Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones, But It Is Words That Really Hurt Me.

Keeping Families Together

The Asian And Pacific Islander Family Pride Blog

April 22, 2011

Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones, But It Is Words That Really Hurt Me.

By BELINDA AND JOHN DRONKERS-LAURETA

If you don’t believe the title, just ask any Asian or Pacific Islander who has been called “gook,” “chink,” “slant-eye,” “flip,” or any of the other slurs others use to set us apart. Or, better yet, ask any API LGBT how it feels to have the anti-gay slur, call it the F word, hurled at him or her. Words and names are encrusted with meaning and when words are used as slurs, meanings are always demeaning and hurtful.

A Recent Example

In a game against the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant directed an antigay slur against referee Bennie Adams. It was in the third quarter and referee Adams called Kobe on a technical foul, his fourth of the game. Kobe furiously stalks to the bench, sits down, throws a towel on the floor, picks it up, then calls the referee by name and says “f-ing F. . .” There is no mistake, watch the clip carefully, see Kobe’s face expressing anger, frustration, and loathing. He is searching for a way to vent short of physical violence and he comes up with the next best thing: “f-ing F…” In that instance, by uttering that word, Kobe expressed his anger with a slur that defines Adams as less than him, less than other humans. That is what slurs do.

Slurs Brand People Rightly or Wrongly

There is no such thing as a slur without meaning, not even unintended meaning. They are hateful and every slur is used to brand the person to whom it is directed as someone less than the person who issued it. It does not have to be yelled by someone with a stature as Kobe Bryant. It could be a child in the schoolyard, a person at work, a clergy in the pulpit. About eight years ago we crafted a survey to assess the incidence of name calling, that is, the use of slurs, in our pubic schools and were successful in having our local school district administer it to both students and faculty of the all district’s junior and senior high schools. It is amazing how many words are invented to demean other people, but the two most often heard slurs referred to people’s “physical size or shape” and sexual orientation. Students heard other students use slurs and they even heard teachers use slurs. One reason we wanted to have the name calling measurement is to make the case that an environment where slurs are used is not a safe environment and detrimental to learning. We heard heartbreaking testimony from people who spent all their years of high school being subjected to slurs. They were made to feel as less than others in the school population. For them going to school was an act of courage.

Words Have Meaning And Therefore Consequences

Kobe Bryant has apologized for his use of the F-word saying that his words were not meant literally. Not that again! That excuse doesn’t work because there is no other meaning attached to the F-word and the only way it can be taken is literally. The league fined him $100,000; he is challenging the fine. In a column for the New York Times, John Amaechi, the first openly gay NBA player, commented that young people in America “are being killed and killing themselves” because of the power of the F-word. Says Amaechi: “This F-word, which so many people seem to think is no big deal, is the postscript to too many of those lives cut short.” What do you think? Is there such a thing as a harmless slur? Have you been subjected to slurs?

Belinda and John Dronkers-Laureta are board members of Asian & Pacific Islander Family Pride apifamilypride.org

 

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