Thursday, January 25, 2007

Words That Hurt

I teach my son that words only have the power that we give them. They are symbols. Words are not good or bad. What they symbolize can be good or bad… or harmful. But the words themselves can’t hurt you.

There are a few words that I don’t *want* my child to say, but I don’t really mind if he says them, like curse words. Lil po’ boy has blurted out a few “shits” and “fucks” before. However, I can’t really scold him because I have blurted out quite a few “shits” and “fucks” in my lifetime (particularly during Saints games). Since I can not tell my son *not* to do something I do all the time, I tell him those are “daddy words,” as in words we only say around daddy.

But there are words that I don’t want my son to ever to use. If he comes to me one day and asks about them, I will tell him as I told him before: Words only have the power we give them. And, though you and I don’t give power to these words, many people do.

One of those words is the word “nigger.” I don’t use it. None of my friends do. The only time I utter it is when I am talking about the word itself, as in this case. As I am a white man, no one has ever used it to harm me. But, I know in the past it has been used many times to hurt other people, including my friends, and I recognize that to many people, it is a powerful word. I can not think of any good that can come from using it, other than in academic discussions, so I don’t use it.

Enter Chicago:
With history being made--the Bears' Lovie Smith and Colts' Tony Dungy becoming the first African-American head coaches to lead their teams into the Super Bowl--it's tempting for Americans to congratulate ourselves on how far we've come.

But all it took was one stupid Chicago Bears fan with the N-word blurting from his lips to remind New Orleans TV reporter Glynn Boyd, and the rest of us, how far we've got to go.
The author lets Boyd tell the story himself:
"There were only a few minutes left in Sunday's game, and some Saints fan told me that a Chicago fan asked them about their home in New Orleans during the flood, and she said it had 10 feet of water, and the Bears fans started screaming, saying, `I wish you'd drowned in it!' And, `We'll finish what Hurricane Katrina started!' That kind of stuff.

"So I set up to do an interview with the Saints fan," Boyd said. "That's when the two Bears fans came up, including the one who yelled at her. There was a big guy, about 6 foot 7, and there was his buddy, a little guy, who was doing all the talking."

It's always the little guy, right?

"Yeah," Boyd said. "So as we're setting up to do the interview, the shorter Bears fan comes up, screaming, `Katrina! Katrina!' He must've been drunk. I turned and said, `Hey, I'm trying to work here.' And that's when he pushes me and says it. He says the N-word. He dropped it right on me.

"He pushes me and I push back, there wasn't any tape, but the guys in the [TV control] booth could see it. You could say there was some pushing going on. He kept saying it, ugly, loud, the N-word. Yelling it."
Don’t get too mad, though. What goes around, comes around, and sometimes it comes around in the form of a fist:
"There wasn't any [video] tape, but I think somebody might have thrown a left hook," Boyd said.

A good one, with some hip torque behind it?

"Perhaps. It might have been a guy from New Orleans that threw it, and if he did throw it, not that I'm saying he did, but if he did, it might have felt good to do so, after he'd been pushed and called that word over and over. If he did, of course, I'd have to assume he felt some satisfaction. I'm almost certain of it. But that's not the issue. The behavior of that fan is the issue."
I am not a violent man. But if that left hook was thrown by a guy from New Orleans, and I am not saying it was, I would also feel some satisfaction.

All people from Chicago are not like this guy. I guess. But the stories I hear and read about abusive Bears fans worry me. They seem to symbolize not hatred for our team and its fans for being their opponent, but hatred for our team and its fans for existing. The Chicago fans who were rude were not just saying “Go back to New Orleans,” they were saying “Go back to New Orleans AND DROWN.” That’s not cool.

I share Jeffrey’s thoughts on this as I consider how much America really wants to help her brothers and sisters in New Orleans. I did not expect President Bush to mention New Orleans in his SOTU address, but it still scares me that the State of the Union is considered strong when the future of New Orleans is so unclear.

The author of this article works for the Chicago Tribune. I applaud him for not overlooking this ugly episode and addressing the ungracious fans even though they were his own people. However, I wonder if he realizes how he contributed to the problem, for he is none other than John “We are not your sponge” Kass.

He offers an explanation for the Bears fans’ animosity:
Bears fans were becoming nauseated by the national media hype that didn't have anything to do with football, the hype suggesting that because of the hurricane's devastation, a Saints victory was called for. I wrote about that on Sunday, that Chicago isn't New Orleans' sponge, and received hundreds of critical letters from Saints fans, including a few ugly ones on the level of Boyd's Bears fan. But it wasn't the people of New Orleans whom Bears fans were fed up with. We're sorry about the flood. It was the national story line that peeved us.
First of all, what he wrote last Sunday deserved a response similar to “Boyd's Bears fan.” It was ugly. He wasn’t talking about football, even though he claimed to be. He even refered to the Civil War. What does that have to do with football?

Second, if the Bears fans were becoming nauseated by the media hype focused on Katrina and not on their big game, they must realize something. Katrina was, is, and will continue to be a bigger story than any Bears football game. Their ignorance of that fact or reluctance to accept it is part of our problem down here.

Simply because they don’t give power to these words doesn’t mean that the words can not hurt others. I guess I will have to give them the same speech I gave my six-year-old.


Marco said...

Lenny Bruce used to do a thing on the N-word and its power. He used to chant it until it didn't mean anything anymore.
That little guy was drunk (no excuse), but he got one in the mouth, a good thing. But the signs were made before in the game, supposedly in a sober state. Those signs should never have been allowed into Soldier's Field. A commenter Packer fan from Wisc said that Chicago fans are notorious. He apologized to me and I'm not even from NO, but you know how I feel about the people of your city.

ashley said...

I wrote to Kass, and told him how proud he must be of that fan who called Boyd a "nigger", since that guy obviously refused to be a sponge.

Cade said...

OMFG, I can't believe the hypocrisy. He writes the sponge column and the denies responsibility for inciting the same behavior he condemns in the next column. I can't believe he didn't apologize.

"We're sorry about the flood. It was the national story line that peeved us."

It's the nation that turned its back on us that peeved us. Sorry it became a national story for you, I guess we'll just take our natural resources and play by ourselves. Whoops, we might make a national problem if we do that, too.

Next winter or summer when people are dying from the cold or heat in Chicago, you can bet our sports fans aren't telling their fans that we hope their grandmother died from it.

He claims this was just a few bad fans, but I'm hearing the same stories from different people who experienced it all first hand.

And even though I'm screaming "Fcuk You, Chicago, I hope you all get flooded and freeze to death and don't get cut out of the ice for 1000 years" inside, I'm just going to keep my mouth shut, go to work and be a good 'merican.

jeffrey said...

Wow. It's really worse than I thought.

alli said...

I grew up in Chicago. I'm a senior in college now, and I've spent every break for the past year in New Orleans, and I'm moving there once I get my degree in May. (And find a job.) Everyone I know from home is a Bears fan, but not a single person condoned the behavior of those fans... in fact, they were apologizing to me, and I don't even live in New Orleans (yet). I'm so sorry that y'all had to put up with that bullshit. I'm sorry that my hometown treated y'all with such astonishing disrespect. Please know that we're not all like that. Really, we're not.

And if I ever meet the fuckers who had that sign, they'll get more than a left hook from me.

da po' boy said...

alli, hit them with knowledge. It is definitely more than a left hook.

And also note that I, and the rest of the NOLA bloggers, are talking about the "abusive Bears fans" not all the Bears fans or all residents of Chicago. What worries me about the signs and language displayed is how they fit into a larger context in America. Criticism of New Orleans from people outside the area seems to be based on emotion not fact, like how they feel about New Orleanians rather than how they think the the nation should react to a major American city that was devastated.

What the rude Bears fans said and did only mirrors thousands of comments from around the nation as seen in various online forums, blog posts, and comment sections.

I am glad that your voice will be added to ours in the future. Good luck.