Recently, there was a scandal which wasn’t a scandal at all. Someone in a position of power referred to CeeLo by a racial slur, coupled with a very unkind adjective. The reason it wasn’t a scandal is that no one outside of Hungary really heard about it, and in Hungary no one cares. Mainly because to them it’s not a bad word.
Case in point a hugely popular site / blog / portal, which I’m reluctant to name because I don’t want them to get any more traffic. They just published an article on why the N-word is not an insult. And their justifications are pretty much out of this world.
To hear the author say it, neither the N-word nor the fact that he called him fat is an insult. Fat is an adjective, and the N-word is “just the Italian way to describe a black person.” The author then goes on to say that since Hungary has a) never been burdened with colonialism and b) has always used the word to describe “someone of African origin” it is not only perfectly ok to continue using the word, but using it is practically a moral obligation.
It reminded me of something a student told me recently. Her History teacher had stated in class that it was virtually impossible to argue with a fascist / populist / xenophobe / anti-Semite, because they have knowledge in spades, knowledge you might not have. And that makes it hard. My favorite author as a teen, Norma Klein, had a character say something similar in one of her novels, “it’s hard to come up with a reasonable reply when the argument is so general.”
It’s true, ne(g)ro is the Italian word for black. There’s no arguing that. Negro is also black in Spanish. Can’t really argue with that either. These are facts, and bigots like their facts. It’s also an undeniable fact that Spaniards had undeniable power over their slaves, and referring to them by the color of their skin was not a compliment. But bigots don’t want to hear that. Because, “these times are over. It never happened here. This doesn’t concern us.”
Clearly, empathy just doesn’t fly with bigots. It is what it is, and you better deal with it, seems to be their motto. But isn’t the whole point of teaching history also to transmit empathy along with the knowledge? And are bigots and haters so keen on demolishing empathy because they never had it (so why should you), or because they want to make sure empathy doesn’t get in the way of their agenda?