Column/What’s in a word?

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2007

There’s been a lot in the national media lately about the use of derogatory terms, such as the “n-word” and the anti-gay term “f—–t.”

There have been reports about Isaiah Washington of the television series, “Grey’s Anatomy,” checking into a treatment center for psychological evaluation following the use of the anti-gay slur.

He is now out of treatment, but how do you really get one-week of psychological treatment for what is probably many years’ worth of prejudice?

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The other incident that has provoked media attention was comedian Michael Richards’ use of the “n-word” while performing at a comedy club.

Richards, a former “Seinfeld” star, has apologized.

CNN’s Paula Zahn dedicated a show this past week discussing the issue of racism, and the use of such derogatory terms.

Now, a presidential candidate has stuck his foot in his mouth. Sen. Joe Biden has also had to apologize to another Democratic candidate. No, he didn’t use the “n-word,” what he did use was the term “clean” and “articulate” in referring to Obama as an African-American candidate.

On “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” Wednesday, Biden said he should have used the term “fresh,” as what he “meant was that he’s got new ideas, he’s the new guy on the block …”

For his part, Obama said he isn’t offended, but Biden is “historically inaccurate,” according to a news report. Obama points out other African-American candidates for president including Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and says they couldn’t be considered “inarticulate.”

These latest incidents beg the question: Are we a nation of racists? Or are we becoming too sensitive?

Should we have the freedom to use negative terms?

I’ll be the first to admit I have no idea what it would be like to be an African-American and be called the “n-word.”

If I tried to act like I knew what that would be like, I’m sure I would offend someone.

I do, however, know what it’s like to be called names, and to be discriminated against. So, does that count for anything? According to some, the use of the “n-word” is more offensive than the use of other derogatory, slang terms such as “wetback,” “chink” or “raghead.”

What about terms like “gimp” or “retard.” Certainly not very nice, but we don’t hear people up in arms about the use of those terms.

Even here, in this column, I feel free to write those terms out, while not spelling out the other words.

But, why do some consider the “n-word” worse?

And why do some blacks think it’s okay if they use the term – it’s just not okay for people of other races to use it.

This is what I think – and I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on the matter – but how about we just treat one another like we want to be treated?

People – including politicians, comedians and actors –

shouldn’t say things about others that they wouldn’t want someone to say about them, or about someone they love.

It’s the basic Golden Rule, right? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Seems like we could eliminate a lot of problems and hard feelings if we followed the simple rule that most of us were taught as children.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.