My own contribution to that conversation as follows:
From a free speech perspective, Michael Richards has the right to say pretty much whatever he wants to on stage and I'm glad that I live in a country where it is legal for anyone with a microphone (or a blogger account) to say all sorts of offensive things without facing legal sanction. In that light, I have definite resistance to the idea that the courts should make Richards pay monetary damages for his actions. At the same time, I am also glad I live in a country where I have the right to call someone like Michael Richards out as a racist prick. And given that he had such a fundamental disrespect for the Black paying members of his audience it would only be appropriate for his career to be adversely affected.
Also, to add a certain amount of historical perspective to the situation, this isn't even the first (or second) time that the cast of Seinfeld has been involved in racial controversy.
The first case which comes to mind is the Puerto Rican Day episode (which included a number of stereotypical Puerto Rican characters along with a scene where Michael Richards accidentally sets a Puerto Rican flag on fire and then stomps on the flag in full view of some Puerto Rican parade-goers.) NBC actually had to apologize for airing the episode and took it out of circulation for years even after Seinfeld went into syndication.
The second racial controversy involving the Seinfeld show which I'm aware of has to do with the time that Danny Hoch was asked to play a stereotypical Hispanic character (Ramon, the crazy pool cleaner) and ended up refusing the role. (He reminds me of the Hollywood Shuffle line: "There is always work at the post office")
So I would argue that Richard's rant is really not surprising given his time on a show with such a track record.
The best analysis of the situation I've seen so far comes from Dan Charnas over at Dantrification:
I harbor no illusions: The construct for “Seinfeld,” like so many other comic teleplays and films, is a monochromatic world where White People are central, and people of color — if they appear at all — are simply used as accessories, as added “color” for a scene.
When you think about “Seinfeld,” and you realize the only recurring Black characters were either there because they made our white heroes uncomfortable simply by being Black (like George’s nemesis Mr. Morgan at the Yankees); or to parody a Black celebrity (like Kramer’s erstwhile lawyer Jackie Chiles doing his best Johnnie Cochran), you get a peek inside the archaic white psyche. It’s a headspace where white people simply do not know how to deal with a world that is slowly become not their own. So they literally ignore it. “Seinfeld” is Ralph Ellison’s argument made visual.
Many of my friends live in this space. Many of your friends do too. They’re the white friends who giggle when hip-hop comes on, rather than bob their heads to it. It’s not that we can’t be friends with them. It’s just that we choose to live multiculturally and they don’t... either because they don’t know how, don’t want to, don’t have to, or they are afraid to.
When white folks are brought out of this space, they can have a number of reactions. Some take kindly to reality. Others snap.
I’m sure that Michael Richards doesn’t believe he is a racist. I’m sure, on an intellectual level, believes in equal rights for all. But we never find the truth until we get cornered. When Black folks are pushing his buttons, Richards’ response, apparently, is to tell Black people they have no right to push his buttons because they’re Black. That is the very definition of deep-seated, latent racism. Sorry.
That should be enough for now. More later.
You Tube: Michael Richards' Rant
You Tube: Michael Richards' "Apology"
You Tube: Seinfeld: The Puerto Rican Day episode
Script for The Puerto Rican Day
hiphopmusic.com: The Definitive "Racist Kramer" Post (Updated)
Revolutionary Worker: Danny Hoch's People
You Tube: Danny Hoch exposes Seinfeld
The Manrilla Blog: Racism, Kramer and Why His Apology Meant Nothing To Me
Digg: Comedian Paul Mooney rips Michael Richards on FOX News
Racialicious: Kramer drops the n-bomb repeatedly in racist tirade
African American (Black) Opinion: African American Opinion Reader says: Michael Richards a.k.a Kramer is only the tip of the iceberg.
Alternet: Richards' N-Word Diatribe