Despite slur, let "Grey's Anatomy" star keep his job
January 25, 2007
"Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington may lose his job for allegedly using an anti-gay slur against a co-star. But Washington has done enough apologizing and should be allowed to keep his job.
Washington was foolish for using -- or possibly repeating -- the slur at a recent Golden Globe press conference, especially after trying to deny that he used the term in the first place. But afterwards, he publicly apologized to his castmates, the show's fans and the lesbian and gay community "for using a word that is unacceptable in any context or circumstance."
Washington is now reportedly seeking counseling after the controversy. And he recently met with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).
But this scandal is proof that there is still a double standard when it comes to blacks who break certain social mores.
Janet Jackson's latest album suffered poor sales presumably because of the wardrobe malfunction three years ago, while her blouse-ripping cohort Justin Timberlake was given a clean slate and has enjoyed strong sales.
A few years ago, white rapper Eminem was called into question for his homophobic lyrics, but all he had to do was appear on stage with Elton John on stage at the Grammy's and he was given a free pass.
Isaiah Washington is not perfect but he can be forgiven. In 1996, he played a gay character dealing with homophobia from other black men in Spike Lee's film "Get On the Bus." When promoting that film, Washington spoke frankly about the need for the black community to embrace its gay brothers and sisters.
I was in my early 20s then, and this was an important statement for me. As a black gay man, I felt I was being affirmed publicly by another black man.
This must not have been an easy thing for Washington to do 11 years ago, and things are not any better now. In an industry with so few roles for black actors, black A-listers have passed up scripts featuring black gay characters because many of them consider taking the roles to be career suicide.
Now, more than a decade later, the gay community is asking for Washington's head. There are several petitions floating across the Internet calling for his ouster.
But is it better to make the actor accountable for his actions and assist him in helping end his homophobia, or do we get him fired -- and, at this point, possibly blacklisted? This could leave him even more isolated and marginalized for something he has already admitted was an error in judgment. And that would be no victory for anyone.
Kenyon Farrow lives in New York and is co-editor of "Letters From Young Activists" (Nation Books, 2005). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.