"omnipotent administrators...are generally considered... weak, delicate, and effeminate, with the affectations of demonstrative homosexuals. the serfs and peasants are...physically strong, sturdy, hearty, fecund--'supermasculine.'" --e. cleaver, soul on ice
*note: omnipotent administrators-- white men
i just can't believe all the things people say...
(don't know who to begin your essay? try an anecdote.)
the first time anyone ever called me a nigger, i was eight years old. though they had married in january, my mother and stepfather took their honeymoon in the summer of 1988, and my grandmother was put in charge of my sister and me. one day, we headed to the big lots at southgate plaza, a shopping center on the south side of fort wayne, indiana near many black--and white--neighborhoods. as we walked towards the store, i noticed a young white boy sitting on the hood of what was presumably his parents' car; i could see who i assumed to be his father through the dirty windshield, sitting in the driver's seat. the boy, undoubtedly younger than i, lay on the hood, in black sneakers and shorts, and shouted towards us, "hey, you niggers!" my grandmother instructed my sister and me to ignore him, and ushered us into the store.
my second brush with racist banter was a few years later at camp potawatomi. this time it was a bit more insidious, subtle. my parents had sent my stepsister and me there for a week during the summer between my fifth and sixth grade year. one day, the camp counselors instructed us to return to our cabins and clean up a little, as we would be having guests at the campsite. as my white friend and i trudged back to our cabin from the dining hall (funny. i guess i've always had a one white girl quota.), we complained about having to get cleaned up (as well as two young campers could) for a group of potential strangers. after i said something to the effect of, "we don't even know who these people are," she replied, "yeah, i mean, they could be black or something." realizing, albeit too late, that her eleven year old compatriot was black, my friend immediately apologized for her remark. outside of mumbling, "it's ok," i didn't say much after that.
i was twenty-three the first time anyone ever called me a dyke.
an ex-girlfriend and i were in my car, heading back to hyde park after having a sunday night dinner on the north side of chicago. it was a relatively pleasant summer evening, and as we drove south on lake shore drive, my then-girlfriend leaned over from the passenger's side, and kissed me. just as she did this, i noticed the headlights of the car behind me moving out of my rearview, and into my driver's side mirror. the driver sped up, and as they passed us, the black woman in the passenger's side of the car leaned her head and chest out of the car window, and yelled "dykes!" i went cold. my girlfriend, having neither seen nor heard the utterance, questioned my sudden change in mood. i didn't tell her. i couldn't.
what i remember most about that summer evening four years ago was my response. i was as silent, as shocked, as nervous, as confused, and as numb as i had been when i was eight and eleven. i often suggest that sometimes someone can say something to you so insensitive, so racially charged that you are shocked into silence. i think about the time a fellow student in an english class sought me out to talk about how she had the greatest fried chicken and collard greens during her trip to the southside of chicago as an example of this; weeks later she would take it upon herself to add her version of "negro dialect" to a story i'd written about an obviously middle class black family. yet i was just as upset when a black woman--who had gazed into the privacy of my car-- screamed a homophobic epithet at me. and it is with this that i think of isaiah washington.
am i black or white? am i straight or gay?
during a post golden globe awards interview last monday night, isaiah washington re-opened a wound which had barely formed a scab by opening his mouth--again. if goading grey's anatomy co-star, t.r. knight into coming out wasn't enough, washington reaggravated an already tender situation by taking media bait. last october, when he and patrick dempsey got into a scuffle on the set of t.v.'s most watched show, an angry washington called knight a faggot; soon after, knight confirmed his homosexuality. during the backstage interview, however, washington grabbed the microphone and said to reporters, "no, i did not call t.r. a faggot. never happened, never happened." maybe he should've taken my grandmother's advice.
what appalls me more than washington's ignorant comment(s), or his hubristic demeanor while saying it, isn't the apparently insincere apology/ies that have followed, but the lack of an uproarious response. you know, those ones we see when someone has been done a supreme injustice. we haven't had one of those since, well, michael richards.
life is just a game. we're all just the same...
it should be noted here that i do not entirely agree that the fight for gay equality can be nicely mapped onto blacks' fight for civil rights in this country. i also don't necessarily believe that michael richards' outburst, and washington's homophobic remarks are unproblematically analogous--richards seemed out of control, while washington remained coolly arrogant; richards adamently denied being a racist, while both of washington's "my bads" never disaffirmed him being a homophobe (has anyone called him a homophobe?); to my knowledge washington has yet to go on a repentent award tour to beg forgiveness. these differences aside, the most obvious similarity is that both men employed terms, epithets in a way that meant to demean and disrespect a person or a group of persons who have historically been denied equal rights. for the most part, however, the commonality stops there. and this is what bothers me most.
when michael richards appeared on the jesse jackson radio show after his meltdown, he again profusely apologized for his behavior, and claimed not to be a racist. jackson took this moment as an opportunity to advocate for the retirement of the word nigger. i vehemently disagree with jackson and others who believe this word should be outlawed, and it's not because i use the word (you know, "nigga") at least twice a day. i've argued before that there is a paucity of language when it comes to race, especially when discussing the topic in our politically correct obsessed culture. part of my problem with the film crash was the seeming eloquence of the characters. there is no surplus of words when it comes to discussing race in america--it's either racist, or it's not. and for jackson and others to propose "outlawing" the term is, to me, the support of removing a word from an already anemic lexicon, thereby further inhibiting our ability to speak frankly, honestly, and constructively about the issue of race. and that's really irresponsible.
it seems to me, however, that i find no such problems when it comes to talking about (homo)sexuality. i could run through a litany of terms when speaking about homosexuality, whether i intend to constructively discuss, or invectively demean. (glaad has several glossaries of words and phrases to use and/or avoid when talking about sexuality.) let's see: dagger, faggot, dyke, fudgepacker, fruity, tuna face (a new one i heard), liquor license; or: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transexual, queer, same gender loving, questioning. etc. etc. though i am glad--and often perplexed--by the compendium of terms one has access to in order to define or describe one's sexuality--if one chooses to define it, that is--i suggest that the surplus of language available to us is also the result of an intolerant, homophobic culture. the more racially accepting we appear to be, the more certain words--i'm thinking particularly of the not so nice ones, here--have fallen away. yet, because we by and large implicitly support a homophobic society, we have the words to articulate both sides of the issue. thus, washington remains--as of now--a cast member of t.v.'s highest rated show.
people call me rude. i wish we were all nude. i wish there was no black and white. i wish there were no rules.
as i've said above, one cannot always insert "gay" where one might place "african american." as a general rule, one does not have to "come out" as black; no one asks you to fill in your sexual orientation on a scantron sheet. however, i think it no stretch to suggest that if t.r. knight had been black, and washington white, there would not have been another opportunity for washington to display his arrogance, because he would have been written off of the show. (not that i'm suggesting that as a viable solution to this problem.) and this troubles me.
what's more troubling, however, is that washington is part of the most diverse television series airing right now. in this post-"i have a dream" united states, grey's anatomy boasts three african americans, a korean canadien (is that "right"?), a mexican american, and at least one gay person, despite the fact that the drama is set in, ironically, seattle, washington, the second whitest major city in america. the show was created by shonda rhimes, someone--an anomaly, perhaps-- who has shown that in order to succeed in hollywood, one need not have to create something, well, black.
what's more ironic, is that washington's remarks were said with the backdrop of the martin luther king jr. holiday. it's well noted that during the latter part of her life, coretta scott king and her son, martin III extended "king's dream" to glbt(xyz)'s. further, the golden globes were, well, more diverse than most awards shows (with the exception of sports and music) have ever been. along with grey's and rhimes, winners included america ferrera, forest whitaker, eddie murphy, jennifer hudson, and dreamgirls, which was arguably a "black"(and "gay") movie. all that said, it was after this awards show, as t.v.'s most diverse cast stood together in the press room that isaiah washington helped represent how far we've come while simultaneously showing just how far we have to go.
and we have, it seems, given him a pass. after the "kramer incident," i couldn't keep up with the number of myspace bulletins either providing links to youtube so that one could see that ugly breakdown, or urls to commentary about the situation. yet, the tuesday after the golden globes, i saw not one bulletin on my homepage; most of my myspace "friends" are black, and a lot are gay. granted, i do not rely on myspace for cogent social commentary, but the silence on myspace, and the lack of uproar overall leaves me as speechless as i was when i was 8, 11, and 23.
perhaps the lack of response is the result of folk not watching post-show interviews. well, i have never set foot in the laugh factory, but via a shaky hand on a cell phone, i was able to witness michael richards repeat the word nigger on stage. there were hundreds of media in the press room that night, so access is not the reason for the silence surrounding isaiah washington and his glib use of the word faggot. perhaps it's simply not a battle most of us choose to fight. but injustice is injustice. i saw and talked to white people who were struck by richards' remarks, who took the opportunity to articulate that they were aghast at his behavior. if you want someone to stand for you when you're wronged, you have to stand up for others when they are. right now, we should all be gay. and we should still be muslims.
so, i say, if we are to be appalled and outraged at michael richards, then we should be even more outraged and appalled at isaiah washington. he did it twice. shame on us.
some people wanna die, so they can be free.
language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison