Borrok: A farewell, with some thoughts on how we talk about slurs

Ben Borrok, Opinion Editor

This past week, NBA player Meyers Leonard was caught on a livestream yelling an anti-Semetic slur during a video game. He is not the first person to be caught using hate speech, in the realm of athletics or video games, but still it remains shocking to hear high-profile individuals espouse such language in a public format when it could be easily avoided. In the past year, similar reactions transpired when DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson were accused of perpetuating anti-Semitism. Immediately following the incident, there was uproar on social media, admonishing Leonard for his insensitivity and noting the worrying trend of anti-Semitism and hate.

Leonard issued an apology later that day, claiming he “didn’t know what the word meant at the time” and that he is deeply sorry for his ignorance. While he is away from his team indefinitely while an NBA investigation is ongoing, many have accepted his apology and NFL player Julian Edelman has invited him to Shabbat dinner to help Leonard learn from his mistake, similar to the offer Edelman made to DeSean Jackson. I was about to move past the incident, but something about his apology, coupled with Edelman’s response, compelled me to consider this moment a bit more.

Hate, it seems, is deeply entrenched in America to a point where no minority group can go without facing, or perpetuating, harassment. Beyond the summer of contentious protests regarding the treatment of Black people in this country, hate crimes against other communities have also seen a rampant uptick. Conspiracies involving racism and anti-Semitism have become far more normalized thanks to the lack of social media moderation and the rise of groups like QAnon. Actions like those of Leonard have only further engrained hate speech into an everyday event. While Leonard will stop using the slur, the sudden influx of articles including the phrase will inevitably fuel many to use it in online forums and multiplayer video games. In a backward sort of way, acknowledgment of the word as a slur will embolden more people to use it, in the way that so many white Americans attempt to justify the use of the n-word.

In addition, I call foul on his claim that he didn’t know what the word meant. Are we really expected to take at face value, the claim that a 29-year-old man would use a word he didn’t know during a livestream with thousands of viewers. Looking back on the video, Leonard takes a rather intentional pause prior to muttering the slur, as if taking a second to consider what to say following an action in the video game. As to why he settled on what he did, is far more telling about him than he thinks it lets on. Meyers Leonard is far too old to be asking for education on why hate speech is wrong, putting the onus on Jewish people to inform him. Frankly, it is a slap in the face to witness someone make an inflammatory action and do the bare minimum in hopes of redeeming himself, which leads me to thoughts on Edelman’s response.

While his offer was extended in good faith, I cannot help but feel as if Edelman gave Meyers Leonard what he wanted in the form of an opportunity to reenter the good graces of the Jewish community without first working towards it. Leonard didn’t take true responsibility in his apology, one he only gave because he got caught. Nothing about his situation or actions indicate a shred of sincerity, rather, he is only remorseful because of the consequences levied against him.

So Leonard will attend his Shabbat offer, serve his suspension, and move on. Meanwhile, the root of the situation, namely the spectre of hate that has entrenched this nation will continue to go unchecked. We need to be proactive about educating students against hate, informing them to greater degree about the significance of these slurs and the indignities levied upon Jewish people, Black people, and other minorities who have faced increased threats over the past few years.

As we come to the close of another Northwestern academic quarter, I hope that you, as our readers, have enjoyed the numerous columns and Op-Eds we have published over the past 9 weeks. I am always impressed and curious to read what our talented writers have to say about current events on campus and around the country. It also pushes me to think more critically, not just of the events transpiring around me, but the reactions of others to those events.

Ben Borrok is a School of Communication junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.