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Est. April 5, 2002
July 28, 2016 - Issue 664

Michelle Obama’s
Advice on Hate Speech

"In expressing her enthusiasm for former
First Lady Hillary Clinton’s nomination
Obama brought civility back into the public
discourse. And, in Michelle’s inimitable
classy and cool style she took down Trump
in the most elegant way: she criticized the
Republican presidential candidate
without once uttering his name."

First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention rocked, and her words and advice about hate speech especially resonated for many in the LGBTQ community.

In a surprisingly personal speech Obama shared how she and Barack advise their daughters, Malia and Sasha, on how not to let name-calling, nastiness, and negativity ensnare them by remaining above the fray.

"We don't stoop to their level. Our motto is: 'When they go low, we go high,' " Obama said.

In this 2016 presidential campaign season where many parents are querying and scratching their heads as to how to explain Trump to their children Obama depicted the presidential race between simply choosing an appropriate role model.

In expressing her enthusiasm for former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s nomination Obama brought civility back into the public discourse. And, in Michelle’s inimitable classy and cool style she took down Trump in the most elegant way: she criticized the Republican presidential candidate without once uttering his name.

"I want someone with the proven strength to persevere - somebody who knows this job and takes it seriously - somebody who understands that the issues of our nation are not black or white. It cannot be boiled down to 140 characters.”

When Michelle Obama uttered those words we immediately, think Trump, because he is our omnipresent twitter bully.

What comes with twitter bullying is hate speech, and Trump has normalized hate speech in the public sphere. One of the signs of an intolerant society is its hate speech, whether used jokingly or intentionally, aimed at specific groups of people.

When this form of verbal abuse becomes part and parcel of the everyday parlance and exchange between people, we have created a society characterized by its zero-tolerance of inclusion and diversity, and where name-calling becomes an accepted norm.

In a 2006, I remember an interview with Ann Coulter, a conservative pundit on MSNBC’s “Hardball” with host Chris Matthews, where Coulter called former Vice President Al Gore “a fag” and she hinted that Clinton might be gay.

How do you know that Bill Clinton is gay?” Matthews asked.

He may not be gay, but Al Gore, total fag. No, I’m just kidding,” Coulter stated. And in referring to Clinton, Coulter continued, “I mean, everyone has always known wildly promiscuous heterosexual men have, as I say, a whiff of the bathhouse about them.”

Perhaps Coulter intended to be funny or satirical, but her remarks are not only directed toward Gore and Clinton, but also toward LGBTQ people. Coulter took a swipe at Gore, Clinton, and the entire LGBTQ community in one fell swoop and with just one word.

Matthew Shepard, the openly gay Wyoming student who in 1998 was bludgeoned and left to die in near freezing temperatures while tethered to a rough-hewn wooden fence because he was considered a “fag.”

Racial epithets are such a mainstay in the American lexicon that their broad-based appeal to both blacks as well as whites have anesthetized us not only to the damaging and destructive use of epithets, but also to our ignorance of their historical origins.

The Obamas have lived up to the advice they give their girls. Barack has been compared to the monkey Curious George, and shown wearing a feather headdress and a bone through his nose on Tea Party protest placards. Michelle has not avoided the perceptions and stereotypes of African American women - combative, mouthy, not deferential enough and the typical ” angry black woman.”

In 2008 the July 21st cover of The New Yorker satirically lampooned then presidential hopeful Barack Obama robed in Muslim garb fist-bumping his Angela Davis afro-wearing, machine-gun toting wife Michelle. Eight years later, Trump still thinks Obama is not an American born citizen and is conspiratorially a Manchurian Muslim.

Language is a representation of culture, and it perpetuates ideas and assumptions about race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation that we consciously, and unconsciously, articulate in our everyday conversations about ourselves and the rest of the world, and consequently transmit across generations.

The liberation of a people is also rooted in the liberation of abusive language in the form of hate hurled at them. Using epithets, especially jokingly, does not eradicate its historical baggage, and its existing social relations among us.

Instead, using them dislodges these epithets from their historical context and makes us insensitive and arrogant to the historical injustices done to specific group of Americans.

They allow all Americans to become numb to the use and abuse of the power of hate speech because of the currency these epithets still have.

And lastly, hate speech thwarts the daily struggle in which many us engage in trying to ameliorate human relations.

In taking Michelle’s advice “When they go low, we go high, I’m going with her,” referring to casting my ballot for Hillary Clinton, and not He Who Must Not Be Named. Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments. As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is  Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC. 




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David A. Love, JD
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Peter Gamble

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