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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Those moments

Pop quiz: Is it possible for you to say or do something and not be that something? Can you have a moment in which you are wrong that doesn't define you?

I bought a box of six generic, Krispy Kreme-like doughnuts over the weekend from my local grocery. Against my common sense and Mrs. B's protestations, I scarfed down every one of those sugary heart disease boosters in just two-and-a-half days. Does that make me an icing addict, a doughnut fiend? Man, I hope not, 'cause I only eat that stupidly every now and then.

But I asked the quiz question 'cause I'm sitting here watching Duane "Dog" Chapman on Hannity and Colmes explaining that the N-word never meant to him what it does to other people, that just as many black guys use it in the context of camaraderie, he meant it in a "brotherly fashion."

Hmmm. I know gay guys who call each other the F-word. If I see two men walking down the street holding hands - an obvious couple - I can't approach them, smile, and blurt out, "What's up, my (F-word)s!" I mean, I could say it. There's no law stopping me. But I have no desire to do something like that. It would be stupid. It could be mean. And common sense would prevent me from doing it, anyway.

Whatever the case, I like to think I'm a pretty reasonable guy. And my friends will tell you that I'm a sucker to a fault for what appears to be a heartfelt apology.

So back to my question. Based on my own experiences over the years with a lots of different people who live by lots of different philosophies, I think the answer is yes...with a couple of exceptions.

If, for example, you occasionally go to a party and someone offers you weed and you try it, that does not make you a marijuana addict or even a user, as "user" is defined in casual conversation. It makes you a periodic risk taker. And if your employer has the right to make you randomly pee in a cup, it makes you an idiot.

I once was at a hockey game with a bunch of managers from a newspaper where I used to work. They had taken me and several other younger reporters to watch the game from the company's luxury box 'cause we were all such arse-kicking writing machines. I kid. We were all wet behind the ears. But the bosses appreciated our rookie effort and decided to reward us. So at the end of the hockey match the WWE set up a wrestling ring on the ice for a 30 minute demo showcase of some of the league's new talent. One of their gimmicks was to have Saved by the Bell alum Dustin Diamond grapple with a real wrestler. I'm told that I was a "little" toasty by the end of the hockey game and that I spent about 10 minutes heckling Diamond by yelling Screech jokes at him from the box. Did that rant make me in need of AA? Nope. It made me feel like a fool at work the next day, after which I went right back to my "habit" of moderation.

Under these mundane examples, I'm convinced that in order to be something your relative behavior must be habitual.

And then there are the exceptions, extremes where one time'll sink ya: Murder someone, and the I-only-did-it-once defense won't get you off the hook. Beat your wife, and the I-only-did-it-once explanation won't get you off the hook.

So, Chapman's mea culpa is over now. I'm still not sure what to think. He says he's sorry. Who am I to question that? Even so, at what point do we tell folks their apologies are accepted, but they must still pay some price? If, as a child my parents let me slide every time I said sorry, I'd have made out like a bandit. I would never have "served" one day of grounding in my bedroom with no comic book or tune or telephone privileges. And I'd never have gotten several memorable smacks on the behind. Punishment does have a purpose.

Chapman also reiterated that he has so many black friends who have used the N-word around him that he's always felt he had "honorary" status that allowed him to use it too, as a friendly greeting.

I could buy that, in theory. Except that his taped conversation was not about friendly greetings. It was an expression of anger. If he really disapproved of his son's girlfriend's character, he could have called her anything, anything at all, crooked, shady, sneaky, vile, skankish, etc., but he chose to use that word. And that word, in a critical, lashing context is about a skin color, a race, nothing friendly. And that's where Chapman hurt himself.

Finally, as this show ends, I feel a little sorry for Dog. Shame on him for using this word in such anger and for not having good sense enough to know not to use it at all. Hell, even when I used to use it way back when to greet black male friends, I never, ever, ever, ever, let it be overheard. That sort of caution is what helped convince me to eventually ditch the word: If I had to be ashamed of it in mixed company I didn't need to be uttering it, regardless of context, I figured. Anyway, shame on Chapman's crackhead kid for selling him out to a tabloid for $15,000. And shame on us all that in 2007 in this country, we still haven't worked "it" out.

I hope Dog finds the peace and forgiveness he's looking for. And I hope we all take his situation as a reminder that no matter how cool or insulated we think we are, some things just aren't cool to say.

Oh, and a programming note to Fox News Channel: Since you guys are in such a forgiving mood for racially charged "slips of the tongue" and angry outbursts, are you going to give an hour long interview to former National Basketball Association star Tim Hardaway? I hear he's seeking redemption too, after being blacklisted and socially excommunicated earlier this year for a sexual orientation bias-charged rant. Hardaway said in a radio interview last spring that he hated gay people and that he didn't think homosexuals belonged in the NBA. C'mon FOX. Prove you're not hypocrites. Put Hardaway on the air...unless, of course, you think he's being a phony in his I-had-a-brain-fart, I-was-just-being-an-idiot explanations.

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  • J.B, I think you said it as well as it can be said, which doesn't leave me with a lot to say.

    For my part, I've always believed in fairness and justice, which has often placed me at odds with "my kind."

    But when I see others reaching out to repair those of "their kind," just because they're of the "same kind," it disappoints.

    It tells me that the racial divide in this country is not closing as fast as I would like.

    Like truth, forgiveness is in the mind of the beholder.

    By Blogger The First Domino, at 5:47 AM  

  • I'm still waiting for the day that one of these slips of the tongue happens and someone says, "Well, that's how I really feel. I'm a rascist( or sexist, homophobe, etc). I'm not going to lie to you about it."
    Why is it OK for them to insult my intelligence by lying about it after they've already insulted my race?
    I'm sorry, but I don't feel bad for him at all.

    By Blogger WNG, at 8:32 AM  

  • I agree James. We all slip up and we all have our moments we regret.

    I call people names in private when they piss me off. I use words worse than the N word. However, in polite society I try to behave myself. Words are words some use them as relief valves, some as swords and sometimes communication.

    Looks like dog was doing all three.

    Pissed off at his son, the skank fiancee and the situation he let some words fly. The fact that he is a celebrity made it a bad choice.

    I would hope people would choose to look at a mans deeds and the way he treats others rather than form a lynch mob over an ill worded rant.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 9:11 AM  

  • As I said over at another blog, I don't use the n-word because it's an ugly, archaic word. It derives from a sad time in our history and still contributes daily to the racial tension in our country. It really should just be laid to rest.

    I've called people names too but it's generally related to a real characteristic. I've never, ever met a white-person owned African American.

    By Anonymous Franki, at 9:23 AM  

  • How sad is it that his own flesh and blood sold him out? Wow. Raise the kid and he goes to the tabloids.

    Yeah, we all say the wrong thing now and then. Especially in anger. God, knows I've said my share and have had to apologize later. Was it any worse than someone saying the 'f word' to homosexuals or the 'h word' to white folks? Don't get me started on Kanye West.It's all wrong, but forgiveable. People need to not dwell on these things. Life's too short.

    By Blogger Christina_the_wench, at 11:19 AM  

  • Well said James. Sadly, we seem to have to repeat this mistake over and over. Maybe each time helps get it through a few more heads that it's not cool.

    By Blogger fiwa, at 12:49 PM  

  • he should have just called her a knappy ho!! fact is, if he didn't have it in him to call her that, he wouldn't have. end of story.

    By Blogger Claudia, at 1:17 PM  

  • I don't think there is any reason to believe that this was a slip of the tongue or that Dog doesn't regularly use that word to describe black people. And he does not use it as a term of endearment.

    And people like Hannity will always have on people to try to explain away their used of racially insensitive remarks cause he's pissed off that society doesn't let white men use the N-Word anymore.

    By Blogger Jay, at 2:25 PM  

  • Excellent perspective, as always! Left nothing to be said!

    And FOX News requires the word "Hypocrite" on resume's...before they hire.

    Besides, they're in shock over the latest evangelical scandal, I'm surprised they are even coming to work. With the writer's strike going on to boot - how will they even function?

    By Blogger Tiggerlane, at 2:42 PM  

  • Very good post, James. Very thought provoking as usual. And the thoughts it provoked in me -from my point of view, I think Dog just got shown up for what he holds deep inside -more than a touch of racism. And, for his son to sell him out- also a bit over the edge too.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 2:58 PM  

  • I don't want any name calling to be socially acceptable. I never want to go back in time to say the 50's when a white supremacist could open spew hate against anyone for any reason. The more they have to hide, and apologize when they get caught, the sooner, the root cause will die out. It's all hating someone for being different. Different color, religion, country. Whatever.

    By Blogger The CEO, at 7:59 PM  

  • This is all drug-related, I know it. Hugs.

    By Blogger Fairmaiden327, at 9:49 PM  

  • “Dog” the bounty hunter…axed from A&E for his comments. Well…it goes back to a comment I make around the country as a Motivational Speaker – Every Choice Has A Consequence. I know…I served time in Federal Prison for my choices. “Dog” used the “N” word in a manner that is likely natural for him and in an emotional way that would suit his educational background and lifestyle. The difference – he is in the media light. Every Choice Has A Consequence – and one can’t use background, education, or any other excuse to justify their choice and the resultant consequence. Genarlow Wilson, O.J. Simpson, Martha Stewart, Richard Scrushy or Mike Nifong (former Duke prosecutor) – each has made a choice that has resulted in negative consequences – no different than I. Perhaps we are becoming more aware that we must take the time to make wise choices – so we can enjoy the positive results that can follow.

    By Blogger Chuck Gallagher, at 10:50 AM  

  • Rushing thoughts.....

    Anger and rage is a mental illness. Dog's job encourages the emotional high in order to complete his missions. Certainly not a passive activity.

    Add to that a society that uses profanity to disguise inability to converse, convey, express in a reasonable fashion. I don't care what excuse anyone gives for allowing the use of any Profanity.

    Why should anyone be exempt? Any kids listening aren't going to be sat down and given a list of who can use what words and why some can use them and others can't.

    The media might have just been manipulated for the publicity. Who said this about the entertainment industry "There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary."?

    By Blogger Pamela, at 10:59 AM  

  • The First Domino, I like that: "forgiveness is in the eye of the beholder." I may have to borrow that from you...with attribution, of course.

    WNG, I hear ya. That would be refreshing to have someone say "I meant it. I do feel that way!"

    Hammer, I hear you too. And my temperate side agrees with you - at least to the extent that the guy has done some good things for people, maybe lots of good things. But it still bugs the crap out of me that he spoke with such venom and that he couldn't think of a better word to use in the circumstances.

    Franki, I agree with you. Like I said, I admit I used to use the word in closed company with other black males. But again, my friends and I stopped, 'cause it just didn't seem worth it to keep using as a greeting, a word that constantly had us whispering or looking over our shoulders.

    Christina, you make a good point about us all saying stupid or bad things and then apologizing. The F-word analogy is good. I still don't know about the H-word. I've heard 50 different explanations of where/how it originated, and only one of the explanations I heard had to do with race - that it was a derivation of "hunkie" which was used as a slur against Hungarian immigrants. Who knows? When in doubt err on the side of caution.
    Still, while I find the N-word distasteful and don't think anyone should be using it, I say people like Hannity are full of it when they suggest that context doesn't matter and the word is the same, regardless of how it is being used. Some moron rapper who uses it like other people use "neighbors" is not the same intent as someone criticizing black people. Me saying, "What's up, N----?" to a buddy years ago did not hold the same intent as Chapman ranting about keeping N------ away from his family, etc. Again though, it's so charged and so negative, none of us should be using it, I say.

    Fiwa, we can only hope that eventually we learn from this stuff. I for one hate being publicly embarassed. That alone will probably (hopefully) keep me from ever sticking my foot that far down my throat.

    Claudia, I thought about that. Funny. Look at Imuses' comeback. Dog would have been better off calling the son's girlfriend a nappy-headed...

    Jay, as always, a solid argument. And I can't even bring myself to try to disagree with you in this case.

    Tiggerlane, you're cracking me up.

    Jeni, I agree. Both things are a shame: the things Dog has inside and that his twerp of a kid sold him out for just $15K.

    Monty, here, here!

    FairMaiden, you might be right. People do seem to blurt out illogical crap when they're high.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:25 AM  

  • To err is human, to forgive Divine.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:04 PM  

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