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.

My Response to A Current Affair

Around the 14th of July, I lodged a complaint with A Current Affair about a story they did about a New Zealander convicted of crimes who was not able to be deported from Australia. The story featured [in my view as a journalist and as a someone who has studied media representation] bigoted language and a barely veiled call for a return to the “White Australia” policy.

Here is the story in question.

Today, I received a response from Grant Williams, ACA’s executive producer.

Some highlights and my responses:

My original complaint: I made mention of the fact that the report specifically described Joseph Williams’s [the subject of the story] ethnicity.

Williams: “We do not believe a single mention of the word “Maori” was offensive. The term was used when we were talking about being a father-not a convicted criminal. The story did not make an issue of it, only mentioned it in passing, and focused on his criminal past rather than his ethnicity.”

My response:  The entire story was supposedly about Wiliams’s criminality, therefore the mentioning of his ethnicity is in that context ultimately. Was it necessary to describe him as a “Maori”father rather as just a father? The choice to do so is, in my view, inflammatory.

My original complaint: An English couple was interviewed as an example of people being “wrongfully deported” while Williams was not being deported.

Williams: “No else who contacted A Current Affair filled this description [of being deported due to the changes in visa] and at no stage during our conversation with visa agencies about our search for immigrants with visa problems, were race and ethnic background mentioned.”

My response: I truly find it hard to believe that no one–especially from Standards & Practices–ever thought that it might appear heavily biased that you are juxtaposing an immigration story of a non-white criminal with one of white English immigrants being deported. It truly reads not as a “fair go,” but in harking back to the White Australia policy days.

Personally, I find that ACA failed miserably, and Williams though apologetic that I was offended, failed to comprehend the reasons why I was offended.