The question in today’s headline should sound absurd to you because it is. There’s never an acceptable reason to use a word that’s so hurtful and hateful. And yet people justify it all the time.
Last week I pointed out an example: an anti-Obama bumper sticker that said “Don’t Re-nig.” I lamented that racism was alive and well, and the response was interesting.
One friend was (and probably still is) angry with me. He said my word choice suggested that anyone who dislikes Obama is a racist and that it hurt. At best, he said, I had an example of one racist idiot or a hoax.
I did research the matter before opining. The stickers were sold on a site called Stumpy Stickers — an operation that sold a variety of racist stickers. Fortunately, the furor on Facebook over a picture of the “Don’t Re-nig” sticker led to that site shutting down. The fact that there would be enough hatred out there for a company to profit from the rage told me that there’s still an undercurrent of racism out there, so I said something.
Have we come a long way since the days of Jim Crow? Absolutely. And, I honestly know of nobody in my circle of friends and family who would qualify as a racist. But it’s still out there.
It’s not just about blacks. There’s still a lot of Jew bashing out there, for example.
I also don’t see this as being about whether you like or dislike the policies of President Obama. Personally, I find a lot of fault in how Obama has done things. I prefer centrist governing and he’s too far left for my tastes, just as I felt George W. Bush was too far in the other direction. Bill Clinton was more my speed. But that’s just my view.
Most of the time, people have good, honest disagreements about politics but still manage to be good to each other and not take it personally.
When someone puts something like a “Don’t Re-nig” sticker on their vehicle, they’ve crossed the line. It’s entirely possible — maybe even probable — that people who bought these stickers are not racist. Chances are they’re just angry as hell that their views and needs aren’t being represented. Another friend suggested just that, writing on my Facebook page:
As I don’t know the people with the car, I can’t make a real judgment – this person may indeed be a racist -but are you sure the sticker was chosen because the owner is racist or because the owner is angry and expressing his anger with mean words? Because people often use harsh, angry, hurtful language when they’re mad to express their feelings and to try to hurt the “other” person – because they feel hurt themselves. That isn’t necessarily an indication the person is racist (or a man/woman hater, or – it just indicates they are angry and hurt. Kids who yell “I hate you” at their parents don’t, but they do feel injured and are lashing out. Same thing happens to adults – it just manifests differently.
One bumper sticker, one name called in anger, one vulgarity does not offer any particular insight into the views of another human being -particularly when such words are yelled in anger.
My response was this:
I don’t disagree about that, but when someone puts a sticker on their vehicle with something that’s going to hurt a lot of people, even if only out of anger and not out of raw bigotry, it says something about the person. I see this stuff on the left and right. I thought some of the Bush-bashing bumper stickers were out of control too. But in this case the N-word has been tossed out there, which takes the discussion to a whole new level. How we express our anger is important.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when some of my more liberal friends suggested the horrendous federal response was because Bush didn’t like blacks and other minorities, I was furious. Anyone who had taken the time to study his background should have known better than to suggest that. Hell, both of his secretaries of state were African Americans. The tragically poor response to Katrina was about many things. Racism was not one of them.
I point this stuff out because I see stupidity on the left and right these days, and I’m tired of people suggesting my own positions are born from a particular political ideology.
In the final analysis, I think there’s too much hair-trigger anger in the world today. Blame politics. Blame the economy. Blame religious tensions. I think we should always be thinking about how we talk to each other. In that regard, I can’t ever think of a good reason to use the N-word or any other word that denigrates someone’s culture, faith, skin color or language.
I say this as someone who is not squeaky clean. When I was younger and dumber, I used the N-word. A lot.
I have never been a bigot. All I ever judged someone by was how they treated me and others.
But I’ve always been a button pusher. When I was a teen and early 20-something, I thought it was perfectly fine to use hurtful words to get a reaction. I worked in my father’s warehouse with Spanish-speaking guys from all over South America. They would call me names and I’d respond with something inflammatory against Latinos.
At the time I was also in a band and listening to a lot of metal-infused Hip-Hop. The main example was Ice-T’s band Body Count. These rappers dropped N-bombs like it was nothing. If blacks were doing that, I reasoned, it must be perfectly OK. I lived by that stupid belief with relish.
I eventually grew up. Looking back, using those words is one of the things I regret the most. And I have plenty of regrets.
So when I see it today — whether it’s used out of political anger or humor — I’m going to say something about it.
Get over it.