Obviously, we can’t have that conduct from an elected official. He had to resign; there is no question about that. Artiles was at a members-only club in Tallahassee earlier this week when he was speaking with fellow state Senators Audrey Gibson (D) and Perry Thurston (D), who are both black. Artiles told them, in the course of an obscenity-rich rant, that “six niggers” had helped get Senate President Joe Negron elected.
I’ll give Artiles credit for one thing: he didn’t resort the Pazuzu Excuse (“This isn’t who I am, and what I said does not reflect what I think or feel”), which is what almost all public figures in his self-authored predicament do. His resignation letter’s main section reads,
It is clear to me my recent actions and words that I spoke fell far short of what I expect for myself, and for this I am very sorry. I apologize to my family and friends and I apologize to all of my fellow Senators and lawmakers. To the people of my district and all of Miami-Dade, I am sorry I have let you down and ask for your forgiveness. My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process, and the citizens of our great State. I am responsible and I am accountable and effective immediately, I am resigning from the Florida State Senate. It’s clear there are consequences to every action, and in this area, I will need time for personal reflection and growth.
What the episode made me ponder is this: what does using “nigger” when speaking about a black man or woman tell us about the speaker?
Political correctness radicals argue that speaking the word in any context is proof of racism, thus professors at some schools have gotten themselves into trouble using “nigger” to discuss the social and linguistic implications of using the word “nigger.” This is redolent of the gag in “The Life of Brian,” where an official explaining that a man has been condemned to stoning for speaking the name “Jehovah” is stoned to death by the crowd for speaking the name “Jehovah.” (The Ethics Alarms policy is that no words are banned, and devices like “N-word” and “n****r are silly. The posts here reflect both conclusions.)
I had just watched Robert DeNiro’s 1993 directorial effort “A Bronx Tale” (not bad; terrible ending), and in the film was a disturbing scene in which the young hero, who is courting a black teen, gets in a heated argument with her and a black youth and blurts out “Fuck you, you fuckin’ nigger!” Does that necessarily mean he’s a racist? (Spoiler: His girl friend doesn’t think so.) Is it signature significance, meaning only a racist would call an African-American a nigger in anger? Is it possible that in the heat of argument, a non-racist would resort to the ultimate epithet to be hurtful without believing what the word implies? (Do non-sexists and misogynists ever refer to women as bitches, cunts or twats? Is someone necessarily homophobic who calls gays “fags” or “queers”?)
Does using the word, or being easily triggered to use the word just mean the the individual grew up hearing the epithet used a lot? That means it is an ethics alarms malfunction: in the film, the second the word is out of the boy’s mouth, he regrets it. The alarm went off too late. Could using “nigger” just show poor upbringing? I would no more use such epithets than try to swim to Australia: my Dad, a fanatic gentleman, insisted that every individual should be treated with respect at ll times. even in the heat of anger. If I hear someone use denigrating epithets in jokes or casual conversation, they instantly fall several stories down in my estimation. At very least, they are insensitive, unmannerly boors.
But can we safely and fairly assume that ex-Senator Frank Artiles is a racist?