Alex Blaze

Isaiah Washington and T.R. Knight: Everything you know all over again

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 22, 2007 2:32 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Anthony Samad, Grey's Anatomy, Isaiah Washington, Jasmyne Cannick, Shonda Rhimes, T.R. Knight

Well, Isaiah Washington's contract with ABC wasn't renewed, according to the network because of many negative events and actions. It's hard to separate it from all the bad press that's surrounded him calling T.R. Knight a faggot, so hard that even Washington himself sat down with the Houston Chronicle and said:

"They fired the wrong guy," Isaiah Washington said today.[...]

Washington said Knight, who plays Dr. George O'Malley, stirred up the notion that the slur was targeted at him and created a negative work environment. Washington also alleged that Knight likely wanted a salary increase and a more substantive role for his character.

Knight, who acknowledged that he was gay after the incident, told Ellen DeGeneres in January that Washington used the slur against him and that "everyone (on the set) heard it."

"That's a lie," Washington said. "I used the word during a disagreement with Patrick. I apologized for that. We shook hands and went back to work."

Well, we finally hear that he actually did use the word "faggot". It's interesting that he says that T.R. Knight should be fired, ostensibly because Washington thinks he lied on Ellen, but that he himself should not, even though he just admitted to lying at the Golden Globes, where he jumped in front of Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes to say that he didn't call Knight a faggot. Oh, well.

This story has annoyed me a lot over the past several months almost a year, especially considering we really didn't know whether Washington actually used that word to describe Knight. Or at least we shouldn't have pretended that we knew. The original reports of the story came from the anonymous witnesses who spoke only with the Enquirer and the NY Post, not exactly the most credible kinds of witnesses speaking to not exactly the most credible news sources. I spent a lot of time earlier this year trying to find anyone else who explicitly confirmed this story and was willing to put his/her name in an article about it, but no one was. But, I guess that's over now, even though Washington thinks for whatever reason that it's OK to call a someone a faggot as an insult at the workplace.

The other aspect of this story that's been more than annoying to me is the fact that in order to argue either side - that Washington should be fired or that he should not - everyone feels the need to use stereotypes of Black men or gay men to get their point across.

As Dr. Anthony Samad said:

They first put the "angry Black Man" jacket on [Washington], which goes on anyone articulate enough to redefine themselves and defend their views. White boys with anger issues, like Sean Penn, Johnny Depp or Alec Baldwin, are "rebels," "bad boys" or complexed. Black men always have to be angry. I've had it thrown on me a couple times myself. It's a tough one to shake, and the more calm you get-the more people try to provoke you.
issaaaaiah.jpgPoint well taken, especially considering items like the photo to the right, captioned by Perez Hilton. Washington even felt the need to tell the Chronicle:
I'm not angry. I'm disappointed.
Add to that the stereotype that all Blacks are homophobic, and you get a mold that's hard to break out of, where even American intelligentsia like John Mayer call for Washington to have to play a gay character because it's the "subject of his own ire", even though he already had in Spike Lee's Get on the Bus with a positive review from Keith Boykin.

But hey, stereotypes aren't really about the truth anyways.

On the flip side, Jasmyne Cannick has been famously getting a petition together to get Washington back on the air, especially in light of the recent removal of other Black characters and stars from prime time slots. I don't know if this is the most productive place to be having that discussion, especially when she could have started petitions to bring any of the other actors whom she lists back. But then this has to be taken in the context of stereotypes of gay men, the germane ones being being:

  1. Gay men are powerful, conniving, and control everything.
  2. Gay men are whiny, exaggerate because they're easily made hysterical, and should be written off when they speak.
  3. Gay men are inherently racist and improving their lot will come at the expense of everyone else.
Consider this from the same Dr. Samad quoted above:
But the altercation became secondary to Washington's perceived "homophobia," and Hollywood being an industry run by...well, you know, weren't going to rest until they had Washington's head on a platter.
I don't think I'm too far off in guessing that "well, you know" means faggots. (And here I thought the Jews ran Hollywood! Or, wait, that's banking, and the Catholics run the government, and Hispanics are stealing American jobs, and Muslims are going to destroy America, and feminists just hate men....) Even Ms. Cannick refers to a "gay mafia", implying that, of course, (white) gays control everything and will use violence to get their way and therefore should be feared and themselves controlled. (Washington in the Chronicle article also said that Knight made this whole thing up to get a pay raise, but then admits that he said that word.... There we go conniving again!) Cannick goes further saying that Knight was just playing an "'I'm a victim' routine" - again, gay men are whiny and hysterical and should not be trusted.

So here we are: Black versus gay, all over again. I can't help but think that the powers that be laugh whenever things like this happen, when people who don't have a place at the table because of their identities (or who have a few middle- to upper-class members with a place at the table who have forgotten where they came from, and I'm sure you all can think of a list of people like that) get into these sorts of fights with each other and spend their time, energy, and resources to take out each other's credibility and perpetuate the same sorts of stereotypes that the dominant culture places on us. I'm not saying that homophobia among racial minorities or racism among queers shouldn't be challenged, but I am saying that this is the sort of thing that we need to work on by talking about these issues where race, class, gender, sexuality, and all sorts of other issues intersect and begin to acknowledge the stereotypes and prejudice at play in any action.

Were there racist element at play in the effort to get Washington fired? Absolutely. Are there homophobic elements at play in the delay in firing him and now in the petition drive to get him back on the air? Absolutely. Did ABC do the right thing in firing Washington? I don't know since they referred to other incidents that they didn't disclose. But Pam Spaulding summarizes the story with this:

When I heard about the original altercation with Dempsey and the rest of the nonsense, my first reaction was "obnoxious diva behavior."

I have no patience for people who cannot control themselves in the workplace. I don't care how many charitable organization they belong to or admirable public efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS issues you have under your belt, abusing your co-workers is BS, and it's tolerated way too often, particularly with artsy creative types, or in the corporate arena, the folks who are gifted in some way that pleases stockholders even as they terrorize their support staff.

I don't know if she's correct in her assessment here, but I know I want to live in a world where Pam Spaulding is always right.

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