Recently, actor George Takei, most famous for his portrayal of “Sulu” in the popular Star Trek television and film series, got extremely angry over Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ idiotic dissent in the recent marriage equality ruling. So angry in fact, that he called Thomas “a clown in blackface.”

It wasn’t the most politically correct statement Takei could have made (he has since apologized and stated that the comment was not racially motivated). Nonetheless, given Takei’s life experiences and the fact that he was confronted with almost criminal stupidity through Thomas’s dissent, his reaction is completely understandable.

George Takei, 78, was born in Los Angeles in 1937. His father, Takakuma Takei, immigrated from Japan. His mother, Fumiko, was nisei, a first-generation American. In his 1994 autobiography, To The Stars, Takei described some of his earliest childhood memories of the family being forced to live at internment camps during the Second World War. His acting career has been remarkable, and not just because of Star trek. Takei broke into the business at a time when roles for Asian-Americans were few and far between. Over the years, Takei worked with Raymond (“Perry Mason”) Burr, Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton, Alec Guiness, and Jerry Lewis, to name a few.

In 2005, Takei came out publicly as gay. He and his partner, Brad Altman, had been together for 18 years at that point. His announcement came in response to a veto of California’s same-sex marriage bill by then-governor Arnold Scharzenegger.  At the time, Takei said: “It’s not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It’s more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen.”

The passage in Justice Thomas’ dissent that upset Takei (as well as many others) reads as follows:

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate…The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

Obviously, Thomas has never been a slave, nor has he ever been forced to live in a horse stable (one of the facilities where the Takei family was interned in 1942) behind barbed wire and under armed guard. Takei response:

For many, it was indeed a great loss of self-worth and respect, a terrible blow to the pride of the many parents who sought only to protect their children from coming to harm. Justice Thomas need have spent just one day with us in the mosquito-infested swamplands in that Arkansas heat, eating the slop served from the kitchen, to understand that it was the government’s very intent to strip us of our dignity and our humanity…To say that the government does not bestow or grant dignity does not mean it cannot succeed in stripping it away through the imposition of unequal laws and deprivation of due process.

In other words, Clarence – you have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.

Small wonder that Takei lost it. Since then, Takei has issued the following statement on his social media fan page:

When asked by a reporter about the opinion, I was still seething, and I referred to him as a ‘clown in blackface’ to suggest that he had abdicated and abandoned his heritage. This was not intended to be racist, but rather  to evoke a history of racism in the theatrical arts. While I continue to vehemently disagree with Justice Thomas, the words I chose, said in the heat of anger, were not carefully considered.

Well, George…we all say things in the heat of the moment that we later regret. Apology accepted…and let’s face it. Willful stupidity and asinine comments from those who should know better – like Clarence Thomas – can turn a saint into a raging maniac.

All-in-all, this fan thinks you showed remarkable restraint.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.