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Let us not forget that the word and image of fag derives from the word faggot, which is a bundle of sticks for burning,

and that LGBTQ people were supposedly righteously burned at the stake in medieval England.



When hate speech becomes accepted

By Rev. Irene Monroe


Hate speech is not a passive form of public speech. And one of the signs of an intolerant society is its hate speech, whether used jokingly or intentionally, aimed at specific groups of people. When this form of verbal abuse becomes part and parcel of the everyday parlance between people, we have created a society characterized by its zero-tolerance of inclusion and diversity, where name-calling becomes an accepted norm.

Lately this Republican political era of “compassionate conservatism” has brought forward an unabashed no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to passionate invective hurled at queers, African-Americans, and Jews.

In an interview with Ann Coulter, author of Godless: The Church of Liberalism, on the July 27 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with host Chris Matthews, Coulter called former vice president Al Gore a "fag,” and she hinted that Bill Clinton might be gay.

“How do you know that Bill Clinton is gay?” Matthews asked.

“He may not be gay, but Al Gore, total fag. No, I’m just kidding,” Coulter stated. And in referring to Clinton, Coulter continued, “I mean, everyone has always known wildly promiscuous heterosexual men have, as I say, a whiff of the bathhouse about them.”

Perhaps Coulter intended to be funny or satirical, yet her remarks are not only directed toward Gore and Clinton but also toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Coulter is taking a swipe at Gore, Clinton, and the entire LGBTQ community in one fell swoop, and with just one word.

Let us not forget that the word and image of fag derives from the word faggot, which is a bundle of sticks for burning, and that LGBTQ people were supposedly righteously burned at the stake in medieval England.

And let us not forget Matthew Shepard, the openly gay Wyoming student who in 1998 was bludgeoned and left to die in near-freezing temperatures while tethered to a rough-hewn wooden fence.

Or 1999, when Billy Jack Gaither, a well-respected and beloved textile worker in Alabama, was bludgeoned with an ax handle, burned, and left to die on a pile of tires because he was gay.

And some claim the Bible refers to us stoking the fires of hell.

But the real hell we LGBTQ people confront from this type of name-calling and stereotyping is a societal disparage of sexual relations between people of the same gender, in a society where both the church and government bar us from marriage, many states bar us from adoption, and the federal government forbids our serving in the military.

The hate speech doesn’t just stop with LGBTQ people. Jews are also a target.

Devout Catholic and staunch Republican Mel Gibson, the megastar behind The Passion of the Christ, got pulled over while driving more than 80 miles an hour in Malibu on July 28 and flew into a tirade, spewing both sexist and anti-Semitic vitriol. “Fucking Jews,” he reportedly said to police. “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?" To a female officer he reportedly said, "What do you think you're looking at, sugar tits?” (Gibson, who had an open bottle of tequila in the car, was charged with drunken driving, his blood alcohol level reportedly 50% above the legal limit.)

Animus toward Jews is not new. It dates back as early as the Jewish Diaspora between the 8th to the 6th centuries BCE, and as late as Hitler's attempted genocide of European Jewry.

The relationship between homophobia and anti-Semitism is that Christian fundamentalists target gays and Jews for not adhering to the “true” tenets of Christianity. Christian fundamentalists also target gays and Jews because the two groups can overlap in terms of personal identity, and can be the target of religiously motivated violence.

Racial epithets are such a mainstay in the American lexicon that their broad-based appeal to both blacks as well as whites have anesthetized us not only to the damaging and destructive use of epithets, but also to our ignorance of their historical origins.

My state's governor, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, apologized this week for using the racial epithet “tar baby" at a Republican political gathering in Iowa over the weekend while describing a collapse in a Big Dig tunnel that killed a Boston woman on July 10. He said the best thing he could do politically is to "just get as far away from that tar baby" of a subject as he could.

Tar baby is a pejorative term referring to African-American children, especially girls, and was used by whites during American slavery. Today, the term has come to depict a sticky mess or situation, referring to the 19th-century Uncle Remus stories in which a doll made of tar was used to trap Brer Rabbit.

Eric Fehrnstrom, the governor's spokesman said, “The governor was describing a sticky situation. He was unaware that some people find the term objectionable, and he's sorry if anyone was offended." How could a man who is the governor of the diverse state of Massachusetts, and who wants to be president, not know this?

The relationship between homophobia and racism is shown in how LGBTQ and African-American civil rights struggles are pitted against each other by our enemies. It also appears in the federal government’s new HIV/AIDS supposed prevention program, which requires all public-health authorities and agencies to report the identities of HIV-positive patients. It’s a program in which African-Americans—straight or queer—will ostensibly feel profiled.

Language is a representation of culture, and it perpetuates ideas and assumptions about race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation that we consciously, and unconsciously, articulate in our everyday conversations about ourselves and the rest of the world—and, consequently, transmit generationally.

The liberation of a people is also rooted in the liberation from abusive language, which is essentially hate hurled at them. Using epithets, especially jokingly, does not eradicate its historical baggage or the existing social relations among us. Instead, dislodging these epithets from their historical context makes us insensitive and arrogant to the historical injustices done to specific group of Americans.

It allows all Americans to become numb to the use and abuse of the power of hate speech because of the currency these epithets still have.

Any kind of hate speech, sugarcoated with humor or irony or not, thwarts the daily struggle in which many us engage in trying to ameliorate human relations.

3 August 2006

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The New Jim Crow

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