Charles Senteio

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Is Free Speech Free?

I'm sure like the rest of you I was shocked when I heard what went down at the Laugh Factory Friday nite. The lovable and affable Kramer, played by Michael Richards for so many years (I'll call him Kramer for this because it is all I know him for), went 'off' on a couple of bruthas who were heckling him during his stand-up. Here is the article from CNN today, which also has a link to the video which really brings it to life. Going 'off' puts it mildly, he lost his mind, or should I say "lost his filter". I don't think that when we're drunk (Mel), mad (Kramer), or extremely stressed we make up shit because of our emotions. I believe at the time we mean it. I just think our emotions make our 'filters' malfunction. We simply speak on what is already inside of us, which for some is very troubling. I kinda laughed when I first heard/saw this. It's funny that some of us find these sentiments so shocking. Call me a pessimist but I think bigots, who by and large focus their insecurities on race, gender, religion, SES and other stuff, are very much among us. In some cases they are us. It makes us uncomfortable when this part of us surfaces. Of course what Kramer said was inappropriate, insensitive and stupid. It also wasn't good business. You see Seinfeld's season 7 is being released soon on DVD and this ain't gonna help sales. Jerry was on Letterman Monday nite to try and do damage control. He has a brand to protect and I'm not mad at him. He had the affable Kramer on to try and explain. What followed was a disconnected 'explanation' that touched upon everything from losing one's temper to Katrina. He was very Kramer-like.

To me the more interesting point in all of this is the notion of free speech. Does Kramer have a right to say what he did? Of course. In fact I would defend his right to do so. Of course he'll also have to face the consequences. Kramer is no Mel Gibson. His road back, assuming there is one, will come with a much steeper grade.

In a perfect world would freedom of speech have its 'limitations'? I look at this issue this way. If I am willing to open my mouth I must be just as willing to deal with the consequences. Period. If those of us (them) who chose to speak up process this simple equation just before setting mouth into motion, we'd all be better off. Sure you are 'free' to yell fire in a crowded theater however you also have to be just as willing to be found guilty of a crime and the consequences that ensue. You have the 'freedom' to enter a church during a Christmas eve service a yell at the crowd that they're crazy for celebrating Jesus' birthday in December, my own sentiments tell me he must've been born closer to Spring. Luke 2:8 tells us that the shephers spent the nite outdoors with their flocks when Jesus was born without mentioning the cold. Anyway, you also have the 'freedom' to proclaim the legitimacy of worshipping Buddha and how this Jesus thing really doesn't produce individuals who act closer to 'God'. Again, you'd have to be willing to accept the consequences of practicing this type of freedom. As the great Curtis Mayfield sang, freedom ain't never been free. As long as we're willing to pay for it, then we can eliminate the limitations on speech. Most of us are not willing to pay this, in some cases, very high price for speaking up for what we believe in. Because of this, there indeed are limitations....

I dig Kramer, he was a likeable character. I don't think I'll be able to view him again in the same light though. I do wonder what his reaction must've been when he read the script where he'd have to dress up in a stereotypical pimp suit, the video is still funny, prance around for a good part of a very funny and memorable episode. This one will be memorable to me for very different reasons now.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Tuesday wasn't all blue, I support the Prez!

On Friday I got an Email from the University of Michigan Business School's Dean Robert J. Dolan stating that diversity was still a strong part of the atmosphere at the Business School I graduated from in 1994. His Email, which was sent to all alums, was to support a very firm and public statement by University of Michigan’s President, Mary Sue Coleman, who was responding to the State of Michigan’s passage Tuesday of Proposition 2 which essentially bans affirmative action policies for all state universities. I share her concern for this passage as well as her conviction in fighting it.
Below is the Email I sent her today offering my support.

President Coleman,
I wanted to personally reach out and thank you for your firm and enlightened stance on diversity on that wonderful campus. I chose UM’s Business School largely because of it’s diversity. Prior to entering UM I had only one African – American teacher, Mr. Lumpkin my 7th grade keyboard teacher. My two years at UM were wonderful. They were filled with interactions, debate, and dialog from young men and women all over the world. We shared a common bond, a desire to seek wisdom and recognizing that it often can come from a person whose gender, socioeconomic status, race, nationality, or sexual orientation my be different than our own. As an African-American male with a solid pedigree, I have an undergraduate dual major in Mathematics and Computer Science, I had plenty of options for my graduate business education. Michigan was all I’d hoped for and keeps me coming back to campus regularly in the years that have followed graduation. I recruited for my employers, Booz, Allen & Hamilton and Accenture, as well as conducted strategy consulting career fairs and seminars for case interviews. I have worn the maize and blue with pride in my travels all over the world, and especially here in Texas where I’ve called home since July, 1994. I am proud to say outstanding athletics only makes up a small portion of that motivation. That campus is a special place in no small part because of it’s diversity and I am proud to read your firm and passionate views on keeping it that way. If there is anything I can do to support your efforts please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Next year I will start medical school and I am certain the diverse points of view and passion I experienced during my two years there, along with the rich dialogue in the years since graduation with alums all over the world, have helped shaped my attitude of compassion and caring for the least among us. These existing attitudes were certainly enhanced during my years at UM. These attitudes are critical components of my decision to leave a successful strategy consulting career to serve as a physician for the urban, underserved. Diversity, and the resulting appreciation for those whose circumstances may be different than my own, were critical building blocks to my conviction to serve and they would not be quite as strong if not for my experiences in Ann Arbor. As you well know diversity has it’s benefits so much more far reaching than do numbers on charts. A campus that welcomes women, the poor, and people of color is a tremendous advantage Michigan has over other ‘top’ universities. I firmly support your efforts in keeping it that way. Please keep fighting the good fight and, now more than ever, sustain your voice of leadership that helps us yell with even more vigor and pride, “GO BLUE!”
Charles Senteio
MBA 1994

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.
-- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.