Much Ado About Something
Many Decades Ago:
When I was a young High School teacher and was blessed with lots of hair on my head, two very large and muscular teenage boys sat in front to me. They were active members of the High School football team. One was Black and the other White (Perhaps Italian)? In any case, they were in my homeroom where my single chore, before the school day began, was to take attendance. Then, there was time to relax before the bell for first period.
One day, as I was completing some administrative paper work, they engaged in hurling the worst possible racial and ethnic epitephs at one another. Just for the sake of clarity, they did this in low tones, not attracting anyone else's attention except my own, the intended target. In addition, they were smiling, obviously enjoying their verbal combat.
When I quietly corrected them, giving all of the reasons why this could become harmful, they laughed at my naivete, stating that they were the best of friends, on and off the football field and love to occasionally do this. They explained that it was a statement of their love and friendship for one another.
Present Day, Enter Radio Host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger:
This past week, Dr. Schlessinger argued with a caller that, "If its OK for a Black person to use a racial epiteph with a friend, why not for someone who is White? She then proceeded to use the "N" word some 11 to 12 times to make her point.
Result? Dr. Laura came under intense criticism from the both the press and politicians of all types. She is not renewing her radio contract this Fall (2010).
Discussion of Prejudice and Words:
It seems to me that Dr. "Laura" failed to understand the real difference in dynamics between members of a group hurling expletives at one another vs. outsiders doing so. It is not uncommon for fellow members and friends in a racial, religious or ethnic group, to demonstrate their love and understanding of one another by telling each other the types of things they would never tolerate from an outsider.
Please understand that I am not suggesting that this is healthy or sensible. Rather, I am stating that it just "is," whether we think it right or wrong. It is only by special invitation that an outsider can become an insider and participate in the verbal jousting, as was the case with my two High School Football players.
Nevertheless, it is important to for me to caution everyone as I tried to do with the two boys in my class: Even the best of friends from different ethnic or racial groups can suddenly discover that they feel offended by the joking. The human ego is frail and pride and wounded narcissism can and often do take over.
Yes, friends from the same racial or religious group allow each other to jest by engaging in verbal stereotyping about their group. However, there is a risk when an insider and outsider engage in this relaxed and tolerated activity, because tempers can flare very suddenly.
Why didn't Dr. Laura understand such a simple and obvious concept about group dynamics?
It is important to keep in mind the psychoanalytic notion that underneath every joke is some hostility. The joke is a way to soften the hostile nature of the comment. Yet, the hostility is there, however neutralized it may be. This is part of the reason why, generally speaking, react angrily to outsiders making statements that are hateful and prejudicial.
Lately, we have been speaking a lot about the need for tolerance and mutual understanding. We are living in a world that is ever smaller due to modern travel and communication. Sadly, I am hearing more anti Islamic and anti Muslim statements from a few American politicians. To make generalizations, or engage in stereotyping about any group due to the actions of a small number of radicals in that group is down right wrong headed. It matters not whether the group is Catholic, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Homosexual, Black, Caucasian, etc. I have noticed that, lately, a number of readers accuse psychologists of being atheists and hostile to religion. There it is again: Stereoptyping at work. It is always wrong.
Just a reminder: Hatred and seething anger are bad for your health.
Your comments and opinions are strongly encouraged.
Allan Schwartz, PhD
Correction - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Aug 23rd 2010
Thank you for the correction. You are absolutely right about the spelling of the word and I will fix it.
correction - Neli42 - Aug 23rd 2010
the word in this context is "epithet" not "epitaph," which refers to the markings on a gravestone.