Who decides a slur’s definition?
Published: Sunday, April 17, 2011
Updated: Sunday, April 17, 2011 16:04
Editor's note: Under normal circumstances, using a hate word such as the one Kobe Bryant used would never be printed in the Central Florida Future. However, given that the reason for this editorial is Bryant's usage of the word in the first place, we as editors have used our best judgment to decide to print the word uncensored to enhance the article's clarity and illustrate the severity of the issue.
On one hand, it's easy to crucify Kobe Bryant for his outburst last Tuesday.
Angry at a referee for a questionable call, Kobe shouted "faggot" at no one in particular. A veteran of the game and no stranger to controversy, Kobe surely knows the dangers of the all-seeing TV camera and was fined $100,000 for the insult.
While it's no surprise that an athlete in the middle of an intense competition would let the word slip out in anger, Kobe's "apology" was surprising, in a strangely honest way.
Kobe said the word has moved past the realm of prejudiced speech and evolved into an unprejudiced insult with no connection to homosexuals. Because he wasn't technically sorry — merely sorry he got caught — he is appealing his fine.
In an ironic way, he's right: "faggot" has grown to mean something different over the past decade and a half. But has it grown to mean something different solely to those who use the word as an insult, or does the insult still affect homosexuals the same way as before?
Which brings us to the real issue in the Kobe fiasco: uninvolved third parties arguing that the word "faggot" no longer has a negative connotation to homosexuals.
It's disingenuous for a straight man to speak on behalf of homosexuals over the meaning of a hate word. It's as disingenuous as a white man claiming the N-word is no longer insensitive to blacks.
In a sense, it's a systemic issue. How did "faggot" evolve into this harsh replacement insult and no longer come to refer to homosexuals? And why has the same stigma that surrounds the N-word, or any other racial slur, not surrounded "faggot"?
The word has never been taboo. Think back to middle-school arguments when the word was dropped a dozen times a minute. Think back to the minor disciplinary issues dolled out for using the word.
It's a word no less harmful than any racial slur, yet it's been tolerated. Is it because people are less worried about insulting homosexuals than any other minority group? And if so, why? It's a different sociological study altogether to find out why the word has been accepted and tolerated while so many other prejudiced slurs are branded unspeakable from the onset, but the fact remains: "faggot" has become an "acceptable" slur.
Because of the word's toleration, the Kobe incident is being brushed under the rug as an insignificant, every-day event with no severity whatsoever.
More than 50 percent of voters on the L.A. Times' website said that the NBA should not even punish Kobe for the outburst. Twenty-six percent voted to fine him. Suspension, they voted, was out of the question.
Forgive the use of a YouTube comment as an example, but — for better or for worse — YouTube commenters have the ability to speak for the masses behind the veil of anonymity. "The media is blowing this way out of proportion," says the top comment on the video of the Kobe incident.
It's always astounding how unrelated parties feel best qualified to comment on an issue that doesn't affect them. The voters are surely not qualified to comment on the slur's true meaning, yet feel the need to insert their inexpert opinions anyway.
If there's one thing that can be learned from this incident it's that the majority loves speaking for the minority. "Ignore the minority group's actual opinions," they say. "We understand their best interests."
Kobe should have been fined and probably suspended, as well, if only to make a statement to that 50 percent: "This is a more serious issue than you believe and it's time to stop speaking for those who can speak for themselves."