This Really Is about Bigotry
Can Mel Gibson admit his alcoholism and his bigotry—and recover from both?
Mel Gibson committed two unwise antisocial acts last week. He first got into a car and drove while highly intoxicated. He then shouted obscene anti-Jewish comments at the sheriff's deputy who was arresting him.
Gibson has responded quickly to both of the problems he created, but the two responses are different in character. He immediately checked into an alcohol rehab facility, and today (August 1, 2006) he issued an explicit, seemingly heartfelt apology for the remarks . But the difference is this: Apparently Gibson has freely admitted his alcoholism, but he denies his antisemitism. In his statement, while acknowledging and apologizing for the substance of his remarks, he still says explicitly, "I am not a bigot."
The honest admission of his alcoholism is surely essential if he is to recover from it. The honest admission of his bigotry is just as essential if he and all of us are to recover from that hideous disease.
Of course, I'm being judgmental. I don't know the content of Mel Gibson's heart. My suggestion that he is really a bigot comes from the "If it quacks like a duck…" school of social science. I don't think booze makes a person spout bigoted hatred. I think it has to be present first; the alcohol merely removes the social inhibition that would otherwise mask it. While I readily admit to some bigotry, I am definitely not anti-Jewish. I am, in fact, usually unconscious of people's Jewishness, unless it is called to my attention. I don't judge Jewishness in any way. I never have. So, if I were drunk, I can't imagine spouting antisemitic rantings. It isn't in me, so it wouldn't come out.
And let's be clear about what is and is not bigotry. Bigotry isn't necessarily the same as judgment, or discrimination. I just made a clear assertion that I am not antisemitic. Today, though, as I read story after story about violence in the Middle East, I vigorously disapprove of the actions of the state of Israel. I disapprove of the violence of Hezbollah as well, but even if I didn't, that wouldn't make me antisemitic. Mel Gibson hasn't suggested that the current Mideast violence was the source of his vitriol, but I wouldn't buy that defense if he used it. Disapproval of Israel's military actions wouldn't, in any state of drunkenness, lead him to personally disparage the deputy sheriff, or blame all wars on Jews, as he apparently did.
In spite of my lifelong effort to rid myself of bigotry, I sometimes still feel irrational, inappropriate reactions to some people or groups. When that happens, I try to admit the truth of it to myself. I'm not likely to display my bigotry offensively to others, or to act on it in any way, because I know it's indefensible—so I seldom, if ever, have to make amends to anyone for the expression of it. But I acknowledge it. I'm not afraid to talk about it. I know that my self-honesty and honesty with others is the only route to having it removed from my heart.
I think most of us—perhaps all—have some bigotry within us. It isn't right; it cannot be defended, but it's there. It's human. I don't think we should tolerate it—in ourselves or in others. Only through open admission of it can we root it out from our hearts, minds, and culture. And that we must do, or it will kill us.
So, I don't condemn Mel Gibson. I don't condemn him any more for his bigotry than for his alcoholism. I view them both as diseases. I commend him for the frank admission of his alcoholism, and his willingness to be treated for it. I only ask him to do the same regarding the bigotry. His honesty about his alcoholism might inspire other alcoholics to admit their own truths, and confront their own illness. If he can pursue the same course with his bigotry, he can inspire us all to face whatever bigotry is within us. If there is truth in his self-professed faith, this is how he can demonstrate it.