Wednesday, January 31, 2007

There are things I'll never say, unless you tell me it's against the law to say it.

If there is one word I really loathe, it is the 'n' word. I can honestly say that my parents taught me early on never to use that word so I've never used it. I've even been careful to explain to my kids when we read 'Huckleberry Finn' that we don't ever, ever use that word. People who use it show themselves to be ignorant, bigoted fools. I know that the word is deeply offensive, especially to African-Americans as it is what they were called during the days of slavery and Jim Crow.

So is there a situation when I would ever allow that putrid, rotten word to come out of my mouth? Well, yes there is. I might use it if I'm ever in the town of Brazoria, Texas and they make it illegal.

Saying the "n-word" in one Texas town may soon cost people hundreds of dollars. The mayor of Brazoria, near Houston, wants to ban the word.

"This is a melting pot -- this country is, okay? There is no room for any racial slurs, whatever," said Brazoria Mayor Ken Corley.

Ken Corley wants people to face a $500 fine if they say the “n-word” there.

I'm glad the mayor feels that his town is a melting pot and that there is no room for racial slurs. I agree with him that there shouldn't be room for that. Heck, he makes it sound like the kind of progressive place that you don't hear so much about in the Lone Star State, and maybe worth a visit sometime.

But he and I part company when we talk about making a word illegal.

In the United States we have a Constitution, and one which wisely allows people to say the most horrible, disgusting things. That is why while we may regulate pornography, it is allowed. That is why holocaust deniers can feel free to spout off their particular kind of filth. That is why we allow music to be sold in stores that is pretty much one constant stream of profanity, often liberally spiced with the 'n' word, for that matter.

As one of my friends who has a gift for cutting things to the core once told me in regard to free speech (after an incident in which a mutual acquaintance was punished by his employer for complaining about a co-worker), "If I don't have the right to call you an asshole, then what rights do I have?" (I generally try to avoid even that level of language, but that is a direct quote to what he said-- though as an aside I believe that someone who hires you does have some rights to expect you to uphold certain standards of civility on the job.)

So to be honest, as much as I loathe and detest the word, and as honestly as I can say that I've never once said it, if they make it illegal in Brazoria, Texas and I happened to be there, I'd feel obligated to say it, probably right directly in front of hizzoner the mayor. I might not even say it in a way that was connected to anything else, or as part of a sentence, but I'd feel like I had to say the word. And then challenge the ban in court. Because if we can tell people what to say, then can telling them what to think be far behind?

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