First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention rocked, and her words and advice about hate speech resonated especially for many LGBTI people.
In a surprisingly personal speech, Michelle shared how she and Barack advise their daughters, Malia and Sasha, on how not to let name-calling, nastiness, and negativity ensnare them.
‘We don’t stoop to their level. Our motto is “When they go low, we go high,”’ Obama said.
With many parents scratching their heads as to how to explain Trump to their children, Obama depicted the presidential race as simply choosing an appropriate role model.
Expressing her enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton’s nomination, Obama brought civility back into the public discourse.
And in Michelle’s inimitable classy and cool style, she took down Trump in the most elegant way: She criticized the Republican presidential candidate without once uttering his name.
‘I want someone with the proven strength to persevere. Somebody who knows this job and takes it seriously. Somebody who understands that the issues of our nation are not black or white. It cannot be boiled down to 140 characters.’
We immediately thought of Trump, because he is our omnipresent Twitter bully.
What comes with Twitter bullying is hate speech, and Trump has normalized hate speech.
One of the signs of an intolerant society is demeaning language, whether used jokingly or in earnest, aimed at specific groups of people.
I remember a 2006 interview with Ann Coulter, the conservative ‘pundit,’ on MSNBC’s Hardball. Coulter called former Vice President Al Gore ‘a fag’ and hinted that Bill Clinton might be gay.
‘How do you know that Bill Clinton is gay?’ host Chris Matthews asked.
‘He may not be gay, but Al Gore; total fag. No, I’m just kidding,’ Coulter spat.
And on Clinton, Coulter continued: ‘I mean, everyone has always known wildly promiscuous heterosexual men have, as I say, a whiff of the bathhouse about them.’
Perhaps Coulter intended to be funny or satirical. But her remarks were directed not only toward Gore and Clinton, but also toward LGBTI people.
Gay Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was bludgeoned and left for dead in near-freezing temperatures while tethered to a rough-hewn wooden fence because he was considered a ‘fag’.
Racial slurs are likewise a mainstay in the American lexicon. Their broad-based appeal to both blacks and whites has anesthetized us to the damage they do and made us forget their historical origins.
The Obamas have lived up to the advice they give their girls.
Barack has been compared to the monkey Curious George, and shown wearing a feather headdress and a bone through his nose on Tea Party protest placards.
Michelle has not avoided the perceptions and stereotypes of African-American women – combative, mouthy, not deferential enough, the typical ‘angry black woman.’
The cover of The New Yorker on 21 July 2008 satirically depicted then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama robed in Muslim garb fist-bumping his Angela Davis Afro-wearing, machine-gun-toting wife, Michelle.
Eight years later, Trump still thinks Obama is not an American-born citizen and is conspiratorially a Manchurian Muslim.
Language is a representation of culture. It perpetuates ideas and assumptions about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We consciously – and unconsciously – articulate these in our everyday conversations about ourselves and the rest of the world. No surprise the next generation learns them.
The liberation of people is rooted in the liberation of abusive language. Using slurs, especially jokingly, does not eradicate their historical baggage. Instead, using them dislodges these epithets from their historical context. It makes us insensitive and arrogant regarding the historical injustices done to specific groups.
They allow all Americans to become numb to the power of hate speech and thwarts the daily struggle of trying to live in harmony.
This election year we have a candidate who’s turned hate speech into a campaign platform. In response, I’m taking Michelle’s advice. They can go low, but I’m going ‘with her.’