June 19, 1992

The Anatomy of Bigotry

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice, and motivated by pride and vanity.

Dale Carnegie

I was away for a week and when I returned, Lu told me that several people were angry because I wrote, in a column about the Rodney King case, that "Many people see it as a civil rights issue. In the Dan White case it was an upright citizen killing a queer. It was too bad about Moscone; wops are considered almost human.The L.A. cops were simply administering justice to Rodney King, a drunken no-good nigger." Why would I use words like queer, wop and nigger?

I used those words because those were the right words to use. Had the jurors in the case seen Rodney King as person instead of as a nigger, they would have brought in a very different verdict. If the jury had been all black, they might have seen the cops as sadistic honky bastards, and might have found them guilty of attempted murder.

The anatomy of bigotry is that someone is not seen as a person, but as a symbol, which can be either good or bad depending on your point of view. A person born into the Tribe of Israel may be seen as something wonderful, an Einstein or Freud, and by another as a dirty Jew bastard. None of this is in any way related to what or who that person may be, or what he might have done, good or bad.

The club that a bigot uses to beat someone is composed of words, the tone of those words, and his facial expression. The same word can have many meanings. A particularly obnoxious expression is "he's one of them". It uses no nasty words.

The word Jew can be used in many ways. It can mean that someone was born to a particular tribe or subscribes to a particular religion. It can be used objectively, just as the words black, brown or yellow can refer to skin color, or bald, bearded, moustached, short or tall, can refer to certain recognizable features. It can also be used in such a way that there is little doubt that the person saying that Jew word considers Jews as some lower form of animal life. As to the word kike, no one is sure where the word originated or what it means. One etymologist says that Jews were marked with a chalk circle, which is "kikel" in Yiddish, and the term stuck. The only thing that makes it insulting is the intent of the person using it.

In Germany, a black soldier heard a German say "neger". He got very angry and asked "is he calling me a nigger?" I explained to him that "neger" was the German word for negro. Actually, the words black, neger, negro and nigger, as descriptive terms, are identical. It is the tone of voice that determines what the word means. Arnold Schwartzenegger's last name means black negro, or black nigger depending on what you think of the man. The name Schwartz, which means black, is a common European Jewish name. Presumably some ancestor of people with those names were dark skinned.

Unfortunately, a child who grows up with bigotry associates the word with the feeling and the word "Jew" can hurt him even though it is used in a completely neutral context.

A move to defuse the power of words like Jew, Kike, Wop, Nigger, Queer etc. was sparked by Lenny Bruce, who believed that their power could be diminished by using those words often and indiscriminately: "the word's suppression gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. If President Kennedy got on television and said 'Tonight I'd like to introduce the niggers in my cabinet' and he yelled nigger nigger nigger nigger.....till nigger lost its meaning --you'd never make any four-year-old nigger cry when he came home from school." Dick Gregory, in the preface to Robert H. deCoy's book The Nigger Bible says that "He (deCoy) further illuminates the glaring misfact that has been forced upon us. A 'Negro' is a nonexistent person. For the word 'Negro' is an adjective --and has only within the last half century become used as a noun. Webster's white dictionary says so. But the word 'Nigger' is, and always has been a noun. No people can be an adjective, if the people are 'for real'.'Nigger is a State of Being' whereas 'Negro is simply a State of a Nigger's mind which describes how Caucasian and Christian he hopes to be'."

Gregory and deCoy can say nigger as much as they want to because their skin is dark while I can say Jew, Jew, Jew as much as I want to. I know that it is very serious to many people, but something can be very serious and very silly at the same time.

So, when I am writing about how a bigot thinks, the word nigger is much more appropriate than black or the many other euphemisms used by polite bigots for people they consider inferiors.

I consider myself as the brother of everyone who has ever been pushed around as a kid for something that he was born into.I know that feeling well and it took me at least 40 years to get over it. If you don't want me as a brother, that's OK too.

Next column

Return to the Law and Lawyers Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page