Monday, September 3, 2018
Monkey, Pig, Bitch?
Some years back I spent a week staying at the home of my recording engineer, Gerry Tyra, while we laid down tracks on an album of my songs. His family didn't care for smoking, so I would go out on the porch of his fenced-in back yard whenever I wanted to light up. When I did, one of his enormous Great Danes would happily accompany me. It was usually Jasmine: a coal-black, wonderfully friendly, boisterously playful and dolefully stupid female.
One day, no longer satisfied with having her velvet ears ruffled, Jasmine made a galumphing circuit of the yard and ended by ramming into a garbage-can by the fence and tipping it over, whereupon she happily plunged into the fallen can, digging for treasure. Annoyed at the mess, I put out my cigarette and tromped over the the fallen can and yelled at Jasmine: "Oh, get out of there, you stupid black bitch!" Jasmine retreated, but only a yard or so, and I started shoveling the garbage back in the can.
What I hadn't known was that, at the same time, a Female Person of Color was walking past in the alley beyond the fence. She overheard what I'd said, assumed I was talking to her, and promptly started a shouting-fit about racism, sexism, and calling the cops.
I stood the garbage-can back up, climbed on top of it and looked over the fence to see an irritated woman in a flashy dress practically dancing in outrage. In vain did I explain that I hadn't been talking to her, didn't even know she was there, and had been yelling at a dog. Oh no, if I even used "those words", I simply had to be a White(!) racist who was insulting her. I was obliged to haul Jasmine up onto the garbage-can (no easy feat) to where she could be seen, and point out directly that yes, Jasmine was black, and stupid, and a bitch -- a female dog. To prove that last point, I had to drag Jasmine around, hang her hindquarters over the fence and lift her tail -- and I suspect that the sight thereof was what made the woman give up on her tirade and walk away. ...Either that or the fact that I had demonstrated enough physical strength to lift and haul a Great Dane...
Anyway, I went back inside and told Gerry my tale. He chuckled, and mentioned one time when he was at work, had been talking to a co-worker about his dogs, and one of the women in the office stood up and noisily protested his use of the "offensive" word "bitch". Calm and cool as always, Gerry had asked if she would be equally offended if he'd spoken of a hen, a cow, or a mare; "those are the proper dictionary terms for females of their species, you know." The woman retreated, grumbling that it was still "offensive".
I remembered that whole business earlier this week when I learned that some politician (Republican) was accused of "racism" (by the media) because he'd commented: "Let's not monkey this up". Gee, would those same talking-heads have objected to the terms "monkeyshines", or "don't monkey with that", or "a monkey-wrench in the works"?
I even heard about some high-ranking police official who objected to the word "pig", in a context which had nothing to do with police. And of course professional Muslims do the same.
Nowadays it's fashionable and profitable to be easily offended, especially if you can claim "offense" against somebody from a different political party (or ball team, or rival company). It's even popular to claim that words do just as much damage as actions -- and that way lies disaster, especially if the definition of any word depends on the "feelings" of the beholder.
Look, I've been a writer and singer all my adult life; I've made my name and fame and living off of words -- and I know their definitions, and powers, and limitations. I can tell you from a lifetime of experience that words are not actions, and they have no more power than the listener chooses to give them. I could stand on a busy downtown street corner and holler "Kill the governor!" and nothing would happen, except that I'd be laughed at... or maybe a cop would eventually come by and tell me to keep my voice down. I can email "Hillary is a pig!" all day, and she will definitely not grow floppy ears or a curly tail.
I have to wonder if this worship of the "power" of words isn't an artifact of class. People who have grown up in a... hmmm, certain culture wherein they have only to express their wishes and somebody will hurry to comply, tend to assume that this state of affairs will continue when they grow up. For them, The Word is The Deed -- and oh, the shock and outrage when they learn that it Ain't Necessarily So.
And there's an even darker underside to it. What must somebody think of themselves, that every time they hear the words "bitch", "monkey", "pig", "black", or whatever, that they automatically think it's applied to themselves, and can actually harm them? What kind of psychological weaklings is this culture breeding?
One has to wonder how this certain culture, and its assumptions, has come to be so powerful in the US today.
In any case, it's ridiculous and it's got to stop.