Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Using The N Word: Free Speech Or Thought Crime?

Passaic County residents Adelson Cruz and Aregawi Kishen Were having an altercation about the way that Mr. Kishen had parked his public employee truck while fixing a No Parking sign that blocked Mr. Cruz's ability to move his own vehicle. During the heat of the argument, Mr. Cruz called Mr. Kishen the infamous 'N' word. Mr. Kishen filed a complaint, and Mr. Cruz was ordered to pay a fine of one hundred and fifty dollars.

It would seem to a casual observer that this is no big deal, and that the ruling against Mr. Cruz was probably the right thing to do in the cause of stamping out racism in this country. But if one were to look into the issue just below the surface, all of a sudden we start to see a pattern emerge that opens Pandora's Box for a type of thought police situation.

Several cities around the country are enacting or already have placed on the books, laws making it almost tantamount to a hate crime for using this epithet. Although agreeing in principle with the idea behind the laws, are these laws actually Constitutional? Or do they amount to the stifling of free speech? Do they protect one minority group from abuse? Or do these laws further force the belief upon people of color that they must be protected by government ruling from what amounts to an exchange of words?

Examining some recent celebrity firings such as Imus and 'Dog' Chapman, it starts to become clear that there is some sort of hysteria going on in this country over the use of words considered by right thinking people to be offensive. To be sure, the word is offensive by nature, but can we honestly say we want the government, already becoming way too intrusive in our daily lives, to now start dictating WORDS that we can be arrested for?

African Americans call each other the 'N' word on a routine basis. I myself, although as white as the driven snow, have been fondly called the 'N' word by friends of color, as in "You know you my 'N' right"? Should I have reported this to the thought police and had my friends fined? On the radio, the internet, and CD's made by world famous recording artists, the word is bandied about as though it means nothing whatsoever.

So when does a word become ok for one segment of society to use, but not for others? Do we now have to outlaw the use of epithets aimed at Hispanic Americans that begin with the letter 'S'? What are the word protections for people of Asian descent, so they aren't called things that rhyme with links? Can white people report other Americans that call them the 'H' word? Where does this road lead to?

As far as I know, there are no laws on the books outlawing the use of epithets such as the 'F' word, words describing excrement, human genitalia or other body parts, offspring of dogs, or illegitimate children. I can remember when they started to be included in Webster's Dictionary. Why then is one word being singled out and held up to such a degree that laws must be passed to ban the usage of that word?

Being suspicious of mind, or maybe just paranoid, I can see where this road eventually can lead. What if some day, a court decides that calling George Bush the idiot in chief can not be tolerated? That it's in the best interest of the country if these words were not uttered? Would that cause a stir? Or would that be a legitimate stamping out of what Bush backers consider 'hate' speech?

Somehow, these new laws seem to be singling out people of color, but only one color, not all, for 'special' protection from indelicate and spiteful speech, and in my mind, that's Unconstitutional.

If we're going to outlaw the use of racial slurs and epithets, then we must use the same criteria across the board, making everyone in this country liable for ANY word that might be considered racially offensive, no matter if it's people of the same ethnic group using it within the context of a friendly greeting, or people from outside that same group using it as basically what amounts to a curse word.

Looked at another way, could these laws actually be designed to further alienate people of African descent? By the passage of these laws, does it not say to them that they are too weak to withstand a verbal attack by weak minded racists, and therefore the government will protect these poor, weak people from the words that may hurt their feelings?

We speak so much about racism in America, and all thinking people agree that in this day and age, we must try to put an end to it. But this singling out of just one minority group for 'special' protection smacks of nothing short of racism in another form. Discrimination is discrimination, and thought and speech monitoring should not be the domain of government in any way, shape or form. If allowed to continue, it will, as sure as it's winter, lead to the eventual rulings I spoke of above. We may not like these words. We may think less of the people that use them. But that does not make it a criminal act, just because the government says so. It's my belief that people of African descent are able to shrug off these epithets in the same manner that the rest of all ethnic groups shrug off racial slurs.

No. These laws should be challenged as an attack on free speech, or one day we just may find that the 'N' word isn't the only one we aren't allowed to say. And now, all the hate mail may begin................Batmanchester

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