05/08/2015

Sticks, stones, and social media

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Manny Pacquiao showed the world how to fight honorably. It’s a shame we can’t say the same of those who resorted to misogny, bigotry and racism online.

Last Sunday marked what had been billed as “The Fight of the Century.” After years of needling Floyd Money” Mayweather, the undefeated T.B.E. (that’s “The Best Ever,” to you) agreed to fight Manny Pacquiao in a boxing ring, risking to mar his perfect record: a spotless run of 47 wins. It was supposed to be a glorious fight, unparalleled, unlike any other. On the last few days leading up to it, my brother told me that it felt like waiting for Christmas morning. But it proved to be lackluster, igniting instead a hundred different controversies in its wake. Fiery arguments lit up the Internet , leaving behind a blazing forest fire that no one knows how to put out just yet.

I don’t generally watch boxing, but this was THE FIGHT OF THE CENTURY, and I wasn’t going to miss that. In the heat of the 12-round match, I was scrolling furiously through Twitter, laughing at my timeline because I have thankfully followed smart and funny people. But then it got really ugly, really fast. Neither Money nor Manny was giving everyone the fight they had wanted. And what I’ve noticed is that people will resort to three things when they’ve run out of things to say, or are simply too lazy to think of something else to cut someone: misogyny/sexism, bigotry and racism.

The Fight of the Century was supposed to reveal who the better boxer was, but what it showed us instead was just how ugly people can be, for no other reason than they can. Art by Elle Shivers.
The Fight of the Century was supposed to reveal who the better boxer was, but what it showed us instead was just how ugly people can be, for no other reason than they can. Art by Elle Shivers.

Throughout the match Mayweather adopted a defensive tactic, which involved “running away,” sidestepping, and locking Pacquiao in a sweaty embrace — and people called him gay. The “wittiest” among them created the laziest and most obvious portmanteau and patted themselves on the back for being so damn funny. The scariest thing was that those insults could’ve come from anyone. In fact, they could’ve come from you.

Money’s being careful, but to you, that’s “cowering.” And he doesn’t throw nearly as many punches as Pacman, so to you, that means that he fights like a girl. And for good measure, because you’ve run out of insults to hurl, you say the “N” word or something close to it. Oddly, for such painfully sensitive people, Filipinos (in general) can be freely racist.

And it’s easy to see why this happens. You are able to carelessly let go of these words — “Gayweather,” “fights like a girl,” et cetera, ad nauseam — because deep down, you think that you are, somehow, above these people that you don’t think twice about. You spout out garbage, funny jokes at the expense of other people, because it makes you feel better.

It’s not even that “gay” or “like a girl” are even insults anymore, because at the root of it, they’re not. But you know what you meant when you posted it, and sometimes the intent matters more than what you actually say. These words are hurtful and they are dangerous because they can damage people. You can brush it off as a “joke” or an “expression,” and you can White Knight your artista idols who get called out on their sh*t by people who are just so tired of people who can’t see that they’re on the side of privilege. But like my friend Stefan said, casual bigotry is dangerous because it normalizes prejudice. The same goes for sexism and racism, and all the other ways people can make other people feel like they’re somehow worth less.

It’s not okay to declare that Mayweather has a vagina then expect people to accept the excuse — “I love people with vaginas” — to defend yourself. What is this trying to prove, exactly? That women are weak? That having a vagina is an unfortunate handicap? It’s like thinking you can spout racial slurs horribly disguised as jokes, just because you have a lot of black friends. “I’m not racist,” you say. “I love those people,” you insist. It’s not true, it’s not okay, and it’s not enough. Words are weapons, and even though they’re directed at someone else, these kinds of words can misfire and hurt others, too. Saying these words draws a line between you and the people who catch them in the crossfire.

And what you’re really saying is “You’re not like me. I’m better than you.” The Fight of the Century was supposed to reveal who the better boxer was, but what it showed us instead was just how ugly people can be, for no other reason than they can. At least now you know who to avoid and who to unfollow. Maybe someday, when someone self-important thoughtlessly says something hurtful, you won’t think twice about calling them out on it.

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