I am a sports fan, football and basketball mainly. Due to several different incidents in the past six months there is a raging debate in the media and sports world over use of the “n” word. I’ve never been a person who is really comfortable with derogatory words – the “n” word, the “f” word, the “c” word – I don’t really see the point. Don’t we have enough problems in the world without continuing to demean each other over our differences?
With regard to the “n” word, there have been two incidents that hit home hard for me. The first was early in the summer of 2013, when Riley Cooper, a young white wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, used the “n” word repeatedly and easily at a Kenny Chesney concert. Chip Kelly, the new coach, did not cut Cooper despite many public outcries for Cooper’s head. Kelly did two things: he sent Cooper out on his own to meet the press, then sent him home to his parents for a few days. During the press conference Cooper was contrite and apologetic. He was asked what his parents thought about the situation and he looked the media in the eye and said they were embarrassed and upset by his behavior. Several team leaders, black and white, came forward to preach forgiveness. Cooper is having a good year and that appears to have rebuilt several relationships on the team and I would sincerely hope that he learned his lesson.
The second incident is a lot more complicated, involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, both of the Miami Dolphins. Incognito has a “spotty” history at best – thrown out of two college programs for an inability to follow rules, during his pro career Incognito has been called the dirtiest player in the NFL. Incognito is white; Martin is bi-racial. Martin is claiming Incognito bullied him and whatever the NFL and NFLPA investigations may find, Incognito repeatedly used the “N” word in conversation with Martin. That is undisputed.
There is a third incident that is a little different. Alec Baldwin, whose contentious relationship with the media has been going on for 20 years or more, called a paparazzi a c–k——g f—-t recently. Then talked about how much he loves gay men and didn’t consider that use of the “f” word was derogatory to them. Hard to understand that an intelligent, well-spoken person in the public eye could really reconcile those two positions.
As to the “N” word there seems to be a debate between white people (such as myself) who despise the word and its use and wish it would be eradicated from the world’s vocabulary, and black people who feel that they have softened the word and changed its meaning by using the soft “a” at the end. They also feel that they have the right to use it, and white people do not have the right to tell them not to use it.
But by continued use of that word and especially with the debate flowing the way it is, the word continues to divide the races. White people using the word in any manner: affectionate (as Incognito claimed) or derogatory there should simply be no place for that word. Its history is sour and its usage is incomprehensible. The black community that suggests that their usage of the word is acceptable is equally confounding to me, not just because of the damage the word has done to their community but because perpetuating its use, no matter how the word is pronounced, is going to continue to divide communities. At this stage in the U.S. many and much of the black community is actually bi-racial. I watched First Take the other day and Stephen A. Smith was talking about his white grandmama but then defending his community’s use of the word (although he himself does not use it and dislikes the word). That makes zero sense to me. Had Stephen A’s grandmama told him to stop using the word, would that have been a direction from a white person who has no right to say anything, or a direction from a beloved grandparent? If biologically Stephen A is of mixed heritage, why wouldn’t he want the communities joined in choosing not to use that word? Smith is not the only person I’ve heard use that argument, it seems to be common within the black community.
The “f” word carries a more complicated punch. Like two football players calling each other “girls” it is a word that is often hurled at a person who is considered feminine and is meant to be an insult. As used by Alec Baldwin it was absolutely meant to be an insult. Its not acceptable to this society, when the gay community (much as the black community before them) are working and achieving so much by way of civil rights. So again, why are we dividing communities by using this word?
Perhaps with this in mind, in re-reading the Bhagavad Gita recently, Krishna’s explanation to Arjuna of why he should not be afraid to go to war struck a chord with me. The Gita teaches us that the physical body is temporary, that the permanent part of us is inside. The Atma, the real us, was never born and will never die, while the physical being is a shell that comes and goes. As it relates to the Gita, Krishna was teaching Arjuna to not be concerned about the death of his physical being or those he may kill in war time. As I see this teaching relating to race it is another moment that teaches me, at least, that the permanent part of us – our souls, so to speak – are not attached to the temporary part of us – our bodies. Therefore, we really should be blind to each other’s differences. We should not use our differences against each other. Our differences – our skins, our shells – are temporary. What is the point of thinking one race, one sex, one religion is better than another, when it is all temporary? Instead, we should be working together as one community of Earth to try to make our planet a better place to live and at this stage, try to save our planet.