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SENSITIVITY WATCH : Whoops, Whoopi

Whoopi Goldberg is a talented and funny actress, and Ted Danson is loved by millions for his years as the nondrinking bartender of TV’s hit series “Cheers.”

But what’s perhaps funny in the private bantering of friends can be insensitive and offensive before a large audience. The other night in New York, Goldberg and Danson combined in a skit that bombed.

The place was the Friars Club in Manhattan, and the occasion was a roast of the actress. Among its features was a sketch that Goldberg said she had written to be performed by Danson, whom she called her “best friend.” The problem was that Danson wore black minstrel makeup with exaggerated lips in white. Worse yet, the “N” word was included.

At least two among the more than 2,000 guests protested. TV talk show host Montel Williams walked out; New York City Mayor David Dinkins left the event early. They were offended, as were many of the African-Americans and others across the nation who saw news photographs of Danson in blackface.

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Over-reactions? No. At a time when America’s nerves are on edge over race relations, certain things just aren’t funny. Race is no laughing matter. The “N-word"--no matter the context or who speaks it--is not something to joke about. Danson meant no harm. Goldberg enjoyed the skit. What they did is not a crime by any means; it’s more an indication (if any were further needed) that America is still walking on eggs over the race question. That’s why the skit was in bad taste and made for a bad show.


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