“Bigot” as the New N-Word

Christians in Massachusetts, having been excluded from the governmental discussion about what marriage means in their state by the process whereby the definition was changed (and, I would add, having watched as Catholic adoption agencies closed their doors because the state would make no accommodation of their beliefs with respect to clientele) are concerned that they are being disenfranchised and that they will have no recourse should public schools begin indoctrinating their children against them, in keeping with Massachusetts law. Commenter MRH’s response?

Oh, boo frickin’ hoo.

I’m sure that even those who met my previous post with a shrug would admit that their response would be quite different if the book being read aloud to first graders weren’t King and King, which ends with a guy on guy kiss, but rather a picture book called King and King of Kings, in which a young prince finds no mate to overwhelm his sense of vocation, with the last page showing him entering a Roman Catholic seminary. Surely it would be wrong of public schools to stigmatize children who might make such a decision, but I suspect that the froth would fly around a mouthed “indoctrination.”
Be such hypotheticals as they may, I’m fascinated by the way in which the word “bigot” (or a broader accusation of bigotry) has come to function not unlike the N-word did back before the tide of civil rights cleared the land of all but meager remnants and impressions of racial detritus. Calling a person a “nigger” once marked him as beneath consideration. Unfit to participate in civil society; unfit to vote; unworthy of the free exchange of ideas. Now, we correctly realize that it is the person invoking the word for that purpose who deserves the burden of those “uns.”
Unfortunately, general consensus about the proper targets of disapprobation has been transformed into a weapon wielded by limelighters to publicly stroke their own moral vanity and by activists to advance causes beyond the speed that honest, fair, democratic debate would enable. Use a word or phrase that can be spun as bigoted, and enemies will trip over themselves to grab newsprint and gainsay your lifetime of work and service. Hold to traditional beliefs bearing on social structure and development, and your disenfranchisement will be legitimized as a civil rights necessity and the air around your arguments will be poisoned with the acrid insinuation that all who give them a public moment’s consideration will find the accusatory finger pointed at them.
The context and background for the two words could not be more different, obviously, yet how like the racists of old in their small-minded lack of empathy and hostile usage of language are those who behave as if they need only speak the word “bigot” in order to make it so.

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mrh
mrh
13 years ago

My “boo frickin’ hoo” was directed at the poor oppressed heterosexual white guy whose feelings were hurt by being called a homophobe.
Of course, your analogy in this post is entirely incoherent. “Bigot” isn’t analogous to “nigger.” It’s analogous to “racist.” The analogue to “nigger” that you’re looking for is “faggot.”
And what kind of fantasy land are you living in when you can type this: “back before the tide of civil rights cleared the land of all but meager remnants and impressions of racial detritus.” You think racism isn’t a problem in this country anymore?
Anyway, the fact that a bigot’s feelings might be hurt is no reason not to call bigotry “bigotry.” It was true in the 60’s, and it’s true now.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

No, Matt, it’s your response that’s incoherent. I wasn’t talking analogs; I was talking semantic function. (I will say, though, as I’ve said before, that I find the direct comparison of current gay rights activism with the civil rights movement of the last century presumptuous and underhanded.)
As for race relations, I don’t think it’s possible to fully eradicate such “-isms,” but I think only people heavily invested in the righteous sense of their own banal bravery would deny that racism is a shadow of what it was twenty, fifty, and a hundred years ago and that there’s general consensus that flinging racial epithets oughtn’t be treated as a powerful ploy.

Michael
13 years ago

Very tempted to sit back and watch everybody slug this one out but I can’t help put in my two cents.
There is no reason whatsoever for public schools to be reading aloud books with same sex couples as a theme. What kind of nut-house are we running here? Maybe I’ve been in the dark, but is this true? Or are the books available but not read as curriculum to the classes? Last year I read Dr. Suess books to Providence first-graders as part of a mentor-student project. They loved it, no need at that age for politics or religious themed morality. I never saw or heard same-sex topics anywhere, nor should I. I’m thinking this discussion is hypothetical. If it is actually going on, where do I sign the petition to have it stopped? Maybe I’ll start my own!
Pertaining to race relations, what a mess! New black immigrants are descriminated on by older black residents, Dominicans don’t like Peurto Ricans, Blacks resent whites, whites don’t trust blacks, Asians…I ‘ll never figure that one out, asian gangs are notorious for shooting each other up. The “N” word? Nothing. Doesn’t mean anything, unless of course a white person says it, then watch out. I think things are worse now than ever, just different from our parents brand of racism. What we are seeing now is people in power capitalising on racism, using it to furthur their agenda. I see it daily. My job gives me a unique perspective of things. People call me when they need help; (Providence Fire/EMS) they don’t care if the Jolly Green Giant shows up at their door. They trust me, until their crisis is over, then I become the big white guy in their living room again.
Just my opinion, sorry for ranting.

Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

Michael=”Very tempted to sit back and watch everybody slug this one out but I can’t help put in my two cents.”
Same here, but I’m going to wait until someone gets knocked down and is easy to pick off.
Michael=” Last year I read Dr. Suess books to Providence first-graders as part of a mentor-student project. They loved it, no need at that age for politics or religious themed morality.”
I hate to tell you this, Michael, but a lot of Dr. Seuss cartoons are deeply political (including racial politics). Did you ever read “The Sneetches” (Some sneetches have stars on their bellies, others do not. Bigotry and opression ensue, promoted by a demogogic leader). The Lorax, of course, is an environmental fable. By the way, Theodor Geisel(AKA Dr. Seuss) was a politiical cartoonist during WWII, and drew many anti-fascist cartoons supporting US entry into the war. He also had some brilliant domestic cartoons, such as a famous one criticizing the poll tax.
There’s no escaping politics!

Michael
13 years ago

Thomas,
I don’t think the kids were on to him, they just liked the attention.
Justin,
I didn’t realize I was being lyrical!lol

Thomas
Thomas
13 years ago

Michael,
I should have added, kudos to you for taking the time to go into the school and read to the kids. Our public schools would be so much better if only parents (and others) would do as you did and get themselves into the schools and support the kids (and the teachers who, whatever you think of their union, generally work very hard, with very little in the way of resources).

Rhody
Rhody
13 years ago

Why call somebody a bigot? Some of the people who poo-poohed the idea of same-sex marriage four years ago have realized by now that it hasn’t, nor will it, brought down Western civilization (this is what the people whose knickers are twisted hardest over this are REALLY scared of). Calling somebody who disagrees with you today a bigot greatly lessens the chance they will become your ally tomorrow.

mrh
mrh
13 years ago

No, Matt, it’s your response that’s incoherent. Ooh, you showed me! I will say, though, as I’ve said before, that I find the direct comparison of current gay rights activism with the civil rights movement of the last century presumptuous and underhanded. Presumptuous? Underhanded? Why in the world? What distinguishes the struggle for equal rights for blacks from the struggle for equal rights for gays? (Apart, that is, from the fact that discrimination against gays is often religiously motivated?) As for race relations, I don’t think it’s possible to fully eradicate such “-isms,” but I think only people heavily invested in the righteous sense of their own banal bravery would deny that racism is a shadow of what it was twenty, fifty, and a hundred years ago Are things better today than they were twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago? Unquestionably. But it takes a really breathtaking amount of naivete and blithe unconcern to dismiss any concern about racism today as nothing more that “banal bravery.” (Apart being a lovely turn of phrase, what in the world is “banal bravery”?) Ask a Black man whether racism is gone. Ask a Latino man. Ask an Arab. and that there’s general consensus that flinging racial epithets oughtn’t be treated as a powerful ploy I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. I think flinging racial epithets is by now considered to be beyond the pale of public discourse, and that’s progress. However, if your idea of what constitutes racism is that nothing other than violence or the flinging of epithets qualifies, then your worldview is far too narrow. A final note: I think you’re trying to say that calling someone a “bigot” is comparable to calling someone a “nigger.” I’m having trouble finding the words to dismiss this kind of… Read more »

Rhody
Rhody
13 years ago

Not accusing you, mrh. I agree with you that this whole issue about the use of the word “bigot” is an attempt to cloud the issue, and the cause of gay marriage is better served when we get around that cloud.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

MRH,
My strong language derives from my inability to comprehend how anybody can look at the history or even current circumstances, let alone the civil-rights-era status, of black Americans and compare that with a class of people who are wealthier and better educated than the average and have never been deprived of voting and other citizenship rights. And that puts aside the differences of what makes each group a class of people.
As is customary in these sorts of exchanges (in keeping with the content of the debate, as it happens), you are insisting on taking my statements more broadly than I explicitly draw them, sometimes with undue exaggeration. I did not, for example, “dismiss any concern about racism today as nothing more that ‘banal bravery.'” The alliterative phrase applies to those who puff their feathers as if race relations have not changed much for the better in the recent past.
Or consider this:

I think you’re trying to say that calling someone a “bigot” is comparable to calling someone a “nigger.”

“Comparable” covers a lot of ground. I explained the limited way in which I believe the two terms are comparable.

mrh
mrh
13 years ago

Well, absolutely. Only an idiot would claim that race relations haven’t made progress. I’m not that particular idiot. And certainly, as a class, gays are better off in the 00’s than blacks were in the 60’s — I’m seeing the difference, though, as one of degree, not of kind. The principles behind the Civil Rights movement then and now are the same.
“Comparable” does indeed cover a lot of ground; I’m arguing that even in your “limited way” the terms can’t be seriously considered comparable. Yes, they’re both not nice: that’s it. But it’s missing the point in a pretty significant way not to see why it’s wrong to say that someone who someone anyone else of being a bigot must suffer from “a small-minded lack of empathy.”

mrh
mrh
13 years ago

I will allow, however, that I wish we had a better word than “bigot.” Other kinds of hate, discrimination, and intolerance have their own words (sexist, racist, etc) but for gays we have to fall back to a word that is general-purpose and more strongly loaded.

Justin Katz
13 years ago

MRH,
You’re missing the point. I’m not saying that nobody should ever use the word “bigot.” It speaks to motivation for behavior, and sometimes it is accurate. In this respect, the parallel with “nigger” is sticky, although I would note that somebody who used the racial slur against a person who had just perpetrated a terrible act against him would surely not generate so much ire.
“Nigger” meant something like “worthless delinquent” and was used to apply that meaning to a race of people indiscriminately. Similarly, “bigot” (and its various more-specific synonyms) is now being applied indiscriminately against people who hold certain views on specific and eminently arguable issues, with the intention of invalidating their arguments and excusing suppression and disenfranchisement of them.
The use of the word “bigot,” in other words, is being used to assert one side’s beliefs as irrefutable truth, to the extent of disallowing democratic processes.

mrh
mrh
13 years ago

“Nigger” meant something like “worthless delinquent” This is a ridiculous assertion. Are you serious? “Nigger” is a term of abuse directed against black people because they are black. From Webster’s, a “bigot” is “a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.” I would note that somebody who used the racial slur against a person who had just perpetrated a terrible act against him would surely not generate so much ire. Seriously? Do you really want to stand by this statement? The use of the word “bigot,” in other words, is being used to assert one side’s beliefs as irrefutable truth, to the extent of disallowing democratic processes. Disallowing- What? What?! Are you — what? Disallowing democratic processes? What — Did I miss the part of the Constitution where democratic processes are suspended if someone says the magic word? This must be code for something, but I don’t get it. I don’t know what to make of “irrefutable truth.” I don’t recall ever asserting that calling someone a bigot is an expression of irrefutable truth. Is it possible that, maybe, perhaps, “you are insisting on taking my statements more broadly than I explicitly draw them, sometimes with undue exaggeration”? Look, accusing someone of bigotry is, unavoidably, a subjective act, since (if we follow Webster’s), determining whether someone is acting “obstinately or intolerantly” is subjective. But I have the right to make that judgment, and when I exercise that right, it does not affect (seriously?) democratic processes. I do not have that kind of power. I understand that no one wants to be called a bigot, but it’s really dancing right on the edge… Read more »

Justin Katz
13 years ago

Well, Matt, we’re now several layers into your not apparently being able or willing to see the angle from which I’m arguing. Liberal sensibilities are refined very tightly on this sort of thing, and I suspect it’s bound up with the narrative by which they construct their sense of themselves as the good guys. Whether it’s obstinateness or existentialism, I don’t see much point in continuing the conversation. I do, however, want to address three things that you say: “Nigger” is a term of abuse directed against black people because they are black. Yes, of course. I was trying to get at the connotation, the quality that it was meant to convey with respect to blacks. You can disagree with the specifics, but again, I don’t see the point in continuing if you are either unable or unwilling to take such things in the spirit in which I offer them. Do you really want to stand by this statement? Yes, of course. Are you saying that a person who had just (to grab an example out of thin air) watched a black man brutally rape his wife ought to receive the Imus treatment for using the N-word? I’m suggesting that the hatred that the man is expressing is, in that instance, justifiable. I suppose that you could coolly declare that, while hatred might be justifiable, resorting to that word is not, but then I’d suggest that you’re not being reasonable. When a member of a privileged class insults a member of a disadvantaged class based solely on their membership in that class, it’s not the same as a member of the privileged class being insulted because of their behavior. I’ll resist the tangential argument that then class/behavior distinction sounds awfully familiar in the context of the gay rights debate. For… Read more »

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
13 years ago

Let’s see.
Mammalian biology for the millions of years that we are aware of has involved males and females attracted to each other and coupling in order to consummate the biological imperative of reproduction.
Derivate of, and consistent with that biological imperative, thousands of years of Western culture (and presumably Eastern culture as well) has been uniform in understanding, and with overwhelming and intuitive consensus, that marriage is an institution partaken with and between a man and a woman.
And yet …
Anyone who does not “buy into” and acquiesce to a sudden (by historical standards) effort by a vocal special-interest minority to upend fundamental premises of biology, and the interrelated cultural norms accepted over the millennia, by sanctioning as “normal” and “desirable” homosexual marriage is … a bigot.
If this isn’t Orwellian “new-think” and “new-speak,” I don’t know what is.

mrh
mrh
13 years ago

. I was trying to get at the connotation, the quality that it was meant to convey with respect to blacks. And I think this is fruitless. The “quality” is irrelevant — the word denigrates blacks not because of any qualities they possess, but because of their race. Yes, of course. Are you saying that a person who had just (to grab an example out of thin air) watched a black man brutally rape his wife ought to receive the Imus treatment for using the N-word? I’m suggesting that the hatred that the man is expressing is, in that instance, justifiable. I suppose that you could coolly declare that, while hatred might be justifiable, resorting to that word is not, but then I’d suggest that you’re not being reasonable. We may just have to part ways here. If a black man brutally raped my wife, and I expressed a desire to kill him, or hurt him, or insulted him in all manner of ways, I’d be justified. If I used the N-word, though, I’m a racist. Personally, I don’t think hatred is particularly useful (and I’d think as a Christian, you’d agree), but it’s certainly human: if someone committed such a crime against me, I’d certainly be likely to hate them. But, and this is the key difference, I’d hate him because of his actions not because of his race. I don’t want to imbue the N-word with special powers, and claim that anyone who uses it ever, in any circumstances, is a racist. However, if I express my anger and hatred using that term, it’s highly likely that I’m using it because of his race, and that makes me a racist. (Here’s an analogy: suppose you and I are driving down the road, and you cut me off, causing… Read more »

mrh
mrh
13 years ago

and further that part of the attraction of gay causes for the middle and upper class Western liberal is that it allows them to expunge feelings of guilt while supporting people who are just like them in every respect except sexual preference
This, of course, is untrue and uncharitable. I’ve tried to avoid making accusations about your presumed motivations — I’ve never called you a bigot, I’ve never called you closed-minded, I’ve never accused you of hating gay people — and I’d appreciate the same courtesy.

Rhody
Rhody
13 years ago

When I start hearing the sad tales about the poor oppressed middle-class white male heteros (of which I am one), I go to my neighbor and borrow his violin.

Chairm
Chairm
13 years ago

The race analogy fails. There is one human race and the nature of humankind is two-sexed. The nature of human community, and of human generativity, is both-sexed. Marriage integrates the sexes and this, combined with contingency for responsible procreaton, is the core of marriage. The first resort of SSMers is to declare that disagreement with them about marriage is bigotry. This is not due to knowledge of the social institution of marriage, nor even an open denial about the nature of humankind, human community, and human generativity. Nope. The first resort of SSMers is entirely about homosexuality. Marriage is a different subject. It is about the two sexes integrating. The SSMers today would press gay identity politics into marriage recognition the way that racists of the past had pressed racism into marriage recognition. The “same-sex” category is not all gay. Meanwhile not all “both-sexed” combinations are of the marriageable category. The core of marriage is not heterosexual identity and so the false equivalencies of SSMers, based on equating identities, is not about marriage. I agree with Justin that the imposition of SSM in Massachusetts was undemocratic, through and through. Massachusetts has a republican form of government with constitutional provision for direct democracy. The SSM campaign disapraged this. There is no provision that empowers the judiciary as the ruler of the other two branches of government, let alone as the oligiarchy that dictates to the People for whom the republican government was created and by whom it was ratified. Yet the SSM campaign is courtcentric and stands on the very thin reed of a judicial opinion, not a ruling, that indeed say that the state’s recognition of the both-sexed social institution of marriage was the equivalent of racial bigotry. So if you are an SSMer who supports the imposition of SSM… Read more »

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