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The Pain of Racial Taunts: Marcus Smart, DMX and White Supremacy’s Sick Power

We all want recognition as human beings. The problem: Only one group can force its desires on the rest of us.

Photo Credit: Creatista/Shutterstock


On Sunday, Marcus Smart, a sophomore basketball player at Oklahoma State University, apologized to Jeff Orr, a fan whom he shoved after Smart heard Orr call him the N-word. Orr has confirmed that he did indeed call Smart a “piece of crap,” but claims a slur was not used. Jeff Orr is a sorry human being, and he was not owed an apology. When you look at Smart’s visceral reaction courtside, at him yelling at Orr about being called the N-word as he was being pulled away by his teammates, it is clear that Smart believes he heard the N-word, and reacted accordingly. 

Is it really a stretch to believe that a middle-aged white man who taunts a kid by calling him a piece of crap used the N-word? Not to me.  

This is especially ironic given the reports that also surfaced this weekend about Italian soccer player Mario Balotelli, who was filmed in tears on his team’s bench, after Italian fans apparently taunted him with racial slurs during the entirety of his soccer match. Though reports have yet to confirm whether his tears were related to being subbed out of the game or the slurs, most fans who tweeted about the incident in the immediate aftermath connected his emotion to many slurs being hurled at him. Apparently, this is a regular occurrence. 

What seems not so apparent to the folks who made Marcus Smart trot out and “take full responsibility for his actions” is something to which we should all take heed. 

Racism hurts. It is painful. The moment that you are called the N-word, even if it happens to you when you are a child as it did with me and you don’t know the meaning of the word, you feel instantly degraded, as though you are walking around in shit-stained clothes that you are unable to remove. You feel as though your presence contaminates, as though you are a problem.

The fact that racism hurts is a truth about which many white folks remain purposefully oblivious and which many black folks would rather I not admit.  When I wrote last summer about crying after a white woman called me the N-word on a plane, many black people accused me of being weak and having poor self-esteem because I cared what she thought. But part of what it means to exist together as fellow citizens in a body politic is that at base level we recognize and honor each other’s humanity. We don’t have to like or agree with each other. But we recognize each other as levelly human. Despite the general effectiveness of our 40-plus-year “Say It Loud, Black and Proud” campaign, racism still clutches at our insides and twists us into nothingness at least for a moment. The sick and twisted thing about white supremacy is that it makes us care about what white folks think and say about us, even though we know better. A refusal to care can often cost us our lives. Ask Trayvon Martin. Ask Jordan Davis. 

In this regard, then, I’m actually intrigued by Jeff Orr’s rush to apologize and to clarify that he didn’t use a slur to refer to Marcus Smart. White folks, too, want their humanity conceded, even after they have actively disrespected someone else. And a credible argument for racism is the one thing that has the potential to erode that. At base level they recognize that racism is dehumanizing, and that if they are racist they are human in all the worst ways. Unfortunately, this has not led to a change in behavior, so much as a stalwart campaign to get racist behaviors branded as anything but. Still, what should be clear to us is that we all desire recognition as human beings and not monsters.  The problem is that only one group has the power to force their desires on the rest of us.

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