Archive for Thursday, May 12, 2005

Superficial justice prevails

May 12, 2005


It's happened again.

A white man, Larry Cochell, the head baseball coach at the University of Oklahoma, used the N-word.

The inevitable firestorm commenced. Cochell apologized, then resigned.

Many said his ouster was obvious justice, that a white man has no right to ever utter that word. This is what he reportedly said to a couple of ESPN reporters to praise one of his black players:

"There's no (N-word) in him," he said. "There are honkies and white people, and there are (N-words) and black people. (He) is a good black kid."

A good bit of the debate has focused on the double-standard black people supposedly have about the use of that word. I say that debate is wholly irrelevant.

Is there a double standard? Of course there is. The English language provides plenty of chances for double standards because so many words have two or more meanings.

It's why I can say things to my wife that you can't -- and you'd better not! -- and say things to my closest friends that might get you beat down if you said them.

I -- even being a black man -- can use that word to generate laughs in one setting but start a riot in another. What brings pain to one person brings nothing more than a yawn to the next. That word is no different, no matter how many times we contort ourselves to force everyone into the same box.

This is the bigger issue:

Why do we allow one word to stop progress in its tracks, to blind us to human complexity, to make us ignore character and encourage us to refuse to extend grace? Cochell was stupid for using that word. But in context, he meant it as a compliment, not as a slur.

Why doesn't it seem to matter that his two black players say they accept his apology and want him to continue coaching?

And does the track record he established during a four-decade career count for anything?

We can't move past the problem of race until we stop dabbling in the superficial -- forcing a resignation here, instituting a race-based program there -- and get serious about real change.

Because we all struggle with racist tendencies, though most of us keep that struggle hidden in the privacy of our own minds until we unwittingly allow it to slip into broader view.

That word's power was once fortified by the all-too-real threat of lynching and backed by juries complicit in the crime.

But the only thing that is too often lynched in these situations is progress.

-- Issac J. Bailey is a columnist for the Myrtle Beach, S.C., Sun News. His e-mail address is

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