Friday, April 13, 2007

Basketball players, Grey's Anatomy, and Don Imus

Apparently it's become de rigeur of late for celebrities to air their racist/ sexist/ homophobic tendencies in public. And it has become equally common for absolution to be offered almost immediately.
Sure, there are firings (Don Imus finally got canned for calling the Rutgers women's basketball team a bunch of "nappy-headed hoes") and public censure, but then someone apologizes, checks into rehab, and all is forgiven. Isaiah Washington gets to call someone a 'faggot' and continue to pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars; a well-known basketball player runs off at the mouth rather than running on court (which is what he's paid millions of dollars to do) and after a few self-satisfied harrumphs everyone moves on.
But as anyone who has ever been tagged with one of these epithets can tell you, the negative effects of those words stick around much longer than the issues of "People" that catalogue the celebrities' mea culpas. The wounds last much longer than the New York Times op-ed columns which are thrown in the recycling bin at the end of the week.
I have had "dyke" and "fag" spit at me with equal ferocity--both in high school and in college--and while my eventual reaction is a desire to correct the rube (if you're going to call me something, at least make sure you're calling me the RIGHT slur) at the moment that the word is hurled from a passing car, my only desire is to run--which, funnily enough, is usually what I'm doing at the time. I have heard of enough queer-bashing incidents to know that there are many places in the world where I am at risk of having my ribs broken, my nose smashed, my hair pulled out. This is one of the reasons that I thank God that I can pass easily--slim build, long hair, stereotypical straight-girl bone structure (whatever that means). But when someone sees my leg hair, my musculature, my unshaven underarms--I am immediately outed, and immediately at risk.
I'm not saying that people who use such slurs should be punished indefinitely, cast into the outer darkness. But I am saying that we should require more than a hastily cobbled-together apology, and that prehaps forgiveness should be withheld for a little while--long enough for the perpetrator to make amends and prove that they can in fact behave themselves. It would be ideal if they could change their prejudices, but such things are deeply ingrained, and we may have to take what we can get...but never settle for less than we deserve.

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