The 1975 debut episode of The Jeffersons was called “A Friend in Need,” and in it, Tom Willis offered a bit of white logic. After a confrontation with the sitcom’s black protagonist George Jefferson, Tom, a successful white book editor, told his black wife Helen that although the N-word wasn’t completely banished from his thoughts, he’d never been tempted to use it, not even during their most-heated arguments.
“You see, honey, we can’t stop crazy thoughts from popping into our heads,” he explained. “Nobody can. But what matters is not what passes across our minds. It’s how we live our lives together.”
I thought about Tom’s white logic while listening this week to Robert Ortiz’s apology for a viral drunken rant in which he twice called Lyft driver Shawn Pepas Lettman the N-word.
“At the end of the day, my actions were unjustifiable,” Ortiz told New York City TV station WPIX. “I was drinking. A lot of the stuff that I said I didn’t even remember until the next day.”
“That’s not how I was raised to treat people. I grew up in the projects, so I just wanna make sure that people understand that I’m not racist,” Ortiz continued, before taking another dig at Lettman, whom he accused of being homophobic and racist against Latinos in his rant for refusing his request to turn on the radio.
Said he: “I’m Puerto Rican. I’m from the Bronx. I’m gay. Like, we know discrimination. You smell it in the air. You just know when someone’s uncomfortable with you. The only thing that I can say is that I’m sorry.”
Please. A pity-party apology with excuses and shade is not a sincere one, just damage control.
And if you have to insist you’re not racist, you probably are.
People who aren’t racist don’t have to protest that they aren’t because their actions don’t render them suspect. They’re the ones who don’t make race the crux of everything, from lousy customer service to their sexual attraction.
The Ortiz vs. Lettman stand-off went down in Brooklyn last August during a Lyft ride. Ortiz delivered a 16-minute tirade directed at 911, Lyft customer service, and Lettman, after the latter refused to play music in his car. Lettman filmed the rant and earlier this month posted it on YouTube, where it went viral. As a result, Ortiz’s employer fired him and Lyft banned him for life.
Only then did Ortiz apologize, first in a YouTube video he posted on October 13 and then in the WPIX interview.
Unfortunately for Ortiz, he’s already shown us who he is, and in my Maya Angelou way, I believed him the first time.
He may think he’s special, but he’s not. We’ve encountered his brand of entitled gayness before, as recently as August when Chris Donohoe threw a hissy fit in Las Vegas over a hotel’s reaction to his skimpy swimwear. They backtrack when they’re called out. They blame it on poor communication. They blame it on Ambien. They blame it on the a a a a a alcohol.
They blame everything but their own darkness. Ortiz says he was wasted. The “I was drunk” defense wouldn’t hold up in a court of law, and it won’t hold up in the court of public opinion. It’s too late to deny you’re racist when you’ve been caught on camera proving that you are.
People get angry. People get drunk. People get angry and drunk. But they don’t all turn into nasty, narcissists spewing hateful, racist language.
I’ve had guys hurl drunken N-word rants at me and offer morning-after apologies. Whether or not I accept them doesn’t change what they said. It doesn’t alter the fact that somewhere inside the apologist, a raging racist lurks, just waiting for booze and/or rage to let him out.
I’m done. I’m tired of excuses and lame justifications for unacceptable behavior: “I was young.” “I was drunk.” “I was on Ambien.” “It’s just my preference.” If Ortiz has learned anything from the discrimination he supposedly knows so well that he can smell it in the air, it shouldn’t have been so easy for him to dish it out.
Naturally, there are those (mostly white, presumably) who think his apology is sufficient, and we should all move on. Why do we have to always go on about racism anyway, right? Well, if you don’t want us to go on about it, don’t keep making it an issue.
If you’re not racist, don’t make everything about race. Don’t drop racial language and then try to play innocent when people react. Go ahead and complain about the Lyft driver who refuses your musical request. Date whom you want to date. Sleep with whom you want to wake up next to–or send packing before sunrise. Just leave race out of it. If you shut up about it, we will, too.
But those who claim not to be racist are always the first ones to allude to race, whether it’s in a drunken tirade, a social-media pronouncement, or a Grindr profile. Plenty of people manage to get through life without being privately or publicly branded “racist.” If you don’t want to be accused, stop fondling smoking guns?
The bad behavior and the excuses will continue, because this is the America that President Donald Trump is supposed to be making great again, and Tom Willis’s white logic has largely gone out of style. Offenders might lose their jobs, as Ortiz lost his gig at the urgent health care facility CityMD. But they still can have a shot at the Presidency, or a seat on the Supreme Court.
It’s interesting that Ortiz identified himself as a Trump supporter on camera. Even in his alleged drunken haze, he was cunning enough to name-drop Trump because he probably knew that if the video Lettman was shooting went viral, the President might see it and count Ortiz among the “very fine people” who thinks he walks on water. Flattery will get you everywhere with Trump.
If the mea culpa thing doesn’t work out, maybe Ortiz should give Trump a call. Or Kanye West. He can tell them how wonderful they are. Ortiz’s narcissism may have gotten him fired from his last job, but theirs could very well lead to his next one.