Spell it how you want; it’s still a word that elicits emotion from some when used or heard.  A term of endearment among African-Americans?  I hear it just as much from my Latino friends as anywhere else.  Rap music and popular culture may’ve opened the door for the word to be thrown around, but the last person to use that word to me in an aggressive and combative manner was another African-American.  With fists raised ready to fight, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t using that word for any other reason than to provoke a reaction.  Sorry for him I feel no attachment to the word, hence no response.  I don’t use it, and even omit the word when humming along to my favorite rap songs.

As a youngster, my favorite rap group had the word in its name, so I’m no saint.  Did I say it then, of course I did… but not to other people, that just never felt right.  I don’t feel the “ownership” of the word most that use it freely do.  As man raised by two African parents and growing up in urban America, I’ve been called much worse by my brothers and sisters.  I understand my family didn’t go through the same struggle as the ancestors of those born here, or those that had to deal with that word when it was in popular use for a very different reason.  I understand what they went through, and respect them by keeping that word out of my vocabulary completely.

Why do groups feel the need to throw their disparaging words around?  My friends think I’m weird for not being the way I am about it, but respect me enough to not use it freely around me.  After a few beers and that word “slips out” among my friends, the offender routinely turns to me, immediately apologizing.  It’s become a bit of a joke between my closest friends, and I appreciate their respect for my stance on not having that word as a part of my vocabulary.  Why do groups embrace their hate words?

The National Football League is considering the adoption of a rule which would penalize a player (and their team) 15 yards if that player is heard by a referee using the “N-word”.  Why stop at just one disparaging word… when we have so many others?  Maybe this is in reaction to the Jonathon Martin situation with the Miami Dolphins, where some very crude language was used by his teammate (Richie Incognito).  I applaud their effort, but it’s going to be a hard rule to enforce.  If anything, I think they should attempt to fine players, but the 15 yards penalizes an entire team for one player’s “slip”.   

I ask again… why do groups embrace their hate words?  I lived in San Francisco for many years, and heard young gay men throw around their disparaging word (you know, the one Kobe Bryant was fined $100K for using during an NBA game), just like African-Americans do theirs, and like women do theirs (the ones Queen Latifah condemned in her hit U.N.I.T.Y).  My girlfriends those words back and forth as a term of endearment, laughing while they chastise each other over an outfit, or a guy, or as a salutation during an embrace.  Why do groups embrace their hate words?

I thought about this long and hard, and remembered a friend who has been an inspiration to me since I met her.  I’ll call her “CK” in order to protect her identity and her privacy.  She was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer.  She was forced to have a double mastectomy.  She told me how hard of a time that was for her, as she had never had anything close to surgery, but had to cut off her breasts to live.  She chose to have the surgery, as well as cosmetic surgery to replace what cancer had taken from her.

Why do I bring this up?  How does any of this relate to embracing hate words?  When I met CK (post-surgery), she was a vibrant and vivacious bundle of joy so few people have matched to this day.   She didn’t let cancer take her heart or her smile.  She told me a story one of her doctors told her when she was at her lowest and indecisive.  She feared getting implants, and her doctor told her that some women chose not to go with implants, but instead, they get a tattoo around the area.  Wait… embracing a negative and making it a positive, either with reconstructive surgery or a tattoo.  A way for a group (patients forced to have a mastectomy) to deal with, or take ownership of, the pain of something they can’t control.  Thank you CK, for your heart, your smile, and another life-lesson.      

 

-Joseph Haas, HaasStyleInterpretations.com

Join the conversation on Twitter @JerseyHaas or send me an e-mail JosephHaasNFL@Gmail.com. You can also find me covering the New York Jets at HCoftheNYJ.com and Saturdays on the Green and White Show.  More opinion/editorial here: http://contributor.yahoo.com/user/1706920/joseph_haas.html