Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has been fined $100,000 by David Stern and the NBA. While he has made his apologies for using a gay slur as well as unacceptable language, the issues raised by his actions have yet to die down.
This morning's news of Bryant's fine was making the rounds on CNN, and numerous civil rights groups took turns lashing out at Bryant for his inflammatory language and poor judgement.
Bryant's misdeed has opened the door on a much larger conversation, and—as expected—there are people lining up on both sides of the debate who bring some very interesting points to the table.
Some people feel that Bryant's statement was taken out of context, and the slur he used was based more on his emotions at that point rather than an indication of what Bryant thought of the referee as an individual.
I'm almost sure that Bryant did not intend to offend the gay community with his comments, but that knowledge doesn't make Bryant's words any less painful to the people he did hurt.
One of the most commonly repeated phrases I hear concerning the subject is, "words are only damaging when a person gives them power," but there are also words that have enough embedded history to generate power of their own.
I was born, raised and reside in the city of Charlotte, NC which is located in a region of our country that is no stranger to the power of words, one in particular, that is immediately associated with generations of hate and repression.
Charlotte is a little different though, because while most of the cities in the surrounding south were strong in their belief of so called states' rights, leaders in the Queen City were more concerned with the growth of the area.
Integration came quicker and was accepted with less difficulty than in other areas, and children of my generation were mostly spared from the racial discrimination and violence that surrounded us.
I was able to go to school with people of different colors and cultures, and witnessed first hand how the n-word seemed to lose power as it became diluted in a shared society.
For black youth, the n-word became so common throughout our language and culture that it was hard to believe it was ever even painful to begin with.
That may be true in some instances—until you meet someone who only identifies with the negative connotations of the word and sees little benefit of its use in any other way.
I have been guilty of using the n-word in the company of my own friends and family, and I have white friends who identify with black culture that have used the n-word in my presence as well.
While I know they meant no harm in using the term, the word still made me feel uncomfortable coming from their mouth.
However, it was hard to feel any anger towards them after hearing the word tossed around so casually in their presence, and it was equally hard to continue justifying my use of the word.
I was a victim of my own hypocrisy and decided to make a conscious effort to limit my use of the word, not only in the comfort of people of my own color, but entirely.
It is an on-going effort—and I would be less than honest if I said that I have entirely succeeded—but whenever I utter the n- word it is not as casual as before, and it is usually followed by regret.
The fact that I have recognized the error of my ways makes it easier to understand how words can cause so much pain, and the only way to confront the issue is to have an honest discussion.
The term Bryant used is one that may be thrown around casually on basketball courts around America, but it still means hate to a whole group of people.
Sure—there are other meanings for the word and other ways to use it, but that argument is negated as an excuse when you think about people like Matthew Shepard and James Byrd.
Those hateful terms were some of the last words Byrd and Shepard ever heard as they were dragged and beaten to death respectively, and their tragedy is symbolized by those words.
My white friends are good enough friends to understand why I am uncomfortable when they say the n-word, and after having a conversation as to why it was painful, they agreed not to continue use of the word in my presence.
And then we let it go.
Bryant should not be suspended for uttering a word that so many people take for granted. However, the fine is a nice reminder that, just because you have no evil intent in your words, doesn't mean someone is not injured by them anyway.
The conversation is needed because at least someone who chooses to continue using hateful terms can gain an understanding that words and phrases they take for granted can be painful to others.
It may not change their view on the subject, but it may help them understand why so many people are outraged by Bryant's actions.
I don't plan on addressing this subject again, because I feel Bryant handled the situation in the correct manner. We have reached the point to just let it go.
I can give Bryant the benefit of the doubt and believe him when he says he truly meant no harm with his words, and it's easy to do that because I have been in his shoes before.