Jesus, Kanye West, Serena Williams, Joe Wilson and Barack Obama

There seems to be an H1N1-like outbreak of namecalling and general, well, outspokenness in the past few days.  From the now-famous Congressman-slash-pariah (or slash-folk-hero, depending on your political views) Joe Wilson ("You lie!") to an apoplectic Serena Williams mouthing off to the line judge at the US Open ("I feel like shoving this #$% ball down your #$% throat!") and now even to President Barack Obama, who in an off-the-record, supposedly closed-mike moment called the musician Kanye West a "jackass."  ("Did he think that no journalists were around when he said that?" asked one journalist friend of mine today.) Obama was responding to West's dissing of Taylor Swift during the MTV music awards. 

When Cathy Grossman from USA Today called to ask if Jesus had said anything specifically against name calling, one verse immediately sprang to mind.  It's not frequently commented upon, but in Matthew 5:22 Jesus says, "Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' [Aramaic for "fool"] is answerable to the Council [the Sanhedrin, or Jewish court]. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."  Here's her zippy piece, along with priceless art.


Remember that the next time you're playing at the US Open and the line judge calls you out, the next time you're seated at a joint session of Congress or the next time you're tempted to call Kanye West a you-know-what. 

Do the right thing. 

Especially if the mike's on. 

Don't be a raca.


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 1 month ago
Good commentary.  I hope this includes people calling other people "racists" simply because they have legitimate opposing viewpoints from the president's?  Because that one is getting really old, really fast, and it is every bit as dishonest as the folks who say they haven't a racist bone in their bodies.
8 years 1 month ago
Well said, Willa. Calling someone a "racist" is the kind of insult that makes Kanye seem classy. After all, Kanye apologized. That's more than can be said for many of the folks who have been so casually throwing around this vile accusation.
8 years 1 month ago
It's true that not every one who opposes the President's policies is a closet racist, they are many who do oppose him out of hidden racism. The danger of slinging around the epithet ''racist'' lies in it becoming used out of context, thus enabling the possibility of it losing meaning and then we won't recognize it when we see it.  The Gospel quote points up to using our words carefully and meaningfully, and if we slander someone unjustly, there should be a high price for this.
8 years 1 month ago
And let's not forget that poor young boy who was beat up on the bus today.  What is the world coming to.
8 years 1 month ago
The LA Times is also wondering about the recent spate of incivility:,0,6251412.story
8 years 1 month ago

Representative Wilson called the President a liar during a joint meeting for an issue of providing free health care to illegal immigrants. Serena Williams was upset at a call in a tennis game and told the line judge she felt like lodging a tennis ball in her throat. President Obama called someone in private who acted like a jackass a jackass. When I heard about Kanye West's stunt, I thought 'wow, what a jackass." The President is the only one of the three who called something by its right name. Sure we should stop name calling. But don't treat the three as if they are all operating on the same level.

8 years 1 month ago
I agree that the term racist should not be used lightly, and that insults should be avoided.  Consider, however, that there might be a distinction between calling a specific individual or group racist and inferring that angry resentment of an African American President might for at least some people stem from racial animosity.  The latter does not impugn individuals, but simply coments on our long and painful history of racism (and discrimination against Jews, Catholics, and probably the ethnic groups from whom most of us descend in this country).  Resentment and fear of the Other, however defined, is simply a part of our fallen nature, and if we deny its existence, we delude ourselves.  There are countless legitimate reasons to oppose President Obama, and lots of apropriate ways to do so.  Is it really controversial to suggest that the motivations of a few are grounded in racial attitudes, and that some kinds of protest are over the top?  The racially charged language is amply documented by multiple sources, and I would assume would be repudiated by most conservatives.  I think it would be wise for responsible conservatives to speak out against abuses, just as liberals or progressives should condemn abuses from their side.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Pope Francis issues public correction to Cardinal Robert Sarah on who has final say over liturgical translations.
Gerard O'ConnellOctober 22, 2017
It is astonishing to think that God would choose to enter the world this way: as a fragile newborn who could not even hold up his own head without help.
Ginny Kubitz MoyerOctober 20, 2017
Protestors rally to support Temporary Protected Status near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sept. 26. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
Around 200,000 Salvadorans and 57,000 Hondurans have been residing in the United States for more than 15 years under Temporary Protected Status. But that status is set to expire in early 2018.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 20, 2017
At the heart of Anne Frank’s life and witness is a hopeful faith in humanity.
Leo J. O'Donovan, S.J.October 20, 2017