Kobe Bryant’s slur was anti-gay–and homophobic

I’m not sure what’s going on at TheRoot, but they’ve recently had quite a few people submit superficial, flawed commentary on top issues of the day. The most recent instance of this trend comes from David Kaufman, who criticizes the GLBTQ movement for lambasting Kobe Bryant after he called a referee a “fucking faggot” at Tuesday’s Los Angeles Lakers-San Antonio Spurs game.

Kaufman begins the commentary with the tired opinion some in the black community have expressed about the GLBTQ community’s “willingness…to take a brother down by any means necessary.”

Kaufman’s chief argument is this:

Although Bryant’s word choice is certainly unfortunate, equally worrisome is the near-instant racial — and racist — overtones now permeating this debate. At its core is the comparison of the word “faggot” with “nigger,” a comparison that has become emblematic of the LGBT movement’s unabashed co-option of the African-American struggle. In this case, reader comments on blog after blog repeatedly invoke the word “nigger” in their Kobe takedown as — in the words of Joe.My.God reader “beeblmeyer” — they “wonder how Mr. Bryant would feel if someone said, ‘Fucking nigger.’ “

The real wonder here is how folks could think there is anything to compare in the first place. Without a doubt, Bryant uttered the epithet in anger, but in a fit of homophobia? Not necessarily, at least until we know for certain whether referee Bennie Adams is gay.

Despite what gay, black ex-NBA player John Amaechi might have said in today’s USA Today, calling someone a “fucking nigger” has an entirely different historical meaning and context.

A black person is called a nigger precisely and exclusively because he is black. Period. And the core of the word’s offense — and racism — stems from this sheer conspicuousness. I’ve been called a nigger more than once, and there’s no doubt it was because of the color of my skin, not because I’d pissed someone off

We cannot necessarily say the same thing about Kobe’s — or perhaps anyone’s — use of “faggot.” Yes, the word is loaded with offense and has been a centuries-long tool of homophobes. But unless we’re certain Bryant expressly chose this word to specifically dis Adams’ sexuality, this charge of homophobia doesn’t hold up. Nor do the overwrought responses by GLAAD and HRC, who clearly have far more important enemies to battle than Kobe Bryant.

I can understand Kaufman’s concerns about Gay, Inc. co-opting the black civil rights struggle and the use of the word nigger to further advance their cause. Historically, Gay, Inc. (meaning the HRCs and the GLAADs) have been all but silent on the racism and white privilege rampant in the traditional GLBTQ movement. Any attempt by Gay, Inc. to align and compare themselves with the black civil rights movement is eyed as suspect by blacks and whites who’ve been emphatically dedicated to the cause of equality for GLBTQs of color.

However, Kaufman’s argument has a gaping flaw: calling someone a faggot is homophobic and is intended to offend the person subjected to the homophobic remarks. The use of the word faggot assumes the person (usually a male) is indeed gay and the slur is a slight to that person’s manhood. Kaufman’s suggestion that Bryant’s slur isn’t homophobic because we don’t know the sexuality of the referee is a slap in the face to any GLBTQ person who are subjected to the word faggot and other homophobic slurs on a routine basis.

The person being afflicted with the insults does not have to be gay in order for the words to be considered homophobic. The sexuality of the person at the receiving end of the remarks does not have to be a member of the GLBTQ community for them to be considered homophobic. It’s similar to people making racist jokes about a certain group of people. Even though a person who belongs to the group that’s the butt of the joke isn’t around to hear it, the joke–and the person who tells it–will still be considered racist.

Thankfully, Mychal Denzel Smith published an intelligent counter argument at TheRoot, which pretty much sums up why the word faggot is homophobic and offensive:

It’s a big part of the heterosexual-male bonding experience: In an effort to prove a sense of collective manhood, some heterosexual men trade homophobic barbs with one another, denounce and deride being gay and vehemently defend their own heterosexual credentials. It starts pretty early in the socialization process, with “gay” being used as a derogatory term on the playground before most even know what “gay” means, and eventually it makes its way into other spaces that tend to be perceived as havens for heterosexual manhood (e.g., locker rooms, basketball courts, rap music).

This is what Kobe Bryant was doing when he shouted “fing faggot” at a referee during Tuesday’s Los Angeles Lakers-San Antonio Spurs game. Bryant says his use of the homophobic slur was not intended to offend anyone, which hardly seems plausible.

He is well aware that “faggot” is a homophobic slur, or else he would have felt no need to apologize for his comments; he would have claimed ignorance. Given that he was visibly angry when he blurted out the slur, any comment that he made toward the referee at that point was clearly intended to offend him. But the use of this particular word reveals something deeper.

It’s the belief that homosexuality is inherently inferior and an undesirable trait; therefore, to refer to someone with slurs usually reserved for gays is an attempt to belittle that person further.

It’s no question that Kobe Bryant *at least* has issues with the GLBTQ community. Otherwise, the words “fucking faggot” would not have come from his mouth in the fit of anger. Bryant’s use of the word faggot is a clear indication of his belief that homosexuality, like Smith said, is “inherently inferior and an undesirable trait.”

Unfortunately, the Bryant episode is just another example of the lethal grip homophobia has on our society and reminds activists of the long road ahead in garnering the respect and dignity for GLBTQ community.