Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sounds That Cause Fury (Edit)

I am learning something about words. Something that, as someone who uses a lot of words, didn't know. This fact has been bubbling around just below consciousness for a long time but finally came to light over the controversy over Yunel Escobar a Toronto Blue Jays  baseball player who wrote, in Spanish, "You are a f*ggot" in white on the eyeblack on his face. Until this happened I didn't know that that swatch of black that players put on their faces underneath their eyes was called "eyeblack" and was used to help stop the sun's glare. But the existence of a word for what that was didnt' surprise me, because up until now I thought there was a word for everything that was and anything that isn't now but will be soon will have a word assigned to it. I thought that was kind of how language worked.

But the apology, or really non apology, by Yunel Escobar taught me something else. (I say non-apology because he essentially said it didn't mean anything and he was apologising only because he had to not because what he did had meaning.) In hearing the story and hearing Mr. Escobar say that f*ggot is just a word ... and not only that a word that didn't mean anything ... I realised that this is exactly the argument that people who use words like the 'r' word and other similar words use.

"It doesn't mean anything."

Ah ha! I realised. Here's my problem. I think that words have meanings. But apparently I am wrong. There are words that have no meaning at all! Who knew? What an odd concept a word that's a word but isn't a word at all! So that would mean that Mr. Escobar, when he chose to write those words ON HIS FACE, thought that it would be fun to write a bunch of nonsense syllables as a kind of manly make-up.

In reading about this kerfuffle I did have a laugh out loud moment. Mr. Escobar stated that he had gay friends who weren't offended and mentioned specifically the guy who decorated his house and the guy who cuts his hair. Talk about playing into stereotypes! Talk about not acknowledging power, people employed by those with power are NEVER offended by what their employer does because offence would mean firing or punishment. So I guess 'POWER' and 'PRIVELEGE' and 'STEREOTYPES' are words that have no meaning in Mr. Escobar's vocabulary. With a vocabulary of sounds, not words, I wonder how this guy orders a burger.

In case I was wrong, I did do some research before writing this blog today and I looked up the term "f*ggot" in my dictionary and was surprised that it didn't say: a two syllable nonsense word having no meaning. In fact it stated clearly that it was a word with meaning but also with intent: hurt.

As a gay man I react almost viscerally to that word. It is a word that has the stench of blood attached to it. It's a word that has killed and maimed. Dead teens tie a rope to the word and hang dead dangling from it. It's a word that bruised me in spots still tender from the damage.

Mr. Escobar, I, for one, do not accept your apology. I, for one, call you on your lie. You did what you did with intent. You used a word with the intention of hurt. You refused to apologise for what you did. What you wrote had meaning, what you said after in apology did not.

Here's a word.


Look it up.

It has meaning.

And to the Toronto Blue Jays. I am deeply ashamed of having the name of my city attached to your team. Deeply. Ashamed.


Bubbles said...

Here Here Dave! I was so offended at hearing the interview... NO accountability!

Anonymous said...

Seriously - one would have to be living under a rock to think that such behaviour would be appropriate in any setting. Shame, shame, shame on him. I hope all the negative response will teach him a life lesson - and in turn teach others. It probably is the best we can hope for from such an ignorant man.

Utter Randomness said...

There is a slight silver lining. The Jays are donating his three day salary (to the tune of $87,000) to the You Can Play Project and GLAAD, and I've never seen an organization yet that couldn't use an extra $40,000. Deplorable behaviour, but at least some good has come out of it.

Liz Miller said...

This is such a powerful post. Thank you so much for writing it.

TMc said...

Write on Dave, Write on!

wendy said...

The arguement that "It doesn't mean anything" is the most ridiculous one imaginable. Of course it means something. If it didn't, why put it there in the first place.
Consider someone making the same arguement over the use of the "N" word. Would "It doesn't mean anything and I didn't intend to offend" sound like a reasonable defense? NO! Of course not! Sponsorships and endorsements would be pulled. There would be a huge outcry.
It is shocking that such as statement can even begin to pass as an apology!

Princeton Posse said...

I agree Dave. If words don't mean anything then why bother talking? I think we also have to keep in mind that this fellow is an athlete (not known for high intelligence and scholastic achievement), not rocket scientist!

Karen said...

Princeton Posse, I think it's important not to tie ignorance or bigotry to intellegence like you just did. Suggesting that those with high intellegence and scholastic acheivement are better more moral people is exactly the arguement that the eugenics movements uses to justify the elimination of people with intellectual disabilities. Smart people aren't better people.

Anonymous said...

Definitely no apology. Definitely a lack of judgement. Definitely the Blue Jays are not doing enough as a team.

HOWEVER -- there is definitely talk and discussion on the matter beyond your blog and maybe your blog and that conversation will help educate and challenge the idea that anything about his actions is acceptable.

CL said...

I thought his defense that the word is used all the time in Latin culture, and that English speakers just don't understand, was interesting.

It might be true that people are much less likely to blink at the word "maricon" in Spanish speaking countries. An English-speaking player would probably never imagine he could get away with writing the f-word on his face before a game, while Escobar clearly didn't anticipate a backlash.

But none of that makes it any more okay to me. Nobody disputes that the word means "gay" or (at the very least) "not macho" when used in this way. Escobar was using "gay" as an insult. It might happen all the time in his culture, but it's still demeaning to gay people.

And really, "that's so gay" and the r-word and offensive words for women, and minorities, are used in English constantly. So I don't think his culture is as different as he imagines. English speakers use oppressive words all the time. It's "just locker room culture." But those words are hurtful, and it's something that we need to challenge and change.

I'm glad the team took what he said seriously. I'm also a huge supporter of the You Can Play project, and I think they have already made a real difference in sports.

Anonymous said...

Homosexuality in professional team athletics remains a taboo subject. The entire team knew he was doing it, and none of them had the guts to tell him it was a bad idea? Perhaps the 'team' should get a little slap as well.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the post. But I'm surprised that you write, 'it's amazing this man can order a burger'. Maybe it's because I'm a speech pathologist who works with people who struggle to order a burger, who can't remember the words or who often aren't understood when they communicate.
Use of this phrase I think equates ignorance with communication impairment.
Maybe I am being over touchy about this. But I read the phrase and ... pause... blink... I don't like this... I guess I react viscerally to this phrase!

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, thank you for your comment, let me clarify, I said, "I'm surprised he can order a burger" not because of communication impairment but because his words seem to have no meaning ... if a F*ggot isn't a F*ggot then how can a burger be a burger. However, I can see how what I wrote could be interpreted exactly as you read it. I will try to be much more careful in the future. I thought of changing the post but decided that I'd like people to see what I wrote and then read what you said - if I learned from your comment, others can too.

CAM said...

I have to agree that I paused at the "order a burger" statement too. I thought about it for a minute and realised you meant that it would be difficult if words had no meaning.
It did feel a bit awkward, though.
Thanks for replying and making it clear what you intended.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Hi, I did make an edit and noted that in the title so people may look again at the test and the comments. Thanks for helping me be more clear.

joanne said...

Thanks Dave....I'm not sure though that "frittata" would have been any better.

Kristine said...

As a middle school teacher of mostly Latino students, I've learned a list of words equivalent to f*gg*t in Spanish. And my kids know exactly how I feel about all of them! (Same thing with the R word.) They figure out the difference between when they say a swear word, and I just remind them to "watch your language," rather than when I hear a slur against a group of people. They figure out quickly that won't be tolerated!