NBA Star John Amaechi on Diversity & Inclusion: Hate Speech Goes Beyond N- and F-Words

Former NBA star John Amaechi says the antidote to stereotypes and slurs rests in mindfully chosen words.


Diversity and inclusion awareness—and the use of mindfully chosen words—holds the antidote to dissolving stereotypes and slurs.

Former NBA player John Amaechi discovered the power of words when he first was called the N-word—a kid with a mullet yelled it out of a passing clunker car as a college-aged Amaechi walked across campus.

It was an incredible shock for the emerging basketball talent, and it caused feelings of incredible doubt. "I felt that they were looking at me and they didn't just see someone bouncing a ball—they saw something more than that," Amaechi told attendees as they listened with fascination at DiversityInc's Special Awards dinner in Washington, D.C. "This is part of the power of this type of speech." Watch the full-length video or a video clip below.

He linked this painful memory to when Kobe Bryant used an epithet about gay people on camera this past April—a particularly personal moment for Amaechi as the first pro-basketball player to publicly come out as being gay. "We have to be very careful with hate words because when powerful people say them, there is despair."

Despite negative slurs, Amaechi, a psychologist, would rather focus on the positivity of words and their ability to be antidotes to hateful speech. This, he says, is the greatest driver for diversity and inclusion at organizations. For more on stereotypes, read 'Blacks Should Not Be Satisfied With Food Stamps': The Danger of Stereotypes and Jeremy Lin & Racism: 3 Ways to Stop Dangerous Stereotypes.

His mother, a doctor in the United Kingdom, taught him that words can be used for good. He jokingly says how she was like a Star Wars Jedi when it came to words, such as making him clean his room. Laughing aside, Amaechi believes a certain psychology lies at the heart of diversity and inclusion, and gaining an education in words can bring people a sense of unity and hope.

"It's amazing how many different ways you can call someone [the N-word] without actually saying the word," he said, "so we have to be more sophisticated, too." That sophistication can be manifested every day among employees.

"In a world where diversity [and inclusion] is important, sometimes people wonder about all the initiatives you can do for diversity, but what you can really do is teach people to really be there when they are talking," says Amaechi. This becomes the opportunity for an understanding that goes beyond stereotypes.

For more on stereotypes, read Challenges in Diversity Management: How Do Stereotypes Affect Us?

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