Profiting from the N-Word

Judged by the outrage, those University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) frat boys who sang a ditty that used the N-Word must certainly have done something particularly egregious. Why else did the university immediately, sans any hearing or due process, expel some of them, close down their SAE chapter while the fraternity’s headquarters launched its own Inquisition to determine if other chapters are likewise guilty of N-Word use?  And keep in mind that this occurred on a bus and was perfectly legal since hate speech, absent other factors, is not a standalone offense.

Further add the parade of media luminaries adding their heartfelt condemnations while those expressing First Amendment reservations are largely mute. Why would merely saying a word in private instigate death threats? That nobody was hurt, abused or personally insulted in the making of this sing-a-long only compounds the over-kill.

Clearly, something deeper is transpiring beyond privately (and legally) voicing a taboo word. This is not akin to shouting fire in a crowded theater. Let me try to explain this peculiar outrage.

Slurs undoubtedly began with human speech. My enlightened Homo Sapien ancestors undoubtedly called a fellow cave dweller a “dumb Neanderthal.” This defamatory urge is hardwired into our DNA and efforts to obliterate it will only result in totalitarian measures and fresh euphemisms to escape the censor. This “natural” inclination toward cursing was perfectly illustrated by the rant of Eric Striker, a football player recruited to play at Oklahoma but who changed his mind after the SAE incident. He sent a video explaining his reasons: “Same mother****rs that talk about racism doesn’t exist are the same motherfuckers shaking our hands, giving us hugs, telling us how you really love us,” Striker said. “F**k you phony-ass, fraud-ass bitches.”

Now given the irrepressibility of vilifications, what is to be done? In some instances, e.g., “Queer” the slur can be embraced by the target and cleansed of its derogatory implication—the academic departments of Queer Studies. The feminist have likewise rehabilitated “slut” as in the now honored “slut walk.”  Those violating the speech taboo can be ostracized from polite company.  Elsewhere the target physically defends his honor and after a point, the slur goes underground. Only a fool would visit an Italian neighborhood and say wop or Dago.  

More common was to ignore them as per “sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never harm me.” And, with such a non-reaction, the slur loses its sting and fades into obscurity. Has anybody under 50 ever encountered “Mackerel Snapper,” an insult once applied to Roman Catholics whose faith required them to eat only fish on Friday?

Now, what makes uttering the N-word by whites so profoundly different than thousands of insults targeting other groups? Let me suggest that among the sensitive offended souls, this anger has two core justifications. First, if African Americans encounter it when expressed by non-blacks, exposure is debilitating. The traumatic reaction thus contravenes the “sticks and stone…” adage -- the N-Word is tantamount to sticks and stones. But, there is (supposedly) no debilitation if the speaker is black (see here).  

Some research (see here and here ) justifies this contention. For example, African Americans exposed to racism grow angrier, become more suspicious and distrustful, and experience higher heart-rates and increases in blood pressure (hyper tension) plus other physical reactions. In other words, African Americans, like anybody else, are uncomfortable when the object of derogatory words.

But, distress by itself cannot possibly explain widespread black tribulations. Recall the adage of toxicity being in the dosage -- do occasional encounters with the N-Word consign one to a life of poverty? After all, if slurs were so debilitating, humans would still be cave dwellers. Anti-Semitism has existed for millennia and most Jews have probably grown up hearing derogatory terms such as  Heeb, Himey, Kike, Mocky, Christ Killer, and Yid (among countless others) and Jewish accomplishments have hardly suffered. Ditto for those of Asian ancestry  -- affronts like chink or coolie are more like petty nuisances in the march toward success.

The second key component of this N-Word “theory” links speech to behavior. That is, those who utter the noxious term are, as a result of their speech, are more likely to harm blacks, so imposing silence is a pro-active defensive strategy. In the case of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon boys, their utterances would result in hateful frenzy and woe to first African American they encountered when leaving the bus. Or, more generally, the everyday use of such slurs shapes an atmosphere that facilitates racial discrimination, i.e., far easier to deny jobs to a ni***r than an African American.

All of this “reasoning” is bizarre and lacks a scientific basis. As mentioned, millions cope amidst intermittent ethnic/racial slurs and momentary discomfort is not tantamount to a crippling illness. In any case, why is the N-Word harmless when said by fellow blacks but not whites, Asians or Hispanics? What if a black heard the N-Word but was unable to identify the speaker? Is it still toxic? Or what if a white person loudly played an N-Word infused rap song sung by a black?  Would this qualify as “hateful”? Is the reaction of blacks genetically determined no different from some groups disproportionally suffering from lactose intolerance?  

Even shakier is the purported link between attitudes and behavior (see here and here). Yes, voicing the N-Word may reflect deep racism, but ample research generally shows only a tenuous link between attitudes and behavior. If thinking anti-black thoughts were the precursor to violence, and whites secretly harbored all these racist thoughts, American should be awash in white anti-black violence. But the very opposite is true -- interracial violence is overwhelmingly black on white (also see here).

Why, then, the over-the-top hysteria when whites are caught using this supposedly toxic term? Why the rush to ride roughshod over constitutional protections of free speech? Let me suggest that this is all part of the extractive process that drives the racial grievance industry. The underlying principle here is that black misfortunes are white instigated, and if whites could be cured of their pathologies, blacks would thrive. In medical terms, instances of whites saying the N-Word indicate a relapse, comparable to shingles, a virile eruption of decades old chicken pox. In other words, KKK-like urges have resisted all efforts to eradicate them so we must try harder.

Such treatment for the lingering KKK virus include mandatory sensitive training, compelling whites to confront their white privilege,  exposing whites to blacks in positions of authority and similar social engineering that guarantees lots of well-paying “doctor” jobs. Apropos of  the SAE incident, a New York Times op-ed called for colleges to overcome racist frats by promoting more equality in housing and hiring multicultural sensitive advisors to reverse hostile attitudes. Almost on cue, Benjamin Reese, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education and the vice president of institutional equity at Duke University, said he opposed banning SAE, and instead called for educating them to embrace inclusion. In sum, exposing racist white fraternities and their “toxic” speech is the Full Employment Act for the diversity industry.