Stop Bullying Me Because I am White

Dec 13, 2016
By: Jerry A. Goodson
In: Society

I'm white.  I have used racial slurs.  I have laughed at racist jokes.  I am not a racist.

I'm not in denial.  I recognize racism exists in today's society, but the only group of people I believe myself to be better than are the small-minded individuals who have no qualms with branding me a racist solely on the first three statements of fact I have made in this article.  

As President Obama prepares to leave office in just a little over a month, he leaves behind a legacy of a nation divided over racial tensions.  The president-elect has stepped into the proverbial hot zone, being hated by the media and both sides of the political arena.  

After various colorful online "debates" on social media, I started looking into the Alt-Right (shortened from "Alternative Right") movement.  I couldn't simply take the media reports and accusations from other political figures at face value.  I don't even do that with the preacher in church.  If the preacher says something, he better back it up with scripture... and he better expect that I will check!

Racial Slurs

If you're looking for justification for my use of racial slurs, you won't find it.  My pejorative use of racial slurs may have never caused anyone offense, but that was only due to the company I was in when I used them in that manner.  While I'm certain it did nothing to promote racism, I know it did nothing to mitigate it, either.  While I could feel better about myself by claiming "no harm, no foul," the simple fact is I was wrong.

"We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior."
― Stephen M.R. Covey, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything

I'm not so egomaniacal as to dismiss the use of a racial slur as being anything it isn't (e.g. "There's a difference between a n----r and a black man."), nor am I so egocentric as to believe my use of racial slurs have never been damaging.  I would not be fooling anyone, even myself.  

The hardest admittance to myself was acknowledging the shameful use a racial slur even as a vernacular.  The quickest way to get in trouble in the military is to use the "n-word."  The military has spent countless money, time, and personnel resources to combat racial discrimination.  Oddly enough, referring to an Arab as a "haji" was accepted and offered no consequence.  It wasn't believed to be a racial slur, although it was used in a derogatory manner.  Our use of the word did not refer to the Muslims who made the pilgrimage to Mecca, as the word is defined, but rather as a universal definition of Iraqis, particularly our enemy.

The easiest use of racial slurs to try and dismiss during self-assessment would be the unintentional use of an offending racial slur.  Nobody is immune, but referring back to the quote above about intentions, it wouldn't be hard to be labelled as racist... and not even know why.

For example, in the late 70s, a general in the U.S. Air Force had his plane washed while he visited a base.  The airman who washed the plane was a young black man, and he did a remarkable job.  When the general arrived to board the plane, he commented, "Boy! That plane looks great!"  The general boarded the plane and took off for home.  When he landed, he learned the young airman filed an official complaint against the general for calling him, "boy."  The general was pretty upset at being blind-sided by the complaint, and being oblivious he had said anything that could be construed as offensive when his intent was to express gratitude and admiration for a job well done.  The general personally called the airman and apologized for offending him.  The story of that airman's career in the Air Force varied, but in no case did it turn out well.

Here's a challenge if you think you're immune:  The word "gypsy" is considered to be a racial slur.  Without scrambling to Google, what is the "politically correct" term for gypsies?  The correct answer is Romani.  Until I did some research for this article, I had never heard them referred to as anything but gypsies, and certainly never knew they took any offense to it.  Even as I type this article, "gypsy" is accepted in my inline spellcheck function on my browser, yet Romani isn't.

Racist Jokes

Racist jokes can prove to be quite a plight.  The general intent is to solicit a laugh at the expense of some aspect of racism, even if it's racism, itself.  The person telling the joke is playing with dynamite if they're not careful to tell the racist joke in a manner that proves to be funny without ridiculing the "butt" of the joke, and they're not careful in gauging their audience--intended or not.  Racist jokes can, and have been, "over-the-top."  

On July 11, 2001, Sarah Silverman appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and told a joke that garnered some negative backlash.  In the aftermath of negativity, a segment on Politically Incorrect with Bill Mahr was dedicated to addressing the grievances that resulted.  Silverman was joined in the discussion panel with Mahr by Guy Aoki, President of Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), actress and Screen Actors Guild National Chair of the Ethnic Employment Committee, and actor/comedian David Spade.  The discussion didn't focus on racism, but rather the use of racial slurs.

Silverman's joke in and of itself wasn't racist, but rather made fun of the subject of her joke being unintentionally racist.   The first time I watched this segment, I focused on the exchanges between Silverman, Mahr, and Aoki.  Silverman opened the show by telling the offending joke so the audience and viewers would have a reference.  Aoki expressed his issue with the use of the "hurtful" slur, and even stated he and other Asians would laugh "ha-ha" if she had not used the slur, but instead used the proper name of the people in which she referred with the slur.  That indicated Aoki only believed the joke to be racist because of the use of the slur, exclusively in this case, and not the overtone of the joke.  

A simplistic (an unfunny) paraphrasing of the joke is this:

"To get out of jury duty, I'm going to write something outrageous on my registration form.  I'm going put 'I hate [insert racial slur here]'..."
"...only I don't want people to think I'm racist, so I'm going to put 'I love [insert racial slur here]'."

Silverman's delivery suggests the subject of the joke wasn't aware either statement could be construed equally as racist, which made the joke funny.  Mahr interjected with societal acceptance shifts that certain racial slurs have evolved into bi-linear meanings of not just slurs, but also terms of endearment.  Mahr used the "n-word" in his example, and had to repeat himself a couple of times because Aoki interrupted with his assertion it was ONLY acceptable for black people to use the word as a term of endearment.  After Mahr had to completely stop the discussion, he was finally able to finish his point by saying use of racial slurs was socially acceptable by everyone except white people... even going so far as to say he has been called the "n-word" as a term of endearment.  There was no objection on that matter by Aoki.

Johnson was an interesting addition to the discussion.  On first watch of the segment, she came on strong with a powerful question that temporarily stunned Silverman speechless.  After Silverman opens with the joke, she goes into explaining "the joke," when Johnson asked her, "Where is the joke?"

After that, Johnson seems to lose strength in her position by seeming to irrational and overly sensitive to any and all use of racial slurs any time, any where.  She appeared overly passionate when asserting herself to be the be-all end-all authority on the subject because of her position and ethnic background (have a black father and white mother).  She was easy to dismiss as relevant to the conversation because of her extreme stance... at first glance.

"...I don't believe I would be capable of having a rational conversation
defending that position.  
Politically Incorrect with Bill Mahr
just may resemble a segment of the Jerry Springer Show."

I watched the segment again, this time focusing on Johnson's position.  In an attempt to be truly empathetic to Johnson's point of view, I first acknowledged I'm not really sensitive to the use of racial slurs.  I had to identify a topic I am that sensitive about, and imagine a similar conversation on that topic.  As a two-time Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, I tried to see the situation through Johnson's eyes as if Silverman were defending joking about fellow soldiers that were killed in Iraq.  I can't think of any possible funny thing that could ever be said about that, and I don't believe I would be capable of having a rational conversation defending that position.  Politically Incorrect with Bill Mahr just may resemble a segment of the Jerry Springer Show.  Putting myself in Johnson's position like that made her that much harder to summarily dismiss as irrational.

The show ended with no real resolution.  Each panel member got their time to say what they had to say with no consensus reached.  My conclusion was Silverman played with the racist joke dynamite, and it blew up on her.  Personally, I don't believe Silverman to be racist herself, I believe she uses racism in her comedy to solicit laughs to be funny, not hurtful... however, I believe she lacks a certain level of sensitivity and consideration to be completely effective with her intent.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Self-admittedly, I have committed acts of racism in the past, yet the commission of those isolated acts don't make me a racist.  Any one of those acts, if viewed narrowly by, say, someone who didn't know me and only saw me in the commission of those acts, may believe me to be a racist.

This theory was solidified during a recent debate with a close friend of mine.  The discussion was focused on whether or not President-elect Donald Trump was a racist.  I called my friend to task in proving Trump was a racist.  Applying my own personal actions in the past with the examples presented, I stated I was a racist by the same standards.  My friend, of course, highly disagreed with my self-assertion.  Why?  Because my friend has had a lot more exposure to me on a personal level, and knows my previous acts of transgression aren't congruent with my overall general beliefs and attitudes towards people who are different than I am.  

Branding me a racist based on my past commission acts of racism is akin to branding me an alcoholic because I've consumed alcohol... even when I drank in excess.  

I am a sinner, but by the grace of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, I'm not condemned to Hell.  

I am not a racist.

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