Watching What We Say: Is Name-Calling Ever Excusable?

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While Kobe Bryant was defending his use of the phrase “fucking fag” as something that should not be taken literally and that came out of the heat of the moment (the referee had just called a foul on him), volleyball fans in Brazil were dealing with a similar situation. During a semifinal match a couple of weeks ago, some of the fans started shouting, “Bicha! Bicha! Bicha!” at Michael, an allegedly gay player on the other team. (“Bicha” means “faggot.”)

Shocked by the blatant homophobia and in a show of support, Michael’s team and fans came up with a gigantic banner proclaiming that they are against prejudice, the teammates wore pink warm-up shirts and the crowd shook pink thundersticks with Michael’s name on them.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., more than half of those polled thought that Kobe Bryant’s $100,000 fine was unnecessary. His apology (such as it was) should be enough.

In my opinion, people who think that should apologize—for not being sensitive enough about the issue themselves.

There is no excuse for using a derogatory term as a swear word, whether it’s “faggot” or “pussy” or “nigger.” When you do that, what you’re really saying is that it’s a bad thing to be gay, female or black. It doesn’t even have to be directed at an actual homosexual, woman or black person. In fact, the intent is even more insulting when it isn’t, as in “He’s so queer” or “He throws like a girl.”

As far as I know, the referee Bryant got upset with isn’t gay, and yet Bryant apparently felt it a need to insult him by calling him a “fag.” What else could he have meant except that being homosexual is the lowest of the low?

[Or is it? The worst word I can think of, and I think most people would agree with me, is the “C” word. I won’t even write it, let alone say it. I think it’s significant that the worst epithet a person can sling at another person is a derogatory word for part of the female anatomy.]

There’s too much acceptance of name calling in this country. People make excuses for it by saying that they didn’t mean it to be derogatory, that it’s just a “figure of speech.” I don’t buy it. It’s not a figure of speech; on the contrary, words like “faggot” and “pussy” are loaded with meaning. It’s just that what they mean is hurtful. Words can hurt. They can even cause people to have breakdowns and commit suicide.

Not only that, but do we really want to teach our children that it’s okay to use such language? These were grown-ups who were calling out “Faggot! Faggot!” Because he’s an athlete, kids look up to Kobe Bryant as a role model.  Do we really think that there’s no correlation bullying among schoolchildren and the damaging words they hear adults using freely and in public?

[In a side note, actress Ashley Judd was criticized this past week for her opinion (which was stated in her recent memoir) that hip-hop music contributes to a “rape culture.”

“As far as I’m concerned, most rap and hip-hop music — with it’s rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’ — is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.”

Most of the criticism was about her singling out one kind of music for being misogynist when there are plenty of examples of “trash-talking” in other musical genres. But because of the controversy over her remarks, her basic message was lost, which is that the words we use do matter and they can have negative consequences.]

Personally, I think Kobe Bryant got off easy. And I’m disappointed that more Americans don’t agree with me. But then what do I expect in this country? Pink warm-up shirts and thundersticks?