Thursday, July 1, 2010

Just what makes one a racist?

What a surprise! Mel Gibson has committed yet another PR gaffe - this time he is quoted as having said to his girlfriend,

"You're an embarrassment to me. You look like a f---ing pig in heat, and if you get raped by a pack of n-------, it will be your fault."

Of course, everyone knows that "f---ing" means "fucking" and "n-------" stands for the infamous "N-word", nigger. But you can't use such words in the media because they offend many people.

It's my firm belief that no one can be offended by words without having chosen to be offended. When we were children, we were taught that "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me." Apparently, many people have forgotten that wise old saying. They choose to become incensed by the utterance (or printing) of mere words. Such words have the power to offend only if that power is granted to them by the listener/reader.

I'm by no means inclined to defend Mel Gibson, the man - whom I don't know personally, of course. He's demonstrated several times that he can't seem to keep his mouth in check and probably is indeed a racist and apparently may be a misogynist.

However, this occasion reminds me of something that's bothered me for a long time. If someone uses the word "nigger", does that mean they're racist? Then apparently a lot of black folks are racists - Chris Rock comes to mind, but many black people use the word "nigger" amongst themselves all the time. How can its capacity to offend be dependent on who utters it? Isn't that a racist perspective? Pardon the pun, but isn't that a case of the pot calling the kettle ... black?

In my thankfully brief time in the military, I made friends with a fellow with whom I was stationed at Fort Gordon, GA. He happened to be a black man, and we established our friendship quickly - you have to do that in the military or you won't have many friends. We had many open, uninhibited conversations in our short time together and I found him to be witty, thoughtful, and articulate. At the time, I had grown up in a mostly lily-white world so this experience was quite an eye-opener: black men are not necessarily angry, thoughtless, and illiterate! Racism was exposed to be a flawed way of knowing real people. Since then, I've discovered the intellectual bankruptcy of racism over and over again.

Anyway, to make a long story shorter, our relationship evolved such that he could call me "honkey" and I could call him "nigger" without creating any ill-will or animosity. We understood that such pejorative names don't cause any real hurt (unless people choose to be hurt by them!) and don't necessarily provide a clear and direct association with racism. We used these words on each other mostly for the fun of seeing how other people reacted - we knew the person using the words and knew there was no racism behind the words. We chose not to be offended. I miss my friend and regret that we didn't stay in touch.

Given the apparent obsession with "politically correct" terminology in the USA, any use of the dreaded "N-word" is construed by nearly everyone as meaning the user is a racist. That word is historically associated with very real racism, of course, and, frankly, I now have no such close friends among black Americans with whom I would dare to use it. You have to be really good friends with someone to use such deliberately provocative words freely.

Mel Gibson may well be a racist - if so, I pity him more than being angered by his ignorance in choosing to believe that skin color tells him anything about the person - but I don't believe that his use of the word establishes that on its own. There has to be a pattern of actions tied to the use of the word to conclude that someone uttering it is a racist.

4 comments:

theamericanheathen.com said...

I find it amazing that a word like "nigger" can be considered politically incorrect when it played such a pivotal role in the acquisition of 3 Academy Award nominations for the 1974 movie "Blazing Saddles". Starring Cleavon Little (Nigger) and Gene Wilder (Honky), two of the greatest on screen comic actors of the period, used the word "nigger" extensively and to the joy of audiences black and white.

The word "nigger" is benign in any context. It is indeed the individual who decides for themselves how the word should be interpreted. ANY word has the potential to offend, given due ignorance and idiocy.

Racism isn't defined by words folks. It is defined by actions. And, as we have all heard before... Actions speak louder than words.

Chuck Doswell said...

A while back, in some forum or another, I mentioned seeing "Blazing Saddles" on a commercial TV station, where they had bleeped out every use of the word "nigger" in that movie!! In that channel's effort to be unoffensive, the movie's theme, which was to point out the absolute absurdity of racism, was completely lost in the process.

If someone chooses to be offended by such things, they should simply change the channel. But I suppose that the channel's policy was designed to prevent that very reaction, to help their ratings and keep eyeballs in front of their adverts. In doing so, of course, they produced that very reaction in me - I chose to be offended by their policy of unoffensiveness!

It's just not right that offended people have the ability to impose their sanctimonious "moral standards" on the rest of us.

Chuck Doswell said...

I should add that I didn't contact the station about their offensive program. I changed the channel, thereby following my own advice.

Chuck Doswell said...

Somehow, a comment by RJ Evans has been deleted ... the text follows:

I find it amazing that a word like "nigger" can be considered politically incorrect when it played such a pivotal role in the acquisition of 3 Academy Award nominations for the 1974 movie "Blazing Saddles". Starring Cleavon Little (Nigger) and Gene Wilder (Honky), two of the greatest on screen comic actors of the period, used the word "nigger" extensively and to the joy of audiences black and white.

The word "nigger" is benign in any context. It is indeed the individual who decides for themselves how the word should be interpreted. ANY word has the potential to offend, given due ignorance and idiocy.

Racism isn't defined by words folks. It is defined by actions. And, as we have all heard before... Actions speak louder than words.