I find the story of Timana Tahu's exit from the New South Wales State of Origin team quite fascinating.
I don't profess myself to be any kind of rugby league expert, and forgive me for perhaps painting with a sweeping brushstroke here, but the code strikes me as being the kind of environment where one could expect to find a range of attitudes/discriminatory language that may otherwise be less common in ordinary society.
So it was with a fair bit of interest that I read that Tahu had upped and quit the Blues after hearing assistant coach Andrew Johns reportedly call another player a "black c***". I find it pretty incredible that Tahu was appalled enough to leave the team even though he himself wasn't the target of the slur - but even MORE amazed because the subject, Greg Inglis, actually plays for Queensland! That's right, in this brutal state-against-state, mate-against-mate competition, a player was insulted enough on a bitter rival's behalf to turn his back on his own team. In a code where the word "meat" is often accurately placed immediately before "head" when describing players, I found that an almost heart-warming example of across-the-divide humanity.
So pat on the back for Timana Tahu for sticking to his anti-racism guns, and turning the spotlight on Andrew Johns, who's come out all contrite for a remark that you know he wouldn't feel in the slightest bit sorry for were it not for the fact Tahu's exit brought the whole steaming mess out into the open.
But it makes me wonder exactly what part of the "black c***" remark was the worst. It seems to be the combination of the two words. Certainly I suspect the C-bomb is dropped amongst rugby league players like cookies over Dresden circa Feb '45. But suffixing it to "black" seems to ramp up that word's inherent racism. Could "black bastard" have the same impact? Would "black idiot"? have caused Tahu to upsticks and leave? I mean, I hope so, if the same intent was there. But I don't know.
Having said that, I do believe racist language is unacceptable in modern parlance. I personally don't get upset if someone calls me a dodgy Polack, or a dodgy Mick, or even a dodgy Aussie, but really I probably should. My uncomfortable silences whenever a cab driver is derided simply because they're Indian should be replaced by an active statement that such assumptions are racist and intolerable. I never thought I would say this, but in this case, I should follow the example of a rugby league player.
But language is a funny thing. I firmly believe in the power of words, and yet I believe words cannot hurt you if you don't let them. You could leave a comment on my blog slamming me as a bad writer and I'd probably have a wee cry. But call me a "c***" fifty times, and I would not be injured by it. But then, I hopped onboard the C*** train to C*** station a long time ago. I'm only using asterisks here because I know the word still offends some people, even though they've probably heard and maybe even agree with the argument that surely it's a BIT rude to say that a euphemism for ladyparts is the worst thing you could call someone. Frankly, I know more "p***ks", "d**ks" and "c***ks" in this world, but blokepart-focused insults just don't have the cache they should.
So - in summary. For me, "black" is offensive, "c***" is not. So why is it that I'm replacing letters in the C-word with asterisks, but not the B-word?
I hope that Andrew Johns' resignation as assistant NSW coach and the publicity around this event may further help improve attitudes in rugby league, and therefore among those in the population who enjoy rugby league.
Of course, I daresay if Joey had thrown an insult like "poof c***" around, it probably wouldn't be news. But maybe we just have to conquer one "ism" at a time.