Click here to go to the Home Page Words Matter for Our Progress - The Other Side of the Tracks - By Perry Redd - Columnist

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So the story goes: “we’ve made great strides in American race relations. We’re in a post-racial society.” I, of course, don’t go for that one. As a matter of fact, I believe we’re rapidly digressing from the progress we had achieved through the blood and sacrifice of our enslaved forbearers and civil rights warriors. One recent example among many is sufficient to make this point.

A Buffalo girls basketball team was suspended after the players allegedly used a racial slur as part of their pregame cheer last week. You already know what the slur was…

Tyra Batts, the sole Black-American on the Kenmore East High School’s squad, told the Buffalo News that her teammates would hold hands before the game, say a prayer and then shout “One, two, three (nigger!).” Now, I have to ask you why anyone - Black or white - would do that, but you know what it is. It’s really simple: White people do it because they can!

The behavior came to light when Ms. Batts was suspended for getting into a fight about the use of racial slurs during practice, according to the newspaper. Now, I know me; I would’ve been in fistfights over this too - even at my age. I was kicked out of the military in the early 1980’s for that same thing. It retarded the trajectory of the rest of my life. As I aged, I realized I could’ve done some things differently, although at the time, I went through the prescribed channels to address racial threats and discrimination. Unfortunately in my case, the system was ill-responsive, even blaming the victim. After I saw that the “authorities” would do nothing to intervene, I took direct action…and busted some heads!

Ms. Batts said that she was alarmed by the cheer, but had been outnumbered and told that the use of the slur was just a team tradition. “I said, ‘You’re not allowed to say that word because I don’t like that word,’” she told the newspaper. “They said, ‘You know we’re not racist, Tyra. It’s just a word, not a label.’ I was outnumbered.” This scenario is not a surprising one. You see, whites echo the very excuses we, as Black Americans, make when this vile language comes out: it’s just a word.

The N-Word has never gone away. It was used during the country’s infancy as a demeaning and degradation tool toward the enslaved, imported Africans. Don’t be fooled, words have power. “I love you” has spawned many a baby. “The sentence of death” quote has killed many a man. Words have power. Even Christians believe that God spoke this world into existence. Now that’s power!

This incident is more than unfortunate…it is indicative of what we - Black Americans - allow. We haven’t expunged it from the English language. Until we make it unacceptable, white America won’t find it unacceptable. I watched my first Paul Mooney performance the other night, and the comedian’s liberality with the word does us no favors and great harm. He’s one comedian I’d never heard of before a Bush-era video was brought to my attention. He is a socio-politically conscious individual, and liberally uses the word “nigger” in all references.

He has the right to say what he so chooses, but the irreparable harm cannot be calculated. Though we relish freedom of speech in America, all speech doesn’t need to be free. Though some feel that language is of no consequence, all dynamics of race (voting, health care, criminal justice, etc.) are relevant, important and significant, and thus need to be on the table.

Incidentally, the 15-year-old eventually exploded after a practice when a teammate called her a ‘black piece of (expletive).’ She says she got into a fight with the girl later in school. I know what the child was feeling, especially when you’re supposed to be part of the “team.” I was 18-years old and under the belief that in the army, we were all green. How wrong I was.

“It was a buildup of anger and frustration at being singled out of the whole team,” Ms. Batts told the newspaper. Her suspension was shortened after the principal learned of the racial allegations. At least a dozen girls were suspended. Incidentally, Ms. Batts initially received a longer suspension than any of the white girls. How ironic, right?

Some of the team’s former players who took to Twitter seemed to have little knowledge of any “tradition” the team had of racial chants. Collusion and cohesion was the same tactic used when I filed my complaint of racism while I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I was the sole Canon Fire Direction Specialist in my unit. They knew it. They, my tormentors and those up the chain of command, worked in concert to diminish my claims. Of course, the focus turned to my “attitude.”

“You (racist) b - -,” a 2010 graduate tweeted. “Glad I’m out of there.” Another one added, “Haha oh yeah that Ken East crap that’s going on. I want no part in that.” Honestly, who does? When it’s all over said and done, children or adults, racism in America is live and well. Our children are victims - Black and white. The perpetuation of this poison has retarded any progress this country has seen. And with the Republicans dominated by the conservative right-wing, there’s nothing post-racial on the agenda for 2012. Columnist, Perry Redd, is the former Executive Director of the workers rights advocacy, Sincere Seven, and author of the on-line commentary, “The Other Side of the Tracks.” He is the host of the internet-based talk radio show, Socially Speaking in Washington, DC. Click here to contact Mr. Redd.

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Dec 15, 2011 - Issue 452
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