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What happened to RESPECT?: Public Outbursts of Incivility

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Hardy L. Brown
Over the last two weeks we have witnessed several public outbursts by high profile people that makes me wonder what has happened to decorum, dignity, and respect.

The most recent televised moment was when rapper Kanye West took the microphone away from pop country singer Taylor Swift during this week’s VMA Awards ceremony while she was giving an acceptance speech for winning one of the best video categories. West came on stage and grabbed the microphone and stated he believed one of the other contenders – pop icon Beyonce had the best video in that category. When West came off the stage he was escorted out of the building. His behavior, which he later apologized for on Jay Leno’s new show, was insulting to Taylor Swift and her hard work as a talented singer. It was also insulting to me as a lover of “all music”—gospel, blues, rock-n-roll, jazz, reggae and yes country. I might add it was embarrassing to Beyonce whose video later won an award.

Earlier in the week Serena Williams’ outburst at a judge over a call during a match at the US Open was not just unprofessional, it was rude and crude. It has cost her $10,000 and a slip in her public image by many.  She has since apologized to the judge and the tennis association but the damage has been done.  Last week Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina called the President of the United States a “liar” during his address before the joint houses of congress and the nation. Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of our nation with all of the past presidents. Now I am sure we have had presidents to address congress, look them and us straight in the eye and tell us untruths but no one would interrupt them during the speech and say, you lie completely disrespecting the Office of the President. Immediately after the session was over Wilson’s colleagues in the Republican Party pressured Wilson into apologizing to the president. Some of Wilson’s friends suggested he go before his colleagues in the house and publicly apologize and he responded no way.

The reason many in congress wanted Wilson to apologize was his outburst was in violation of house rules and decorum and his actions raised questions about racial undertones of defiance and disrespect to the nation’s first Black president. One congressman from Georgia said next we can expect people to put on white hoods and suits. Wilson’s apology would have prevented that statement from being made in public and I am sure this is why his friend encouraged him to apologize quickly. Wilson on the other hand sees it as an opportunity to stir up his base in South Carolina to get re-elected.  Well Tuesday Wilson was censured by his colleagues in congress.

In my humble opinion both West and Wilson made their outbursts out of racial prejudice and in inappropriate places. Both owe the inflicted person, their colleagues and the public an apology. Both earn enough money to not have to resort to those kinds of outbursts and in Wilson’s case he is a paid public servant representing a diverse constituency. While Serena’s outburst did not seem as racially motivated as the others I couldn’t help but wonder why such incivility? What happened to respect and dignity?

There is a scripture from Proverbs that instantly came to mind as I watched these incidents televised and discussed over and over again: “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles.” While we often see examples of discourteous behavior in the world, our elected officials and other public figures, must know that they will he heard at an even higher standard. They must set the example for others to follow.  Young people especially admire our talented artists and athletes and as public figures they have a duty to control their behavior. As for our public servants, they should be held to an even higher standard as those entrusted to govern on our behalf. And then there will be no apologies necessary.

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