Nigger: Just a word, or something more?

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In January 2006, Alison Antoine woke to find the words “Die Nigger” spray-painted on the front of the house in Stiles, Antrim

A Philadelphia Police Officer is in some hot water today thanks to racially insensitive comments he made while escorting a college student journalist.

It brings to the fore a legitimate question: are words such as ‘nigger’, ‘spic’, ‘gook’, ‘harp’, ‘nip’, ‘chink’, ‘fag’ or ‘gook’ simply that – only words? Or are they more?

I’ve heard this argument made any number of times, that these are just words, and if people are going to keep getting offended by words like ‘nigger’ then they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of taking offense.

True enough in that any discussion on this issue, be it in the local newspapers, at the office water cooler, in an interview room at a police facility, on the internet, or in the halls of Congress or the United Nations is not going to change people’s habits. It is not going to stop people from using these words, either in their most benign sense or their most derogatory.

I have also heard the argument as a question why, for instance, black people are so offended by the word ‘nigger’ when uttered by a white man or anyone from any other race, and yet are willing to toss it around with ease among one another?

Yo, he my nigger” or “You one stupid nigger” or many other usages too numerous to mention that I have personally heard with my own ears uttered in real life, on television, in films, and in music.

I have heard black people use these exact phrases among one another without anyone taking offense, or at least without anyone making an issue of it, usually without even an eyebrow raised.

For a long time in my life, I just didn’t get it either. I thought that it was just another way for a black person to try to gain sympathy, to feign victimization by the white man, to play the race card.

If I tried to list for you how many times in my life that I was called ‘honkey’ or ‘whitey’ or ‘white boy’ or ‘cracker’ or ‘mick’, it would fill a book. If I listed for you how many times those words offended me when used towards me, you could count those times on less than one hand. So I just didn’t get it.

Then one day, about a dozen years or so ago, I was involved in a conversation about this very topic with a fellow police officer who happened to be black.

At the end of the conversation, I said to him “So your people can toss that word around all you want, can call one another ‘nigger’, can use it any way you want, but if I call you a ‘nigger’, that’s wrong and you’re offended?

His simple one-word response: “Exactly.

Why it took a smart fella like me three decades of his life to understand a simple concept that was summed up by this cop’s one word answer is fodder for another entire article. But the simple idea is this: some words offend people of ethnic, racial, or sexual groups. Period. They just do.

The fact is that those of us who may not be in their particular group will never, ever understand the emotions behind those feelings.

We don’t need to understand the raw emotions. All we need to know is that these words offend, and so we should refrain from using them in most circumstances.

So does that mean that we can never, ever use pejorative terms or slang words? No, of course not. Everything has its place. For instance, so far in this article I have used the word ‘nigger’ nine times, counting the headline and that last mention in this sentence. Using any word in a legitimate intellectual discussion is appropriate.

There has been a major cop out in today’s society where people from Oprah to Obama use the phrase “the N word” in public, but then according to reliable sources aren’t afraid to use “nigger” in private conversations.

Failing to use the word itself in an intellectual discussion helps to raise the word above it’s meaning.

It is the meaning that lies behind the word when used in a derogatory sense that releases its true negative emotional responses. This is particularly so when it is uttered by a member of one group that has historically been in a position of power and influence against some member of a group that has been historically deprived of that power.

Now just because of my own personal enlightenment, don’t take that to mean that I have never used the word ‘nigger’ in conversation, I have. And so has almost every single person who is reading this article: cop, lawyer, judge, politician, factory worker, businessman, whatever.

It is one of the reasons that we all knew instinctively that Mark Fuhrmann was lying in the O.J. Simpson case. The man is a big city police detective and was asked if he ever used the word ‘nigger’, and replied that he had not. You might as well have painted a huge word ‘LIAR’ across his forehead in capital letters after that.

Mark Fuhrmann could have been, and probably was, telling the truth about most every other aspect of the case and his involvement. But no one was going to believe him after this point, particularly after the defense made a concerted effort to prove that he had lied about this issue.

One thing that I can say for sure is that I have never used that word directly towards any black person, or in the presence of any black people, in any derogatory way. Even if I felt that I was in the presence of someone that I felt comfortable with and had no fear that they would take offense, I wouldn’t use that word in that way simply out of respect.

Now understand this, most cops are very comfortable around other cops. That thing about being white, black or yellow, but when the uniform is on we are all blue? That isn’t just talk most of the time, that is how most cops genuinely feel.

Police officers toss around racial and sexual and other slang phrases and profanities among one another that would make a sailor blush. But we also know our place. We know when we are among friends, when we can let our hair down, and can toss around the bullshit without having to worry about anyone taking offense.

The officer in this current case that has broken in the local news was not among friends, and should have known better. He was driving a reporter around with him, one who was doing street-level research for a story that she was going to write.

Was he trying to impress her in some way by acting tough and hard and macho? Who knows. Who cares. The fact is that this young rookie cop was stupid to make those comments to anyone, let alone a college journalism student writing for her newspaper.

Now some would say that this officer should be off the police force simply for having those feelings. I disagree.

We all bring a wide variety of personal experiences and backgrounds to this job. None of us can help the way that we were raised, what we were exposed to, or what was our ‘normal’ for a couple of decades before we ever considered police work as a profession.

What we can do, however, is grow, mature, and learn how to set aside any personal prejudices and perform a professional job for all citizens, regardless of any background of theirs which may be different from our own.

The young officer in question works in a tough area of North Philly, an area where he is exposed to a great deal of crime, hurt, pain, and even death on a daily basis. It is an area that is mostly black, and where most of the murder, drug dealing, and crime is perpetrated by blacks against other blacks. It is not hard to become jaded by all of that.

For some white people who hear about blacks feeling oppressed by the ‘man’ or the ‘system’, that is a hard pill to swallow. The idea that black citizens in these areas expect more from us as the police than they do of their neighbors. But they, and I believe the officer in this case, have it all wrong.

Most of the people in that area of the city are not bad people. They don’t deal or use drugs. They don’t rob folks. They don’t expect more from white people, or the system, or the man, than they do from their neighbors. They expect their neighbors to treat them with courtesy and respect and perhaps even affection, and they have a right to expect these things.

As always, it is the few who make it difficult for the many in these neighborhoods. There just happen to be more of those ‘few’ bad apples in that particular neighborhood, for any number of reasons, none of which is the fault of those ‘many’ good folks.

So to white people everywhere, get it for once. You can’t call a black person a ‘nigger’ at all. You can’t use the term ‘niggers’ in regards to black people in any public discussion or forum where the term is being used in a derogatory manner.

It doesn’t matter how many times blacks use it among themselves, it is simply different, and you need to understand and respect that as a simple fact. The same goes for any other derogatory slang word for any other group as well. Words like ‘nigger’ are not just words, they are indeed something more.

Islamism Series: Back to Afghanistan

For a land-locked nation that is basically a pile of rock and sand, Afghanistan holds some serious sway in the international community. The reasons are many, but they are sometimes difficult to grasp until you look more closely.

Afghanistan is bordered on the west by an Islamic nuclear-power wannabe ruled by a mad President in Iran, and on the east by the already nuclear-powered and increasingly fractious Pakistan.

There is even a small slice of northeastern Afghanistan that borders up against a Communist behemoth known as China. Along its northern borders lie a trio of former Soviet states in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Its land-locked status means that it has virtually no natural water supplies. There are no seas against which it borders, no rivers running through it, no lakes in which water has gathered. In short, there is very little of the life-sustaining, not to mention economy-sustaining water that is necessary for a country and people to survive, let alone thrive.

The median age is less than 18 years, which might make you wonder where are all the adults? Many of them are simply dead, as the average life expectancy is only a little over 44 years.

Because of the poor economic conditions there is a high risk of infectious diseases and wide-scale problems with other illnesses such as malaria, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, and ‘bird flu’ influenza strains.

So why does everyone care so much about a country that is so desolate and so inhospitable? Simply because of its strategic location as a ‘buffer zone’.

Afghanistan was founded in 1747 when Ahmad Durrani was able to organized the native Pashtun tribes into one people. For a long time it served as a buffer between the Russian and the British empires before gaining independence from Britain in 1919.

In the 1970’s, the Soviets propped up a Communist government there, and then directly invaded the country in 1979 to put down rebellions from various native Afghan tribes and groups. This led to a decade-long war in which the rebels emerged victorious thanks to aid from the international community, most notably the United States (see the film ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’.)

In the aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan war there was continual civil war in the country, with the Taliban finally emerging with control in the mid-1990’s. The population is 99% Muslim, and the Taliban demanded observance of a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law. They also allowed the use of Afghan territories by Osama bin Laden and his radical Islamic followers, which al Qaeda used to operate terrorist training camps.

Following 9/11, the U.S.-led coalition invaded, destroyed the terrorist camps, and drove the Taliban from power. This began a process of attempting to install a democratic government and elected leadership, which ultimately led to the current democratically-elected government of Hamid Karzai (pictured). Many felt that the U.S. lost focus from this important rebuilding program when it switched gears and invaded Iraq.

With the Afghan situation appearing under control, President Bush redeployed many American forces to topple the regime of dictator Sadaam Hussein in Iraq. As noble as removing the evil Hussein from power may have been, it did allow the Taliban to begin slowly regrouping and regaining some influence in Afghanistan.

The new American President Barack Obama inherited both the Iraq and Afghanistan situations when he took office. It is his position that Iraqi defense forces and the Iraqi government are becoming strong enough that they will soon be able to stand on their own, and is planning to slowly draw down U.S. presence in that area. At the same time he plans to increase the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

There is an upcoming international conference on Afghanistan that will take place at The Hague and which will be attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton along with leaders from all of the world nations having a stake in Afghanistan’s short and long term future.

With both the historical and current instability in that region of the world, and with their significant strategic locations, successful democracies in both Iraq and Afghanistan are worthy and important efforts. The Afghans absolutely need and deserve more U.S. support, not just military but also economic and in other areas. But the Iraqis cannot be abandoned to fend for themselves to the point where the loss of 4,000 American lives over a half decade ends up being for nothing.

President Obama is basically taking us back to Afghanistan, and that is a good and necessary thing. But at the same time we need to be very careful in the process of drawing down in Iraq.

In the ‘big tent’ meeting at The Hague, two groups with a stake in Afghanistan’s future which will not be represented are the Taliban and al Qaeda. But the groups who do meet should not forget their presence or their interest.

Radical Islamic forces are still fighting in both countries to undermine the American-led efforts, convinced that if they just wait us out we will eventually retreat to our own homeland and leave these Middle East countries with little defense against their continuing Jihad.

NOTE: This is a continuation of the Islam Series, all items of which can be read by clicking the below tag 

Conquering fear

Just one week until Palm Sunday, and just two until the glory of Easter Sunday. For those Christians who go to church next weekend and receive their palm branches, do you know what it is that they are supposed to help you recall and what they represent?

The palm branches are representative of those waved by the adoring crowds at Jesus Christ during his triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem in the days prior to his arrest, persecution, sacrificial death, and His rising from the tomb.

Before any of these events had taken place, there was a true sense of excitement and urgency among many of the people as the sacred occasion of the Passover approached.

Passover itself is the perhaps the single most important event on the Jewish calendar. It is a remembrance of the night that God struck down the first-born of Egypt in a show of power that led directly to the deliverance of the Jewish people out of the bondage of centuries of slavery.

As the angel of death moved about the nation taking the lives of those Egyptian first-born, it passed over those houses whose doors were marked with blood. This was a sign that God had told Moses to pass along among his chosen people so that they might be distinguished and saved.

It became a great custom among the Jews to travel to the great city of Jerusalem in order to celebrate this day, and in fact an entire great festival had been set up around the feast.

As the time came, many wondered whether Christ would even show up in Jerusalem at all. It was well known among the people that the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, they should be informed, so that they could place Jesus under arrest.

Jesus had been involved in his public ministry for a couple of years at this point. His teachings and reputation had grown so strong among the people that the traditional Jewish leaders felt severely threatened. There was talk that Jesus was going to become a king, and was going to establish a new kingdom.

This was directly threatening to the power of the Jewish leaders, but could also possibly bring the wrath of the Roman empire down on them should these events leak out. The Jewish leaders wanted greatly to eliminate the threat which they believed Jesus was becoming, either by debunking him or, if necessary, killing him.

The final straw came when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, a feat that overwhelmed even those who had already seen Christ perform any number of miracles in the previous months. The scribes and Pharisees saw the swelling numbers and the passion of his following, and plotted to eliminate him as a threat.

This word reached Jesus and his disciples, and they went ‘underground’, no longer moving about in public. So as the Passover feast arrived, the people wondered whether Jesus and his followers would indeed challenge the authorities and come out in public.

They got their answer in a big way. Not only did Jesus arrive at Jerusalem, but he arrived in the manner that had been foretold for centuries by the prophets. Jesus entered the city while riding on an ass and through the city gate that had also been prophesied.

The great crowd which had already begun gathering for the Passover celebrations heard that Jesus was arriving, and they rushed out to meet him, waving palm branches as he passed them. The palm branch was the traditional item used to hail the arrival of a conquering hero from a triumphant battle, and this was how many of the people were beginning to view Jesus.

His message of love and peace was taking root. His message of conquering fear and even death itself was spreading like wildfire.

The Bible says that one of the Pharisees on seeing this outbreak of affection said to the others “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” This is how large and emotional and affectionate the crowds were as they jubilantly waved their palm branches at him.

The crowds shouted among one another “Hosanna!” which meant “Oh Lord, grant salvation!”, a true sign of how they viewed Jesus. Just after Christ entered into the city a group of Greeks came wishing an audience with him, and to them he spoke plainly: “Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” 

The message was clear to all. Jesus was a wanted man in the eyes of the authorities, a threat to their rule, and perhaps a threat to the entire Jewish nation if the Romans found out about his coming ‘new kingdom’.

But he entered into the great city not through a back door, but through the front gates in a manner indicating that he was the Messiah, the promised Savior, the coming new king. He entered publicly, and on entering he proclaimed that the current ruler would be driven out.

Jesus showed no fear. He had conquered fear, he had raised a man from the dead, and in just a matter of days he would rise and conquer death itself.

Many among even the ranks of the authorities had begun to believe in him, but because of the Pharisees they did not acknowledge it openly for fear of being expelled from the synagogue. They preferred human praise to the glory of God.

It is the overcoming of this worldly fear that Jesus Christ showed in his triumphant entry in Jerusalem. It is the overcoming of this fear to which he calls us all. You should fear no shame in publicly declaring your Christianity, in publicly celebrating your belief, and in publicly calling others to salvation in Christ.

Conquer your fear as Christ conquered it, directly and loudly and openly, and envision the palms waving around you in triumph as you receive them next weekend.

AIDS: Serious problem requiring serious solution

In July of 2008, the World Health Organization in conjunction with the United Nations released a report which stated that approximately 33 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS.

With a world population of over 6 billion people, that means the percentage of human beings with this illness is about .0055 of the total world population.

In other words, while we may be talking about a lot of people, we are not talking about a significant number. Better than 99% of the people on earth do not have this illness, and there is a reason for that.

The reason is that it is spread in its greatest numbers by far through irresponsible sexual practices, and the greatest number of those by far in the advanced world come through homosexual practices.

By far the highest numbers of AIDS cases in the world can be seen in sub-Saharan Africa, that area of Africa below the Sahara desert, where approximately 2/3 of all the cases on earth can be found. It is highly likely that this area of the world is where the AIDS virus first found its way into the human population.

There are serious problems in this part of the world largely attributable to poverty and a lack of education, which themselves are perpetuated by the autocratic and despotic governments.

At the individual and familial level the results are involving shortcomings in personal hygiene and the overall lack of cleanliness, combined with the social problems of acceptance of multiple sexual partners at any one time.

In short, AIDS came out of Africa and remains at its strongest there, and around the rest of the world it has spread largely due to irresponsible and deviant sexual practices. Anyone who tells you anything else is simply perpetrating a fraud on you.

Is it possible to get the AIDS virus from a bad blood transfusion or some freak exchange of bodily fluids? Sure, but that possibility is extremely low so as to not be nothing more than a smoke-screen when discussing the best ways to attack the spread of AIDS and to begin putting it into reverse.

This past week, Pope Benedict visited the African continent in a tremendously successful mission to his flock. Catholicism and an acceptance of Jesus Christ in general is growing on the Dark Continent, and the Pope went to personally deliver Christ’s message of love to these people knowing that Christianity can inspire hope there as it has the world over.

On the flight to Africa, the Pope was asked about the AIDS problem and specifically the Church’s position that condoms are not the answer. There are many around the world who scoff at this assertion, and who truly believe that condoms save lives. These people either do not understand the position of the Church on this matter, or do not care.

The Pope reiterated his position on the flight, saying that distributing condoms was “not the answer to the problem of AIDS“, and that instead the best strategy is the Church’s efforts to promote “sexual responsibility through abstinence and monogamy.” Kudos to the Holy Father for so succinctly expressing simple, basic truth.

The usual array of European nations and homosexual groups fired back at the Pope, but the truth is that the world needs to follow this simple, straightforward, moral message. A message that will, if followed, in fact work as a realistic solution.

Let’s try on this hypothetical, just for arguments sake. Every homosexual male on earth stops having sexual intercourse with a member of the same sex. Every human being on earth who is diagnosed with the AIDS virus stops having sex completely.

Finally, every human being on earth decides to commit to a normal, healthy, monogamist relationship for child-bearing and family-building purposes, if in fact they decide to have any sexual relationship at all.

Now pardon me if I haven’t run the numbers through the WHO computers, or past some expert from the U.N., or especially past the gay leadership, but my bet is that AIDS cases would eventually plummet to the point where the illness was almost a non-factor.

The simple fact is that the Pope is correct. The answer to AIDS is not in keeping people perpetuating the same old practices that helped spread the illness to begin with, but in educating them in the direction that God has set for them to a higher calling.

Far too many of us who are not involved in an AIDS-related lifestyle fall into habits or even just the occasional incident that is immoral. If we all simply would allow ourselves to understand the beauty of the true meaning of sex, its true importance, its sacred role in our lives, then not only would the world be a better place, but it would be a more AIDS-free place.

Sex was meant by God to take place in a loving and committed relationship between married persons for the purposes of procreating and sustaining a loving familial relationship between the couple. That is a lesson that it has taken me personally a long time and a few hard times to learn. But it is one that the entire world needs to learn in order to truly overcome the AIDS virus.

Someone once said that serious problems require serious solutions. The band aid of a condom is no solution at all. Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church’s message of abstinence and monogamy is just that serious solution that is needed.

Conspiracy, betrayal, denial

We are now just three weeks away from Easter Sunday, which along with Christmas Day is the celebration of one of the two greatest events in the history of mankind.

On that day of Easter we will celebrate the great victory of Jesus Christ over death, his rising from the grave into which he entered as a repentance for the sins of man.

But besides that sin for which his death was payment, there was a human process of actual conspiracy and betrayal that served as the mechanization leading to his crucifixion. And near that end there were a series of denials from his most beloved and respected friend and follower.

As the Bible tells it in the New Testament gospel of Luke, with the Passover festival about to begin the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to put him to death. They feared Jesus’ popularity among the people, and that many of his teachings were outside the bounds, some directly in conflict with, the tenets of the Jewish faith.

The Gospel of Matthew tells that they assembled in the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas, and consulted on how best to effect his arrest and eventual execution. Their initial plan was to have this plot carried out after the festival was over, because as both Matthew and Mark tell us, they feared “a riot among the people”, such was Jesus’ popularity.

Their plots against him came together more suddenly than they wanted because, the fact is, they were not in charge of things. As Luke tells it, Satan “entered into” one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, Judas Iscariot, who approached the temple guards and the chief priests with an offer to betray Jesus and turn him over to them in exchange for money.

When the chief priests agreed to pay Judas the price of 30 pieces of silver, the conspiracy was in place. Judas began to seek an opportunity to lead them to Jesus when there would be no crowds around to cause a disturbance.

When the time came to celebrate the Passover meal, Jesus gathered with his disciples in the large upper room at the home of a Jerusalem man who was a supporter of their group. During the meal, Jesus instituted the Sacramental expression of the sharing of His body and blood.

In breaking bread and passing it among his friends he said “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” After they ate, the Lord then took the cup of wine and said to them “This cup is the new covenant of my blood, which will be shed for you.”

As they further celebrated the meal, an argument broke out among them as to who was the greatest of Jesus’ followers. Rather than select anyone of them, Jesus instead told them that true greatness comes not from lording it over others, but through service, saying “I am among you as the one who serves.”

When his closest follower and dearest friend, Simon Peter, told Jesus that he was prepared to go to prison and die for him, Jesus replied that “Before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Jesus also told his twelve friends that one of them sitting among their group would betray him saying “It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”

As we know through history, late that very night while the rest of Jesus’ followers slept in the garden at Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, Judas saw the opportunity to turn him over. He led a group of soldiers to that location, approached Jesus, and identified him to the soldiers by kissing Jesus on the cheek.

Jesus was taken into custody and brought before the Sanhedrin, the council of elders, chief priests and scribes who would begin the process of a sham legal proceeding leading to his death.

While Jesus was in custody, three different times that day his friend Peter was approached and accused of being one of Jesus’ followers, and all three times Peter denied that it was so, just as Jesus had foretold.

As the celebrations of Easter approach we should all be reminded of these moments when the very Savior of mankind was conspired against, betrayed, and denied by his very closest friends and followers.

We need to remember that while our friends and family are important, no one is beyond Satan’s grasp, and no one is beyond doing the exact same thing to each of us.

In the end, we hope to count on the people in our lives at the most important moments. But the fact is that in the end the only one whom we can really count on is Jesus Christ himself.

Jesus was the one who stayed faithful to us. He is the one who went to the cross so that your sins would be forgiven. He was the one who suffered and died for each of you reading this.

Do not turn your back on him as his followers did. Use the approach of this holy and blessed season to set your lives on a path that draws you closer to Jesus Christ.