F Bombs and N Words

You remember those “wars” that Fox News periodically springs on us? You know “The War on Christmas,” and “The War On Christianity?” Claiming these things are “under attack” is kind of ludicrous when you think: a.) Christmas is the one religious day where — except for movie theaters, 7-11s, gas stations, mass transit, and hospitals — the entire country basically shuts down to observe the day. And b.) Roughly 80% of the U.S. population identifies themselves as “Christian.” So, what “Big Bad” with enough political power is out there waging war? The Jews? The Liberal Media? Islamic sleeper terrorists? Gays? Feminists? Atheists? The ACLU? Hindus who run 7-11s? Even if you add up the numbers in terms of population, money, and political power, it’s fairly small when you consider the current political landscape and those who hold power right now.

I bring this up because it’s this kind of faux “aggrieved” and “persecuted” view that permeates the mind of one of my co-workers. At issue was the recent unplanned idiocy of Jerry Lewis during his annual telethon. For some reason, he decided to utter the phrase “illiterate faggot” when describing the family member of one of the cameramen on live TV during the telethon. Haven’t seen it yet? Okay, here ’tis:

Now, what’s the point of this? Was he trying to be funny? It obviously didn’t work and you can tell from the audience reaction, that there was a good amount of discomfort over what he said. My co-worker basically said “Hey, we ought to cut the guy some slack! I mean he’s in his 80s, he was obviously tired from doing 18 hours on the air, and he apologized for what he said. So let’s just move forward and stop beating this guy up!” I told him that he just doesn’t get the effect these words have on people when they are uttered by those outside of a particular group. He said people are just too sensitive and they ought to just “get over it” and stop worrying about who said what. I retorted that since he’s never known how marginalized one can feel because of sexual orientation, race, gender, and religion, it’s easy for him to say “get over it” since he occupies a place of privilege in society.

What was his comeback? It went something like this: ” I know what it’s like to be marginalized because Christianity is under attack in this country. Everyone bends over backwards and lets Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and whoever promote their religion. But Christians get slapped down when, for example, a student at a high school graduation is barred from expressing her admiration of Jesus Christ during a commencement speech. But if she mentioned Buddha, she would have been allowed to do so. Muslims get to wear their head garb when getting their driver’s license picture taken, and Jews gets to talk about their religious traditions all the time. But Christians? They aren’t allowed to do anything! So yeah, I know how it feels to be picked on!”

The cartoon bubble over my head at that point was “WTF?” Later, I was thinking about what he was saying and it’s basically a kind of “majority rage” at the world. When “the minority” starts to get uppity and upsets the “natural order of things,” the immediate reaction is the kind of anger and outrage you hear on talk radio. You’ve heard it a million times, and even though it’s an old song, it’s gets played over to the point where those in the minority are supposed to apologize for even daring to bring up the fact that certain types of behavior (and that includes certain uses of word by people) should not be tolerated because there’s no redeeming value to them. I know, there are always excuses like: “Hey, it’s just a joke.” Or, “Oh, he/she was probably drunk or just an idiot.” But does that really neutralize the effect? Or does it reinforce the fact that these not-so-subtle slurs are ugly reminders that many in the majority want to keep those in the minority on the margins of all that society has to offer.

Cornell West, the noted political/religious philosopher released a CD years ago that tried to put a pop cultural spin on many of the social ills that continue to plague our society. And while the CD was kind of embarrassing and preachy at times, he did have a couple of tracks that weren’t too bad. He’s conversation on “The N Word” was one that had moments where I thought he hit the mark.

Cornell West “N-Word” (Download)

– -PK

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