Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thoughts On A Certain Word

TigerBlog respects Charles Barkley more than he respects most people who throw out outrageous opinions for a living, largely because TB is sure that Barkley actually means what he says and isn't in it just for the shock value.

The big controversy that Barkley threw himself into last week on TNT's great NBA studio show involved the use of a certain word and how he felt it was okay for him and his black friends to use it when they speak to each other. It's not up to white America, he said, to judge, or for that matter have an opinion.

Shaquille O'Neal, brought grudgingly into the conversation by Barkley, sort of half-heartedly agreed, saying that the word can be used among black men in a "positive" manner.

There's no word in the English language that can rival the word in question for its historical ugliness and destruction. It was used to demean an entire race of human beings, to dehumanize that race in a time of slavery - in a country whose founding document states that "all men are created equal."

Through the years, it has been used with great ugliness, by often-ugly people who fought to the death to attempt to deny that race basic equality and civil rights. It took courageous people, super courageous people, to stand up and say "uh, no, all men are created equal."

One of the most courageous of those people, by the way, was a former Princeton basketball player named John Doar.

TigerBlog is Jewish.

He recently attended a luncheon at the Center for Jewish Life, hosted by Rabbi Elie Bercuson, for some of Princeton's Jewish athletes.

The event was very nice, pretty low-key. At one point, TB asked the group if they'd experienced many instances of anti-Semitism in their lives, either here or elsewhere, and the answer was a fairly universal "not really." That's also been TB's experience as well.

It makes them fortunate. The world has been awful to Jews through the centuries, and there are still way more people on this planet who don't like Jews than who do.

TB can't imagine ever wanting to turn some of the most negative words ever used to describe his people and use them as a positive way of communicating with each other.

He's not sure when the word in question became the sort of mainstream word it's becoming. He understands it's everywhere in rap music. He laughed at it often in "Pulp Fiction." He gets its impact when used on Twitter.

He just doesn't understand why people who have been so negatively impacted by that word would choose to use it now. Is it empowering? Taking control of it? Saying "hey, you thought this word bothered me? Hah. You're wrong. You can't bother me. Get it?"

Perhaps that's a part of it.

On the other hand, TB's sense is that this didn't begin that way, that it began as a way of flaunting societal conventions and now has just become something to be said to show that it can be gotten away with saying.

As for white America? TB won't say the word here. For starters, it's not a word he would use anyway. For another, no white American can say that word without having it become destructive.

So why do blacks want to use it?

And why call it, as it's known now, as "the N-word?" If it's so fine to use, why didn't Charles Barkley say the actual word on TNT?

Maybe Barkley is right and white America isn't entitled to an opinion on it.

It's just that TB does have an opinion, and his opinion is that it should have been left to die out of the English language.

Another point that Barkley made was that what is said in a locker room is also none of anyone's business outside that locker room.

Taken on a wider scope than just a single word, there's the whole situation with the Miami Dolphins and the allegations of bullying in their locker room.

Forgetting for a second that it's hard to imagine a starting offensive lineman in the NFL as the victim of bullying, when does what happen inside a locker room cross a line into something that needs to be addressed by the prevailing authority?

TigerBlog has been in enough Princeton locker rooms and on enough Princeton buses to know that they are their own unique, distinct, team-building, team-bonding entities.

He's heard enough loud noise blasting from these rooms before practices and games to know that rap music is one of the preferred modes for mental preparation.

So what if that certain word is part of the lyrics? Is that okay?

And what about the back-and-forth each day between teammates? What if they like to use that word?

Princeton's responsibility is to provide a safe environment for its athletes. This doesn't mean that it has to be one where individual self-expression can't be tolerated.

A huge part of the growing process for athletes and teams occurs in the locker room or dorm room or on the bus. What's acceptable behavior there might not necessarily be deemed acceptable when it's recounted objectively later on to a different audience, such as the administration, and this is the problem.

What's okay? What's not okay? And who decides?

Is Barkley right? Is the locker room its own autonomous country with its own rules?

Is it okay if Princeton athletes - or any college athletes - hurl that word at each other in the confines of their own locker room, especially if they're all okay with it, if it's used as a positive?

What if it's just black athletes. Blacks and whites together in what is deemed as funny by all involved?

The problem is that the world doesn't work that way anymore.

Someone will say it at the wrong time to the wrong person in the wrong context. And today, someone will have video or audio of it.

And then the world will come crashing down around around the white person who said it, even if there wasn't one part of it that was meant to be insulting or negative.

Words, TB suspects, should be universal. Anyone should be able to use it at any time. If not, then it probably means it's not okay in the first place.

Sorry, Charles. There are so many other words out there to use.

Let that one die.

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