We are all slurs

An advisory: This particular post contains use of racial epithets and homophobic language. My hope is that this will engender some discussion, and perhaps any discomfort will be, in the long run, brief.

Words have a power all their own

Words have a power all their own (Photo credit: Lynne Hand)

I had an interesting exchange in a cab here in Melbourne some time ago. The driver told me that he was glad that I was a Black American, as opposed to a Somali immigrant, because in his mind and/or experience Somalis are “violent thugs.”

Cowardly, I did not call him on that. In fact, I didn’t think about that incident until today when I told someone that journalists and others should call out a performer for calling someone a “faggot.”

My response was that it’s a point of respect: how can you be a fan of someone who will gladly take your money but not respect who you are intrinsically?

I feel the same way about the use of the word “faggot” as I do about “nigger.”

They are slurs. Period.

I do not understand the purpose in reclaiming them. Is it a lack of creativity? Or is it a sense of saying “I’m not like those people, so please don’t be prejudiced against me?”

Living here in Australia, often times I come across social media where two Australians will refer to each other as “nigga,” under the belief that it’s a term of endearment.

The funny thing about social media is that it’s public.

On a completely emotional level, I would like to go to every house in this nation and tell them the history of this word. This word was used to dehumanise, demean, and sell people. This word was the last thing some people heard before they were lashed by whips or hung by a tree.

And some might say, well that was years ago, it has no impact on the present.

ABSOLUTELY NOT!

This word and its history exist as long as we continue to have racial discord in this world, and I mean racial discord between any races.

The second that you fail to see how a slur against someone else affects you, you become the next likely target.

This is also a matter of self-respect. If you don’t love yourself, then how can you expect others to love you, or even respect you?

By using these terms or even accepting these terms in the public sphere, you are allowing them to breathe.

Most likely, the reason why these words exist is because of lyrics: People want to emulate celebrities that they respect. If they feel that they get a better sense of who they are and what they want to be, then that is totally fine. The real problem comes from wanting to emulate without thinking.

Here’s a three letter word that isn’t used as much as it used to be: Why?

Why are these celebrities the way they are? What struggles have they gone through? What have they seen that perhaps you have and perhaps you haven’t?

Love the music. Love the film. Love the show, but don’t think that for one second playing verbal dressup will bring you closer to understanding your role models.

Listening will. Listening to what they have to say and why they said it will. Reading will. And here’s the tough bit: You can’t skip the listening, no matter how much you want to.

Otherwise, you’re just front.

I’m not trying to clamp down on expression, far from it. I’m just wondering at what point does personal responsiblity for that expression kick in?

Saying that you heard XYZ celeb say something and therefore by extension you can say it too, is a cop out. It places you on the level of a parrot. And the parrot has an excuse, you as a human being don’t, because you have a brain that is capable of complex thought and get a load of this: ¬†Capable of compassion towards others both animal and human.

Compassion and listening will break down more walls than downloads and blog posts.

The N Word and The F Word

It seems that we are marching towards a new age of tolerance and acceptance. It’s an age where if someone uses the word “fag” as a pejorative then they lose job opportunities (like Brett Ratner losing the chance to produce the Oscars for saying “Rehearsal is for fags.”)

I think it’s a great thing that he lost the job. Now, the question is: who gets to say “fag?” My opinion: No one. There is, in my view, no reclamation by gays being able to say it, just a change in who is doing the repressing.

For the past year, I have run a management consultancy which deals exclusively with workplace discrimination. I would maintain that an uncomfortable work environment is created by the use of the word “fag[got]” no matter the orientation of the speaker. The English language is a living language and one that has history. You do not erase years of discrimination in one fell swoop because who is saying it.

I still bristle at the use of the word “Nigg[-er/-a] in popular culture. It is still used as derogatory language and the more often people cite blacks using it amongst themselves as a reason to use it, the longer it will take for us to be seen as moving forward from our past.

I wonder that by allowing ourselves to still use the language of bigots, are we saying that we aren’t smart enough to find our own ways to describe ourselves? Or are we still in many ways eager to join the majority by dividing and conquering our own brethren?

I’m not a nigger. I’m not a faggot. I’m a person that deserves respect.