Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This Week's Cartoon: Kobe Bryant Didn't Mean It

Last week, L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant objected to a referee named Bernie Adams benching him for a personal foul. As Bryant sat down on the sidelines, he called Adams an offensive name. Let's just say that the word has nothing etymologically to do with "fang."

The National Basketball Association smacked Bryant with a $100,000 fine, which Bryant is appealing. He issued what he hoped would pass for an apology, saying that he didn't mean the insult literally. While some may have been relieved that Bryant was not hallucinating sexual acts underway on the basketball court, very few were impressed by the apology.

Paul Berge
Q Syndicate
Apr 20, 2011

The best and most authoritative commentary on Bryant's outburst and apology was by John Amaechi in the New York Times:

Many people balk when L.G.B.T. people, even black ones, suggest that the power and vitriol behind another awful slur -- the N-word -- is no different from the word used by Kobe. I make no attempt at an analogy between the historical civil rights struggle for blacks in the United States with the current human rights struggle for L.G.B.T. people, but I can say that I am frequently called both, and the indignation, anger and at times resignation that course through my body are no greater or less for either. I know with both words the intent is to let me know that no matter how big, how accomplished, philanthropic or wise I may become, to them I am not even human.

In case it needs to be said, Amaechi is both gay and black, as well as a former NBA player.

David Kaufman is one of those defending Bryant by arguing that the word not etymologically related to "fang" is not as bad as the word not etymologically related to "niggard."

A black person is called a [niggard] precisely and exclusively because he is black. Period. And the core of the word's offense -- and racism -- stems from this sheer conspicuousness. I've been called a [niggard] more than once, and there’s no doubt it was because of the color of my skin, not because I'd pissed someone off.

We cannot necessarily say the same thing about Kobe's -- or perhaps anyone's -- use of [fang]. Yes, the word is loaded with offense and has been a centuries-long tool of homophobes. But unless we're certain Bryant expressly chose this word to specifically dis Adams' sexuality, this charge of homophobia doesn't hold up.

I've discussed the controversy over comparing the fight for LGBT citizens' rights to the struggle for black citizens' rights before. That's a serious issue, but this pissing contest over whether [niggard] or [fang] is a worse epithet is mighty stupid. ("Nobody calls white folks [niggards]!" "Oh, yeah? Well nobody shows up at black folks' funerals shouting that God hates [niggards], either!")

When the Westboro Baptist Cult protests at the funeral of a U.S. soldier, or Elizabeth Edwards, or any other straight person, waving their pickets about how God Hates [Fangs], is their assholery to be excused -- is their insult even the least bit blunted -- by the fact that the person in the casket was not, in fact, gay?

No. And it wouldn't have been any less outrageous if Bryant had called Adams a word not etymologically related to "count."

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