Not too long ago, I was added to a Facebook group where Christians discuss politics. I’m not sure who added me to the group–they probably thought it was a good fit, seeings how I wrote about Jesus & Politics and whatnot–but I can assure of this: It is every bit as much of a shit show as you would imagine it might be. There are a few good folks there, but for the most part, I feel like a missionary in a land where I’m not welcomed. Or particularly liked. A prophet in a strange land… A land mostly bereft of compassion and common sense. That place is my Nineveh. A couple weeks ago (a good week before Bill Maher dropped the N-word on his show), someone posted this picture:
A robust discussion followed. Just kidding… It was mostly a bunch of white people who were mad that “THEY get to say it–why can’t WE say it?” And “People are just looking for a reason to be offended.” And “If they don’t want people to say it, they shouldn’t put it in their songs.” And “Reverse Racism” and “Snowflake!” and “Censorship!” and “First Amendment Rights!” And because of this, lately I’ve been thinking about how to explain to people the “WHY” of being careful with our words. Because–believe it or not–this is something that is up for debate with quite a few people in the world right now… Almost all of whom voted for our current president, and almost all of whom usually put some stank on it when they use the term “Politically Correct.” And I can’t believe I have to explain this, but here is why white folks using the N-word is NOT AT ALL DEFENDABLE.
So let me just start off with the claims about “First Amendment Rights.” The First Amendment basically protects people from being arrested and imprisoned for saying offensive or unpopular things… Specifically prohibiting congress from making laws which abridge a person’s right to free speech. Here’s what the First Amendment does NOT DO: It does NOT protect you from being called a racist, a bigot, or an asshole when you say racist, bigoted, and asshole-ish things. The First Amendment protects you from being arrested for calling for the deportation of all Muslims… It does NOT protect you from someone taking a screen capture of your words, sending that picture to your employer, and that employers firing you because they don’t want hate-filled, xenophobic, knuckle-dragging embarrassments working their company. See the difference? Good.
A few years ago, I wrote a post titled “Letting Go Of The R-Word.” I repost this one a lot. I hear people use the word “retarded” probably five times a week, and if you tell people that their use of the R-Word is hurtful, they will often talk to you about their INTENT. They didn’t MEAN for their words to be hurtful, so that excuses it… It makes it okay. They don’t use it thinking of people with special needs… They just mean it to be a synonym for “dumb.” They might talk to you about how the “real” meaning of “retard” is “to slow.” And if you’re speaking to someone face-to-face, there’s a good chance they will apologize for offending you and move on. But in the artificially-bravery-inflating arena of social media, many people will bemoan how “overly sensitive” people are nowadays. They will equate this sensitivity with weakness, and they long for a simpler time… A time when you could insult whole groups of minorities without a bunch of “Social Justice Warriors” wagging their fingers at you every time you called someone a fag… A time when America used to be “great.”
And it’s a similar dance for people who want the “right” to say racially insensitive things without the discomfort of being called out on their douchebaggery.
“It’s just a word.”
“I’m not trying to hurt anyone.”
“THEY get to say it.”
“Don’t be so sensitive.”
But I want you to imagine a scenario with me: Imagine there was a guy who–when he saw people he knew–slapped them in the back. Pretty hard. Not like he’s trying to HIT them, necessarily… But hard enough that some people spoke up, and said, “Ow, man. That kind of hurt.” Maybe he assumes the first one might have had a sun burn, and he keeps on doing it. A few more people let him know, “Hey. When you slap my back like that, it really hurts. Please stop.” Maybe he works at an office, and people finally get together and confront him: “Seriously. There are quite a few people complaining about your back slaps. Stop doing it!” What kind of person hears this and insists that he should be able to keep slapping people because he isn’t intentionally TRYING to hurt people? What kind of person blames the ones complaining about him slapping people as being “the real problem” because they are too sensitive?
Now, let’s take the analogy a bit further: Let’s say this guy played baseball growing up… And he and the other members of his baseball team used to give each other a friendly little pat on the butt when did something worth celebrating. “Nothing sexual,” he will assure you. Now, when he pats people on the butt, he means nothing by it. So if you get offended by it, that’s YOUR problem. Little does he know, he’s patting the butt of a person who has survived sexual abuse… And every touch–though it leaves no bruises or physical scars–harms her in a way that he could never understand, even if she tried to explain. And he’s all, “Give me a break. Get over it, snowflake.” Again, what kind of person does something like this? What kind of person defends these sorts of actions? And what kind of person complains about how he saw that woman’s SISTER slap her on the ass… “She get’s to do it–Why can’t I do it?”
Here’s the answer: An awful, awful person. A certifiable asshole. And the question is not “Is this person an asshole or not?” He obviously, objectively is. The REAL question is this: Does this person have the same definition of “asshole” as the rest of us? In this person’s world, is selfishness part of the DNA of being an asshole? And at the heart of that is the question of whether selfishness is good or bad. Are some things better than others? And can we KNOW about those things? If “better” is a thing, is it “better” to take into consideration the feelings/emotions/beliefs of other people, or is it “better” to be almost singularly focused on our own feelings/emotions/beliefs? These are questions that–for many of us–have been settled for a long time. In corporate settings, in academic settings, these questions are settled. OF COURSE it’s better to consider others’ feelings, emotions, and beliefs. If we know that a course of action causes some people harm, and we have other options available to us, only a sadist would insist on the action that causes harm.
But a different narrative has seeped its way into the minds of many in this country… challenging the very definition of “goodness.” It is a disease which celebrates selfishness as a virtue. An Ayn Randian mental derangement which has even infected the Church with its disordered thinking… Where people–who claim to follow a man who constantly preached thinking of others first and loving even our enemies–have embraced a “Me First/Us First/America First” ideology as somehow being Biblical, when it is neither Biblical, rational, or anywhere close to moral.
One more analogy: Imagine a person brings a cat into a hotel lobby. And a manager comes up and says, “Sir, you CAN’T have a cat in here. We have guests who are deathly allergic to cats. This is a shared space.” Only the most selfish of people would ever argue their “right” to grab a cat and have it in there, despite the harm it could cause. That, or the sort of person whose privilege has them so blinded that they don’t even believe in the concept of a “shared space” anymore. As far as they’re concerned, EVERY lobby is THEIR lobby. And how DARE you tell me that I can’t grab a pussy in my own F*CKING LOBBY?!?! This is the kind of person who insists on using the N-word, even after being informed that his use of that word causes so many people harm. It is a community’s most hurtful word. It has been used for hundreds of years as a dehumanizing term, sneered through hatred and chewing tobacco spit and abuse. YOU. DON’T. GET. TO. USE. IT.
And if you do use it, and we hear you, don’t get all “snowflakey” on us when we call you what you are: A selfish, sadistic, knuckle-dragging, anti-Christ, racist, asshole who has been duped into believing that the shared space of this world belongs only to him.
Thank you for reading. I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve written… And I know it’s hard to stay hopeful these days… But rest assured that when we are on the side of compassion, on the side of equal rights, on the side of the oppressed and vulnerable, we are on the right side of history. Even if it feels like we’re outnumbered right now.
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