No offense? 'Fa-word' as hurtful as the 'N-word'

Remember They Might be Giants? They were fun– a nice break from The Smiths. Their 1989 album, Flood, went gold, and for good reason. But while “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” may be the song you like best, “Your Racist Friend” is the one that has always stuck with me, one line in particular.

No matter what we were taught about sticks and stones, words can injure as much as fists. Everyone has uttered ugly things in heated moments, but for some people, hate-filled slurs are their first instinct, and recently those people have been getting a very public forum.

According to White Sox coach Ozzie Guillen, whose own mouth could use a soaping, Bull’s center Joakim Noah was being “intense” and “natural” when he hurled an anti-gay slur at a fan during a game in May.

“I guarantee you that's the first thing that came out of his mouth,” Guillen said. “I don't think he mean it or something.”  [sic

Did Kobe Bryant mean it when he called a referee the same thing in April? Did Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell mean it when he shouted slurs at fans?

Hank Stuever, a TV critic at The Washington Post, says, “The Fa-word is the equivalent of the N-word.”

What does that mean? The N-word, to quote Minnesota Public Radio, is probably the ugliest racial slur ever created, born of hatred and designed specifically to humiliate, insult. and exert power over black people, be they of African-American, Haitian, Jamaican, or any other descent– no matter what Richard Pryor said about it. People have fought and died over the word. It's so deeply offensive that even alluding to it is dangerous.

But not so its replacement.

It’s safe to call someone the Fa-word. Black people can’t hide their skin color, but gay people can and often do hide their sexuality. Regardless of what the Senate decided, living in the closet is still our national policy. In most states, including our own, gay people can’t get married or adopt children. What could be more natural than to call someone the Fa-word? It’s state licensed and government approved.

On May 26, ABC News published an article on its website headlined, “Gay Sports Community Buoyed by Unprecedented Support.”

The article references a Phoenix Suns PSA; a couple of pro athletes supporting gay marriage; one college athlete, a sports reporter, and a team owner who came out; an as-yet unfinished SF Giants video about gay-bashing; and Charles Barkley’s comment that he’d “rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can't play” as proof “There's never been a better time to be gay in the sports world.” 

Do a couple of videos and a quote from Charles Barkley really constitute the onset of a golden age? After being fined $50,000, Noah said he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, that he is “an opened-minded guy.”

Kobe apologized, Roger McDowell apologized, but teammates and coaches defended them both. Even Pat Riley called Tim Hardaway a “good spirit” and hoped he’s not "severely judged” after the former Heat guard told ESPN, “I hate gay people, so I let it be known.”

That line from “Your Racist Friend”? It’s an old adage: you can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.

Even if, as some claim, using the Fa-word doesn’t necessarily mean a person hates gay people, Noah, Bryant, McDowell and others used it because they wanted to insult and hurt someone. They used it because of, not in spite of, the fact that it's hateful and humiliating. And it was their first instinct. It was “natural.” And they weren’t kidding.
Juanita lives on a farm in Charlotte County with her husband, son, and many dogs.