Considering Hardaway's antigay comments, what makes an intolerant child?

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Former Miami Heat guard Tim Hardaway said on a radio show Wednesday afternoon that he would not want a gay player on his team.

"You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known," Hardaway said.

"I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States." (Quote and photo from ESPN)

The NBA took action against Hardaway. He's been banned from the NBA's All-Stars game weekend festivities. The ban indicates progress toward tolerance of homosexuality in professional sports, but is intolerance the root cause of demeaning others?

Tolerance is defined in The American Heritage Dictionary as "a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one's own; freedom from bigotry." Tolerance is a fairly new buzz word in society. I think a better lesson, an older lesson to teach a child, before the teaching of tolerance, is to teach humility, or not to be arrogant.

Arrogance is defined in the same dictionary as the "offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride." The nature of the arrogant is to be unfair to others, to not practice tolerance, because to treat others fairly is to treat them as equals. If someone assumes he/she is superior to you, how can that person treat you as an equal?

Each year we have celebrities undergoing trial by media because they've said something to offend some segment of the population. Last year we had Mel Gibson's drunken rant against Jewish people, Michael Richards and the "n" word, and Isaiah Washington and the "f" word. This year we have Hardaway with "I hate gay people."

Let's consider the Grey's Anatomy actor Isaiah Washington and his use of the "f" word to demean his gay co-worker. People called Washington homophobic, wanted him trained for tolerance. I don't think homophobia is Washington's problem, and so ask what good will lessons in tolerance do Washington? I think all that posturing was a show to let society know Washington's type of rhetoric should not and will no longer be tolerated. That society is shifting to be intolerant of those who demean gay people.

One of the reasons I don't believe Washington is homophobic is that a phobia is a strong, often irrational fear, of a place, person, activity, or thing. Washington played a gay character in Spike Lee's Get on the Bus. If he actually had a strong fear of gay people, I don't think he could've played that role. The fear that he himself would be called gay and his discomfort in showing affection to a male lover, despite it being acting, would've been too strong.

I think Washington's problem is that he thinks whatever he may be, he is better than gay people, and so when he wanted to deliver what he felt would be a cutting insult to his co-worker he used the "f" word. I also think that Washington is already about as tolerant of gay people as he's going to be. He normally works with gay people without incident; so he "tolerates" gay people the same way that some white people tolerate African-Americans. They'll work around them, perhaps even socialize lightly, but not more so if they can help it.

From now on, Isaiah Washington will practice politically correct tolerance, give lip service to the concept, and he'll have the good sense not to vocalize his true feelings about homosexuality. Would it be different if Washington believed in the importance of humility?

If Washington practiced humility and honestly believed he was not superior to anyone else, he'd not indulge arrogance and use demeaning speech against others. He wouldn't do it because he'd believe others were not simply different but that they were intrinsically his equal and should be treated with respect.

Case in point, we don't want men to believe simply that men should be tolerant of women. We want men to believe that women are their equals. On the job, men who believe women are their equals are unlikely to belittle them or assume they deserve less than their male counterparts. In a heterosexual romantic relationship, a man who believes his female partner is his equal is unlikely to become abusive even when love fades. You honestly can't believe that someone is your equal but also think you are intrinsically superior.

Hardaway's comments are different from Washington's insult. Hardaway wasn't having a personal argument with anyone when he said what he said. He was doing an interview. He may have been trying to shame John Amaechi, a pro basketball player who recently announced he's gay, but Amaechi wasn't present.

Hardaway admits he's homophobic, and I believe he is indeed. Sounds like he has some irrational fear. The key is that he doesn't want to be around gay people, thinks they shouldn't be allowed to live in America or even the world. In some way Hardaway feels threatened by the existence of homosexuals. He's afraid of homosexuals, homophobic.

Big, strapping man that he is, if I were to break it down to him that to be homophobic means that he's afraid of gay people, he'd probably deny it. He likes that word "homophobic" though because he probably doesn't associate it with being a coward. He probably thinks that to be homophobic is to be an all-American, red-blooded, heterosexual male. He probably thinks it means he's a "real" man, a tough guy.

Whatever Hardaway thinks homophobic means, some sessions with a psychotherapist or at least daily introspection to determine his inner dysfunction regarding gay people would probably do his mental health some good. A psychologist might argue that his homophobia is rooted in fear that he himself is homosexual. I'd still say he fears it because he thinks that to be homosexual is to be inferior. Hardaway's attitude is indicates arrogance. Whatever he is, he believes that to be that way is better than being homosexual.

I'm not going to examine the words of all the public figures we've heard say nasty things about other groups, but I will say that if you consider the cases you personally recall, you'll probably notice a pattern. To call it hate and intolerance, while such classifications may be true, is to not look at the root cause. In cases of people who "hate" Jewish people or black people, Arab people, Asian people, or Mexican people, all those "other" people, even those who demean the obese, listen to their speech. It boils down to their thinking that they are better than those "other" people. It's arrogance.

I use these examples and target arrogance because I think that if we raise our children to think they are inherently better than others, then we are raising arrogant people who will perpetuate injustice. Arrogant people think they are better than others and so practice elitism or classism, racism, antisemitism, and other behaviors that belittle others. They find their own value in devaluing others. This is not the same as having self-confidence and having good self-esteem, and this blog would get far too long if I started explaining the difference.

So, I guess what I'm saying is the following: The arrogant believe that they deserve to be treated better than others and that results in their treating others like lesser human beings. They can't practice the golden rule "to treat others as you want to be treated" because to do so suggests the other people are their equals.

I could go into lots of psychobabble about how in reality such people probably have an inferiority complex, but I won't because I'm not convinced that's always the case. I think that some people honestly believe they are inherently better than others and so deserve more than others, more everything, more love, more money, more respect, more rights. These are traits established in childhood. So ask yourself, "Are you rasing this child?"

Nordette Adams is a published fiction writer, journalist, poet, and blogger. You can read a poem a poem she wrote years ago about arrogance at this link.

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