Eugene Kane is puzzled that a Colorado jury did not convict a young man of ethnic intimidation for using the "N-word" before he punched his African-American victim in the face.
1. While the Supreme Court has upheld laws that permit sentences to be lengthened if they are motivated by racial, or some other form of, animus, it strikes me as a silly - and potentially dangerous - idea. The victim in this case summed it up nicely. "The fact that he broke my face is more important than that he hurt my feelings."
2. As to the verdict itself, the jury seems to have been influenced by the fact that the "N-word" is widely used in hip-hop culture and, therefore, is not necessarily derogatory. Applied to the facts of the case, this seems weak. Most anything you say before you break someone's face is probably intended to be derogatory.
But, in a way, that's the point. People who are angry at someone else will often try to think of the most hurtful thing they can say. They may use derogatory racial terms or gender references. It doesn't mean that they are angry "on the basis of" race or gender.
But it does illustrate the danger of the notion that racial language and identification can be permitted to minorties who, it is said, don't mean anything by it or who haven't the power to impose their attitudes on others, but denied to the white majority.
The problem is that people won't make the same fine distinctions that professors of ethnic studies do. The message they get is that identifying yourself and others primarily as members of a racial group is ok.
Its not reasonable to think that people will say that a word means one thing when blacks say it and another when whites do. It doesn't make sense to think that black people can joke about the absence of "brothers" in the Olympics but white people shouldn't say they have lost interest in the NBA because its too black.
If you want to end treating people differently on the basis of their race, you have to stop doing so completely and without exception. If you want to stamp out ethnic slurs, you have to stop using them.
There might be a lesson in this verdict. He who has ears should listen.