he apologize. He fired his publicist and apologized to his co-star and the gay community for using the word. After his apology, he entered a treatment program to deal with what happened and to make sure it never happened again.

It looks like Washington will be able to keep his job, but there is talk that Knight might quit if Washington is allowed to come back to the series.

I commend Washington for realizing he was wrong and for taking necessary actions to make amends with the gay community. Nevertheless, I think this incident has been handled in a way that makes me examine Hollywood’s double standards.

Washington says a slur, and he has to go into treatment to appease ABC. People keep saying how horrible it was of him to say the word and that he should be fired.

But when Michael Richards used a slur, he got a slap on the hand. According to the Detroit Free Press, the Season 7 DVD of Seinfeld outsold both Season 5 and 6 by large percentages despite what happened. No one made Richards go to counseling. In fact, when Richards used the n-word, I read on several Web sites that people thought it was no big deal, and that he said he was sorry and that was good enough.

When Mel Gibson went on a drunken anti-Semitic tirade, he went to get treatment for his alcoholism, but not for his anti-Semitic feelings.

In addition, I believe Washington did not mean to say what he said. When he was stating he did not call his co-star the f-word, he should not have actually used the word. As for the incident that happened prior to the Golden Globes, it is alleged. No one has proof that Washington called his co-star a derogatory name. It is Knight’s word against Washington’s.

America had video proof that Richards and Gibson both used offensive language, yet Washington is being chastised worse than Richards or Gibson ever were.

I do not want to say Washington is being punished more because he’s black or because the gay community is an important aspect of Hollywood, but I don’t see how what he said was any worse than what Richards or Gibson said.

I feel what Washington said was the least serious of the three. Still, that in no way excuses him. I do believe some sort of action needed to be taken, but not at the expense of ruining his career. If Richards can go on to sell thousands of DVDs and Gibson can continue to bring large crowds to the theaters to see his movies, Washington should be able to continue work on his award-winning television show. Words are strong tools. As a writer, I know how much power one word can possess. Words can start wars, destroy marriages and end lives. And that is why people need to be careful with them.

I think Washington realized he made a major mistake. He is doing what he can to make things right, but his efforts go unrecognized. Maybe if the tables were turned, no one would care anymore, and like Richards and Gibson, Washington could go on to live his life.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that no matter how much I want to believe in equality, double standards will always rear their ugly heads.

Shemir Wiles is a senior majoring in mass communications.