Friday, November 15, 2013

Trigger Alert

(In all seriousness, this post will likely contain triggers for some people.)

There any number of self-interested reasons to support the advancement of civil rights. "Let them niggers vote" or "let them fags marry" is actually a politically consistent position. It says, "I don't like you, but I'm not willing to put my tax dollars behind my dislike." Or even, "I don't like you, but I think I can profit from taking this position."
Ta-Nehisi Coates "Yeah, Alec Baldwin Is a Bigot"
But what about, "I don't give enough of a shit about you to care how my language makes you feel, but I have enough respect for your basic humanity to think that you're entitled to the same rights that I am?" Why can't the word, whether it be "nigger" or "cocksucking fag" or "cunt" simply be an expression of jackassery, rather than bigotry. While I agree with Mr. Coates when he observes that: "It is not incidental that slurs frequently accompany acts of violence—both systemic (withholding the protections of the law) and personal (beatings, torture and killings)," it seems to me that we should keep in mind that words are words and acts of violence, both "systemic" and personal are acts of violence, and that the two are not equal. The fact that one triggers us to brace for the other does not make them the same.

As an African American, I was brought up to believe that the word "nigger" was, just as Mr. Coates describes the word "faggot," basically: "like most slurs, is a word used to remove a group from the protections of society." And as a child and a young man, I was very sensitive to its use. But, as I grew older, I realized something. The people who used the word "nigger" did so not because they necessarily ready, willing or able to either withhold from me the protection of the law, or beat, torture or murder me - but because they understood that the word triggered fear in people like me, and by attempting to pull that trigger, they were hoping to control me. They hoped that I would become emotional; maybe fearful, maybe angry, maybe self-pitying, and they would on about their way, because, as I noted, they didn't care what I thought of them. Sure, I could grab some guy on the street and beat some "respect" into him; but regardless of how many people felt that the guy had it coming, their understanding would be unlikely to save me from the legal consequences of such an action.
An asshole way of putting this? Yep. More or less accurate? Also, yep.
While I find this e-card to epitomize insensitivity, crassness and simple spitefulness, the basic sentiment offered is correct. I've made quite a bit of the idea that the injuries that mere words (and Halloween costumes) do to us are basically self-inflicted, so there's no reason to beat that poor, dead horse any further.

There is a degree to which our reaction (or over-reaction) to certain words is almost a form of self-flattery - we perceive other people as being too dim to realize that they can pull our strings without having to do anything worse that form the correct syllables. Alec Baldwin doesn't strike me as being that dim. And therefore, it will take more than his simple use of the word "fag" to convince me that he honestly believes that gay men are not entitled to the same rights and responsibilities that everyone else is. The fact that he's a well-known and successful actor doesn't stop him from being insecure enough to be, basically, a troll. (And one of the ways in which we empower trolls is by being unwilling to regard their threats as empty.) So perhaps it's time for those of us who are offended by him to stop being insecure enough to be trolled.

1 comment:

John McGuinness said...

I think there's a few fallacies running into each other here.

One is that you can find out everything you want to know about someone based on who they vote for or what positions they take on issues.

Another is that all that matters about someone is that they are on the right side of the racist/not a racist, homophpobe/ not a homophobe, sexist / not a sexist dichotomies.

A converse is that is that using certain words puts you on the wrong side of those, and (according to some) avoiding those words is a sufficient defense against those charges.

(and this isn't just the left. My circles can make one's position on abortion restrictions or same sex marriage. The Tea Party on taxes, etc.)

So, now we have Alec Baldwin, who exposes the flaws in this worldview. He supports the "right" candidate, opposes the "wrong" ones, and seems to have the "right" positions on current issues. But, he seems to be a jerk in his private life, and uses some of the wrong words. So what do we do with him?

Well, we can regard him like anyone else -- a human being with good points and bad points.