This isn’t a “Paula Deen” post. I havent’ seen her television show, I didn’t hear what she had to say (using the “n-word” and saying she wants to have black people dress up as slaves or whatever) and I’m not going to watch her “apology” video because I honestly don’t give a shit. This isn’t a “race” post either where I pontificate about racial relations in this county. I’m sure some one has done it better than me and, with a quick Google search, you can find them.
This post is about words and how there are some words we shouldn’t use.
The idea that some words shouldn’t be used, even though they exist, is an amazing contradiction that we don’t spend enough time talking about. If we aren’t supposed to use a word, why does the word exist? And, if the word that we aren’t supposed to use describes an item in the universe perfectly, shouldn’t I use it? This is the fundamental problem when it comes to using racist, homophobic or insulting language.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use language I try to avoid. I don’t mean to offend anyone.
I used to use the word “retard” all the time. All the time. It fit how I viewed some people or actions. For example, if there was a new rule at my job and it required a certain amount of time that I feel could be used better, I would say, “That’s retarded.” It didn’t occur to me that it was an offensive word until I was in college and a guy in class used it and the professor destroyed him because of it. When you say, “retard,” you are referring to a group of people born with a handicap. These people couldn’t help it, and you are suggesting that they are bad and deficit. It’s the same issue when you use “faggot.” If you have sex with men, you are a something negative, horrible, something that should be destroyed. It’s derogatory the same way the word, “nigger” is. By calling a gay man a “faggot,” you are applying a negative stereotype on top of them. It is the same as calling a car a piece of shit. It’s demotes the car, singles that the car is faulty in someway and that the car should be gotten rid of.
By catching yourself, and learning not to say some words, you are actually changing how you think about people. When you stop saying, “retard,” what you’re really doing is re-constructing your definition of a group of people, refitting a definition in your brain.
A good example of this is how the word, “female” is used in popular culture now. Men are referred to as guys, dudes, boys. Women are “females.” This degrades the woman from a person, a human being, into an animal that needs to be controlled, objectified, etc. It’s technically correct, but it is also a highly clever use of a word to change, very slightly and subtly, a woman from a person with feelings and emotions into a base creature only good as a sexual play-toy.
The major problem, though, is that watching what you say isn’t a universal exercise. When you listen to the new Kanye West album and he says, “nigger” all the time, and you’ve educated yourself not to say it, what you’re revealing is that, in some form, you are lying to yourself. You thought, simply by not saying a word, that the word no longer existed. But, then you hear other people say it and then you realize that, not only the word still exists, but the attitude and stereotypes connected to that word still linger.
That’s the problem with black men (and women) calling each other “nigger” but then attacking white people when they use it. You can’t say to one group of people that they can’t use a word because of what it represents and then continue to use the same word and believe the representations are different. You’re lying to yourself.
Don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying that white people should say, “nigger” all over the place. As a black person, I feel that it is amazing disrespectful to history and to me when I hear a white person say, “nigger.” But, I feel sad and depressed when I hear a black person say it. I feel two different feelings for two different situations. On the one had, white people enslaved blacks and used words, changed our names, beat us and erased our history in order to subjugate us. “Nigger” has that weight for white people. When I hear a black person say it, it’s as if they’ve taken the very weapons that were once used on them. That bad word that used to condemn us is now ours, so let’s continue to condemn each other.
How is it wrong for a white person to disrespect us but it’s ok for us to disrespect us? How does that make sense?
So, then, you get white kids that listen to rap, saying, “nigger” all the time and we look around and wonder where we went wrong.
Mental discipline is important and difficult. Training yourself is hard. What you say and how you say it dictates your understanding and interaction with the universe. It’s hard to understand that words are extremely powerful, that you are creating the universe when you say them, and, by not using certain words, you are personally creating your universe in a way that’s more positive. And, maybe, you can be an example for other’s to follow.