An expectation of accountability is RACIST.
An expectation of responsibility is RACIST.
Opposition to the policies and ideals of a “person of color” is RACIST.
None of these things is true, and yet each of them is the reality of discourse today.
We are surrounded by shrinking violets, who have successfully peddled the idea that saying the wrong thing makes the speaker “Worse than HITLER!”. These delicate flowers pretend that they have elevated discourse by creating a de facto right not be offended, when in actuality, they have simply created a means to shut down any discourse they don’t like by invoking the horror of being offended. Like suckers, the rest of us play along, even in the face of the fact that this “right” is only available to some people, and to those who decide that it is necessary to be offended on behalf of members of these select groups. You can find this practice applied to virtually anything, but no where is this standard most glaringly hypocritical than the dreaded “N-WORD”.
I make my living with words. I am acutely aware of why speech matters, and why fettering what was meant to be UNfettered is a bad idea. Because of this, I feel like an ass even saying “the N-Word”. It’s stupid. It could be lifted from the pages of Harry Potter, and the fear that caused so many to refer to the Villain as “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.” And the irony of how the “offense” of the word, and how it causes the word to not be said actually infuses the word with even MORE power in the event the wrong person should say it isn’t lost on me.
I don’t like what society’s almost reverent circumvention of this word says about us. While it’s sure to cause fainting spells, an epidemic of the vapors, and, in some quarters, OUTRAGE!!!111!!!Eleventy!! of the finest water, I find the general deference and genuflection to be paternalistic, and condescending to those that these linguistic gymnastics are supposed to “protect”. And on the other hand, I find those who are quickest to express their OUTRAGE!!!11!! do so not out of and deep and abiding wound to their very existence, but because it gives them power.
And so I have been watching the discussions this week regarding the NFL’s proposal to punish the utterance of “the N-Word” with a penalty and a loss of yardage with some amusement. After all, everyone knows that the problem isn’t because the word is uttered by evil white racists, but because black players toss it around with impunity. So when communications major and Seattle Cornerback Richard Sherman spoke his mind on the proposal, I paid it some attention.
“It’s an atrocious idea,” Sherman, theSeattle Seahawks‘ star cornerback, told the website. “It’s almost racist to me. It’s weird they’re targeting one specific word. Why wouldn’t all curse words be banned then?”
Now I’m just spitballing here, but I think it’s a safe bet that Sherm would be bristling with objections if a white player said it, which means that I have to ask, “Why is it racist if HE can’t say it?” Seriously. Language belongs to everyone, or it belongs to no one. And if we accept the premise that the wrong person uttering a specific word is an unforgivable sin that justifies outrage, the end of the speaker’s career, and the expectation of a public penance that must be done regardless of the fact that the offender will ALWAYS be remembered for it, while at the same time those who are “injured” by it are unharmed by their own reckless abandon in using this same dreaded word with each other, then we are selling ourselves short.
The reaction to THIS word, more than any other, causes an almost reflexive response in people, and I think this has contributed more to the concept of Political Correctness than any other thing that a person can say. Once gasps and winces (or sputtering indignance) became the expected reaction to this word, it threw the door open to every other abuse perpetrated with the underlying intent of stifling or preventing discourse.
I know this goes against the conventional wisdom, which says that we make a more civil society by making this word taboo for some, and that it should be aggressively enforced, to the degree that those who can’t say it MUST condemn others who can’t say it, but do, but this approach PERPETUATES racism. It makes it ok for white people to assume that black people cannot deal with hearing a WORD. Spare me the drama about all the “baggage” and “connotations” that come with it. I’m not buying it. If you let a WORD hold you back, if you let a WORD define you, and your potential and your worth, then it is YOU who is empowering the one who speaks it. It is YOU who is giving your consent to have your dignity taken from you. But the fact is, in America today, it allows the recipient a tremendous degree of power as well. If you can’t defend your positions, invoke racism. If someone expresses a view you don’t like, invoke racism. If someone opposes what you have to say, invoke racism. If you want to deflect attention from something, invoke racism.
As long as we persist in this madness, the “honest conversation” that Eric Holder chided us about simply isn’t possible…but then, he knew that.