In the Blog

but words will never hurt me?...

November 22nd, 2006     by Thea Lim     Comments

So, Michael Richards, better known as Kramer, freaked out at a comedy club on Sunday night and dropped quite a few “N-bombs” when a couple of African American men heckled him. When they yelled back that his slurs were uncalled for, he replied by saying “that’s what you get when you interrupt the white man!” Bizarrely, he went on the David Letterman show the next day and uttered the now famous quote: “the crazy thing is, I’m not a racist person!” I was amazed that a person could say, “I’m not a racist person” virtually hours after screaming essentially the worst racial slur in the English language.

You can watch a video of the whole awful incident on youtube (with subtitles!). After Richards screams “He’s a n*****! He’s a n*****!” the object of his hatred responds by calling him “a cracker-ass washout” (or something of the like.) Richards does not even reply to the word “cracker.” I remember a story my white friend once told me about how a car full of people of colour rode by him on the street and screamed “honkie!” He thought it was funny, if not a little odd. If someone screamed “chink” at me out of a car window, I would cry my eyes out (that is, because I am Chinese, not just because I’m highly sensitive.), or at least break something. While I’m obviously (and please don’t interpret it as such) not saying I demand more high quality, hurtful slurs for people who are not of a marginalised group, it strikes me as strange and problematic how all the slurs for someone who is male or white or not queer or not poor or not disabled (and so on), no matter the hateful intention behind them, are usually greeted with amusement or indifference.

The other day I was telling my friend about a co-worker who had called his girlfriend a f****** b****. I was saying how I literally gasped at the violence of his words. She asked why, and asked if would I be as upset if my co-worker’s girlfriend had called my co-worker a f****** ass****. Obviously not. And I don’t think that’s a double standard. Because these words occur within a particular context where a hurtful word is not just a word, it’s a reminder to whoever the word is lobbed at that even in their own home culture, they are at the bottom of the rung, they are not powerful, in fact, they’re powerless. That’s probably precisely why Richards used the n-bomb - his heckler made him feel small and weak, and he came up with the exact word that would remind the heckler that he was nothing, and that a little over a hundred years ago, it was illegal for people of his race to read and write.

On the topic of damn racism, here is a great article about asiaphilia, or as it is more yuckily known, yellow fever. My favourite part in this article is the condemnation of Gwen Stefani and the four Japanese girls she drags around with her (when did it become acceptable to use human beings as accessories?) - I could never quite put into words what horrified me about Gwen’s use of people of a particular race as adornments, but this writer articulates why it is just so disturbing and repugnant.

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