speech is not a passive form of public speech. And one of the signs of
an intolerant society is its hate speech, whether used jokingly or intentionally,
aimed at specific groups of people.
When this form of verbal abuse becomes part and parcel of the everyday
parlance and exchange between people, we have created a society characterized
by its zero-tolerance of inclusion and diversity, and where name-calling
becomes an accepted norm.
Lately, this Republican political era of “compassionate conservatism” has
brought forward a field day unabashedly displaying a no-holds-barred attitude
when it comes to passionate invectives hurled at queers, African-Americans
In an interview with Ann Coulter, author of “Godless: The Religion
of Liberals,” on the July 27 edition of MSNBC’s “Hardball” with
host Chris Matthews, Coulter called former Vice President Al Gore “a
fag” and she hinted that Clinton might be gay.
“How do you know that Bill Clinton is gay?” Matthews asked.
“He may not be gay, but Al Gore, total fag. No, I’m just kidding,” Coulter
stated. And in referring to Clinton, Coulter continued, “I mean,
everyone has always known wildly promiscuous heterosexual men have, as
I say, a whiff of the bathhouse about them.”
Perhaps Coulter intended to be funny or satirical, but her remarks are
not only directed toward Gore and Clinton, but also toward lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender people. Coulter is taking a swipe at Gore, Clinton
and the entire LGBT community in one fell swoop and with just one word.
Let us not forget that the word and image of “fag” derives
from the word “faggot,” meaning “bundle of sticks for
burning,” and LGBT people were supposedly righteously burnt at the
stake in medieval England.
And let us not forget Matthew Shepard, the openly gay Wyoming student who
in 1998 was bludgeoned and left to die in near freezing temperatures while
tethered to a rough-hewn wooden fence.
Or Billy Jack Gaither, a well-respected and beloved textile worker in Alabama,
who in 1999 was bludgeoned with an axe handle, burned and left to die on
a pile of tires because he was gay.
And it is claimed that the Bible refers to us as “stoking the fires
However, the real hell we LGBT people confront from this type of name-calling
and stereotyping is a societal disparage of sexual relations between people
of the same gender where both the church and government ban us from marriage,
adoption and serving in the military.
But the hate speech doesn’t just stop with LGBT people. Jews are
also a target.
Devout Catholic and staunch Republican Mel Gibson, the megastar behind “The
Passion of the Christ,” got pulled over on July 28 for drunk driving
and flew into a tirade spewing both sexist and anti-Semitic vitriol. “Fucking
Jews,” he reportedly said to police “... The Jews are responsible
for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew? ... What do you think you’re
looking at, sugar tits?”
Animus toward Jews is not new, and it dates back as early as the Jewish
Diaspora between the 8th-6th centuries BCE, and as late as Hitler’s
attempted genocide of European Jewry.
The relationship between homophobia and anti-Semitism is that Christian
fundamentalists target gays and Jews for not adhering to the “true” tenets
of Christianity. Christian fundamentalists also target gays and Jews because
the two groups can overlap in terms of personal identity and can be the
target of religiously motivated violence.
Racial epithets are such a mainstay in the American lexicon that their
broad-based appeal to both blacks as well as whites have anaesthetized
us not only to the damaging and destructive use of epithets, but also to
our ignorance of their historical origins.
Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney apologized recently for using the racial
epithet “tar baby” at a Republican political gathering in Iowa
while describing a collapse in a Big Dig tunnel that killed a Boston woman
on July 10.
“The best thing for me to do politically is stay away from the Big
Dig, just get as far away from that tar baby as I possibly can,” he
“Tar baby” is a pejorative term referring to African-American
children, especially girls, and was used by whites during American slavery.
Today, the term has come to depict a sticky mess or situation, referring
to the 19th century “Uncle Remus” stories in which a doll made
of tar was used to trap Brer Rabbit.
Eric Fehrnstrom, the governor’s spokesman said, “The governor
was describing a sticky situation. He was unaware that some people find
the term objectionable, and he’s sorry if anyone was offended.” How
could a man who is the governor of the diverse state of Massachusetts and
who wants to be president not know this?
The relationship between homophobia and racism is shown not only in how
LGBT and African-American civil rights struggles are pitted against each
other, but the relationship between homophobia and racism will also be
shown in the federal government’s new HIV/AIDS supposed prevention
program mandating all public health authorities and agencies to report
HIV-positive patients. It’s a program in which African-Americans — straight
or queer — will ostensibly feel profiled.
Language is a representation of culture, and it perpetuates ideas and assumptions
about race, gender, religion and sexual orientation that we consciously,
and unconsciously, articulate in our everyday conversations about ourselves,
the rest of the world, and consequently transmit generationally.
The liberation of a people is also rooted in the liberation of abusive
language in the form of hate hurled at them. Using epithets or slurs especially
jokingly, does not eradicate their historical baggage, and the existing
social relations among us.
Instead, using them dislodges these hate-filled words from their historical
context and makes us insensitive and arrogant to the historical injustices
done to specific groups of Americans.
They allow all Americans to become numb to the use and abuse of the power
of hate speech, despite the weight these slurs still have.
And lastly, hate speech thwarts the daily struggle many of us engage in — simply
trying to improve human relations for all.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a religion columnist, public theologian, and speaker.
She resides in Cambridge, Mass. And can be contacted through her website