When I was a kid in the South in the '60s, I was bullied by racists who called me niggerlover and Shitterly. It hurt enormously at first. I coped by becoming hyper-analytical: loving people and not being racist was good; therefore, my tormenters were complimenting me, even though they couldn't comprehend that was what they were doing. My name wasn't Shitterly, so calling me that was silly. I couldn't rationalize the beatings, but they added to my indifference to insults: insults are nothing compared to the fists of people who are bigger than you.
I also coped by feeling superior: insults were the tactics of stupid people. Shitterly? Niggerlover? The names were pathetically unoriginal, even if—or especially because—the bullies were too stupid to know how stupid they were. (What can I say? I read comics and science fiction, I got good grades, and I knew my causes were right and theirs were wrong. I thought I was better than many people then. It helped me survive.)
I kept my indifference to "fighting words" as I grew older. If an insult wasn't true, it didn't affect me; if it was true, it didn't insult me.
God-damn commie? Nope. Never believed in a God who damned. When I was a liberal, "commie" was wrong, and when I became a red, it was right.
Motherfucker? Nope. My crushes were firmly fixed on girls in my classes, plus Batgirl, Emma Peel, and Lt. Uhura.
Faggot? Queer? Homo? Nope. Dad had told me some of the best people he worked with in the Merchant Marine were homosexual, and my crushes were all on girls.
Prick? Dick? Cock? Dickhead? Nope. My penis has made me very happy over the years, thank you very much.
Wanker? Well, that was embarrassing a little, but hardly insulting. I'd heard very early on the old joke, that there are two kinds of men, 95% who masturbate and 5% who lie about it.
Douche? Pussy? Cunt? Nope. Douches are useful to vaginas, and being useful to a vagina is a good thing in my book, because vaginas are pure awesome. Men who dis vaginas should never be allowed near them. Women who dis vaginas should be pitied.
Asshole? Nope. People with asshole problems are so full of shit they may explode.
Shit? Shithead? Bullshitter? Nope. Shit's useful in many ways. I can't remember how young I was when I first cleaned a dog pen or spread fertilizer. Shit's just shit. When the weather's dry, horse shit has a nice smell.
Cocksucker? As Davis said on Treme, "Cosmically speaking, the more cocks that get sucked in the world, the better for humanity."
But when Racefail 09 came along, I discovered to my amazement that two insults could hurt me:
Liar? Bingo. I've lied a few times in my life, but I'm smart enough to know I'm an awful liar, and I'm arrogant enough to take pride in my honesty. It's probably the arrogance that made that the soft spot, or maybe it was the novelty—in the past, in the few cases where I was called a liar, it was easy to prove I wasn't. But during Racefail, charges were made wildly, attached to nothing.
Racist? Bing-bing-bing! That hurt worse than liar. I've marched and bled for equal rights. I've seen my mother terrified by death threats from racists, and I was sent away from home when word got out that the Klan would burn us down. I've had black girlfriends. As an adult, I've been praised for writing books featuring folks of all hues. But suddenly people were screaming that I was a racist for disagreeing with individuals of a different race.
So I took the analytical approach that had served me before:
Liar? That's just one of many gratuitous insults flung by people who wanted to be insulting. For once, my process of analysis had hindered my ability to deal with an insult: there was nothing there to analyze.
Racist? That took a lot more time. I had believed up until then that everyone's a little racist. Perhaps it was true. So I began looking for tests for racism. The most radical that I found was at Project Implicit, where they've found that about 70% of white folks have an implicit preference for white folks, and 30% have no preference or a preference for black folks. I wish I could say I have no preference, but I do: I'm in the minority of white folks who prefer black folks. Which makes sense in retrospect—until Racefail 09, my opponents were always white. I kept reading about Anti-Racism and Whiteness Studies, and I concluded with folks like Adolph Reed Jr. and the Reverend Thandeka that identity politics are simply a flawed way to look at the nature of power in a capitalist society.
So I'm no longer insulted by being called a racist. To Anti-Racists, that's just how white folks are. It's like Baptists saying we're all sinners or the Nation of Islam saying whites are the devil. There's nothing personal in it.
Mind you, I'm not saying I'll never feel insulted again. I've undoubtedly got weak spots that haven't been tested. But if anyone finds one, at this point, I hope I'll be sufficiently self-aware to laugh and say, "Damn! You're good!"