Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Brazoria, Texas, wants to outlaw 'N-word'

An attempt to legislate civility ... or another attack on free speech?

The white mayor of Brazoria, Texas -- a small town of 2,800 -- wants to make it punishable by a fine up to $500 if you say "nigger" with any hint of anger or intimidation, according to today's Houston Chronicle. If it's a successful effort, he might even like to expand the law to include other racial slurs. (It's important to know that merely saying the word "nigger" would not be illegal under the proposed law. To be criminal, it must be said "in an offensive or aggressive manner.")

It's laudable that somebody -- especially a white Southerner -- is standing up against one of the most blatant symbols of racism in America today. The word is mostly used today openly by black rappers and as a term of affection among black folks, confusing matters greatly, but its disappearance from our common vernacular will be an essential step toward racial harmony in America.

But a small-town ordinance -- or even a big-city ordinance, such as one proposed in Queens, N.Y. -- outlawing a word is not the right approach. As one black minister told the Houston Chronicle, people "have a constitutional right to be stupid."

Imagine laws that prohibit any word that might be considered offensive to someone ... anyone. You could no longer holler that the idiot driver in front of you was, well, an "idiot" without offending the mentally ill.

Part of me wants to stand up and applaud the mayor of Brazoria for his urge to do something. But the greater part of me wants to chalk this up to the insidious powers of political correctness and those who think that limiting free speech is a solution to our woes. Our First Amendment wasn't established to protect speech with which we all agreed and made us feel warm and fuzzy ... it protects speech that makes us terribly uncomfortable.

I'm terribly uncomfortable with "nigger" ... and "cracker" and "spic" and "hymie" and "towel-head" and "chink" and "squaw" and many, many more. But our goal should be a culture where we don't want to use those words, not one where they are merely forbidden.

8 comments:

Chancelucky said...

Ron,
Interesting story and I mostly agree, but do want to offer a slightly different take.

I think the public use of the Swastika was outlawed in post-war Germany. Of course, some argue that that essentially made it attractive to later generations because it became forbidden in German culture. Still, I actually think banning the symbols of the Nazi party were a good idea at least for a couple generations.

Is banning the N word necessarily that different in certain parts of the state, say like where James Brady was dragged behind a pickup truck by neo-nazis....?

At the time our current president refused to sign hate crimes legislation inspired by that incident.

Where is the line between what the law can seek to accomplish and what should remain freedom of thought and expression when it comes to hate speech? I don't think most of us are absolutists on this.

Anonymous said...

"especially a white Southerner"?

Jill said...

Banning of words is not going to stop the way people feel about others.

Who is to be the judge of what is offensive? What offends one may not offend someone else.

My husband thinks it is his right to say what he wants to whom he wants.

Me, I was raised in the deep south and ladies did not speak that way.

SingingSkies said...

I'll admit that in this part of the world the n-word seems to be the epithet thrown most frequently. It would be nice to see it erased from our vocabulary; however, outlawing it would probably be ineffective. And once you start with one word, does outlawing the others naturally follow? At some level, it's discrimination to select one set of offensive language while not addressing other offensive language.

Besides the obvious first amendment difficulties, I can't begin to imagine how difficult it would be to determine whether someone had any 'hint' of anger or intimidation in their usage. True, sometimes it's pretty obvious, but I've known people who can thinly slice the edge of a distinction like that and it's mighty hard to tell what their intention is. Would this hinge on the ear of the beholder? If so, there are also those who hear anger and intimidation when even none were meant.

All in all, while laudable in some respects, this probably isn't the best method for resolving the issue.

Ron Franscell said...

Anon, like it or not, White Southerners have been a symbol of racism in America, mostly by virtue of being on the pro-slavery side of the Civil War. It is certainly not accurate -- by a long shot -- for anyone to say that White Southerners are all racists, but neither would it be accurate to say that the South hasn't had a long history of very public racist acts. That said, racism isn't relegated to the South alone, but the South has been saddled with the bulk of the guilt.

So the SYMBOL of a White Southerner proposing this law is actually a very good thing to me.

manuel said...

to anonymous at 7:27 pm january 23-

he said white southerner because during the 40 50 and 60s white people from the south used the word excessively as a derogatory term

Anonymous said...

Though this law was proposed in Texas, think about the people who have the n-word in their daily rhetoric....black people and other minorities like latinos, etc etc. This law can can be twisted as another way as another legal burden on many disadvantaged youth if they were to get angry in the street and to express their anger with the n-word, but that doesn't make it a hate crime. This law is flawed since who is to judge what is too agressive? What if there were no supposed witnesses around except a cop? This can be used against the community this law claims to protect.

Anonymous said...

The majority of people who use the word nigger out of malice or good-natured ribbing are usually black.

So exactly how are "white southerns" the symbol of racism? It sounds to me like YOU are segregating the north and south.