Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

What Jerry Seinfeld doesn't get about diversity

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
February 7, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
The show "Seinfeld" was once again on people's minds after Jerry Seinfeld <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/05/showbiz/celebrity-news-gossip/jerry-seinfeld-race-gender-diversity/index.html'>sparked controversy with his remarks about race and gender. </a>We look back on the stars of the series, then and now. The show "Seinfeld" was once again on people's minds after Jerry Seinfeld sparked controversy with his remarks about race and gender. We look back on the stars of the series, then and now.
HIDE CAPTION
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
'Seinfeld': Where are they now?
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: Morgan Freeman doesn't want a Black History Month; neither do I
  • He says the actor's idea that we should stop talking about racism doesn't work
  • Recent controversies, including Sherman rant, Coke ad, show we're not in race-free utopia
  • LZ: Jerry Seinfeld says he focuses on comedy, not diversity; that's not good enough

Editor's note: LZ Granderson writes a weekly column for CNN.com. A senior writer for ESPN and lecturer at Northwestern University, the former Hechinger Institute fellow has had his commentary recognized by the Online News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- "I don't want a Black History Month."

Morgan Freeman said that to Mike Wallace during a "60 Minutes" interview in 2005. As you can imagine, Freeman -- an actor so respected that he was even cast to play God -- sparked quite the controversy with his provocative exchange with Wallace.

"How are we going to get rid of racism?" the anchor asked.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

"Stop talking about it," the actor said.

Three years later Freeman donated $17,000 to his old high school in Mississippi to pay for its first desegregated prom. Apparently even "God" knows that to solve a problem sometimes you have to do more than "stop talking about it."

I don't want a Black History Month either.

Seinfeld slams 'P.C. nonsense' in comedy

But after watching the backlash to Macklemore sweeping the rap categories at the Grammys, seeing the racist posts on Coca-Cola's Facebook page after its Super Bowl commercial featured a multilingual rendition of "America the Beautiful," and witnessing a Sikh model in a Gap ad become a controversial figure, I don't see how any rational person can believe we are in a post-discrimination utopia.

One that doesn't need laws to foster equality or regulate inclusion because it comes so naturally. 

When the Texas Board of Education tries to downplay slavery as a cause of the Civil War or to scrub away Latino leaders such as Oscar Romero from its textbooks, you must know "stop talking about it" is probably not the best approach.

So while I don't want Black History Month -- or Women's History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month, etc.-- the reality is the sociological dynamics that necessitated these commemorative constructs in the first place are still very much at play. And this is true whether we talk about it or not.

It is nice to think discrimination died the day President Obama was elected. But then a Stanford graduate with no criminal record gives a passionate interview moments after making the biggest play of his professional football career and the world erupts with comment, some of it unabashedly racist, and we know discrimination hasn't died.

It just evolved. Society's privileged are still cloaking themselves with the truism: "I wasn't alive then," hoping not to be disrobed by the Stanisław Jerzy Lec aphorism: No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

During a recent CBS interview, Jerry Seinfeld noted that the first 10 episodes of his Web show only featured white males and then trivialized the criticism of his show's lack of diversity as "PC nonsense."

"People think (comedy) is the census or something, it's gotta represent the actual pie chart of America," he said. "Who cares? ... Funny is the world I live in."

Which isn't an inherently discriminatory thing to say but does come out of the mouth of a 59-year-old heterosexual white male who works in an industry -- comedy -- that is controlled by heterosexual white males as noted by numerous comedians who are not heterosexual white males such as Lindy West, Molly Knefel and Miss Bossypants herself, Tina Fey, who wrote in her best-selling book, describing the frat house atmosphere of "Saturday Night Live's" writing rooms:

"Not all of the men at SNL whizzed in cups. But four or five out of 20 did, so the men have to own that one. Anytime there's a bad female standup somewhere, some idiot interblogger will deduce that 'women aren't funny.' Using that same math, I can deduce that male comedy writers also piss in cups."

Seinfeld's comments, while not malicious in intent, do highlight some of the nuances of privilege those in power enjoy but are unable or unwilling to see. And unless measures are taken to point out some of those privileges, those who have been inadvertently excluded will continue to be so. This is why Fox News isn't concerned about "the war on Ramadan" and "Saturday Night Live" went six years without hiring a black female cast member.

"PC nonsense," to use Seinfeld's words, is employing unqualified women and minorities for the sake of fulfilling an HR checkbox.

But "PC nonsense" is also being challenged for not including women and minorities and then pretending you don't see race or gender, only shades of comedy. In a country that is 51% women and 37% minority, living in a city (New York) that is 53% women and 66% minority, saying something like that just sounds stupid.

But his saying it points out why Morgan Freeman's "stop talking about it" is counterproductive.

The pursuit of diversity is not an opportunity to point an angry finger or languish in guilt. It's an invitation to appreciate the woven contribution of the collective. We all play some role in the joys and ills of our society; let's stop pretending we don't.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 2305 GMT (0705 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT