|image by Marcel Hol via sxc.hu|
One thing writing has taught me is words have power, but only to the extent people allow them to affect them. As someone who has a speech impairment I’m careful with how I choose my words. As such I tend to only comment on things if I find them important. But as an adamant supporter of free speech and thought I cringe when people go into to histrionics over innocuous comments.
I understand taking offense at something someone said, but I can’t stand the semantic games that are played where by it becomes not about what was said but what was felt to have been said. Facts no longer matter because all emotions are valid. And telling someone they’re overreacting ,or seeing an issue where none is, gets you labeled a victim blamer.
The world is full of miscreants and bullies, but the solution isn’t to crawl into the fetus position every time someone says something you find offensive. Nor is it to go crusading against every slight.
The appropriate response is to evaluate each instance and respond accordingly. Don’t let the mob dictate how offended you should feel, or shame you for not finding the latest social injustice the worst thing ever.
The meme that if you don’t find something offensive you’re a heartless bastard and condone it is wrong. You can abhor what is said yet agree the person has the right to say it. Moreover, not everything that is deemed offensive is. Many times it boils down to interpretation. a Even in clear cut cases what is said doesn’t rise to the same level and should be ignored or mocked for its stupidity.
In the current flack over comments Paula Deen made over past use of racial slurs what is lost is the things she’s alleged to have done. The discrimination lawsuit filed by Lisa T. Jackson, a former restaurant manager at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House in Savannah (owned by Deen and her brother) clams she and others were the targets of racist and sexist remarks. And that the black employees were barred from coming to the front of the restaurant(aulaborlawforum). This is what should be the topic of discussion. Not what Deen said years ago.
Nigger is an ugly word with a legacy of pain and hate attached to it. For that reason it shouldn’t be locked away or replaced with the puerile n word. No let the word and all it represents be proclaimed so we never forget the past. To do otherwise strengthens what it stands for and disrespects those who suffered to make the what is today.
If we want to have a discussion about race in America instead of another discussion about how to have one, then that means becoming immune to the use of racial slurs. Because human beings are emotional and irrational creatures they will say hurtful things in the heat of discussions. So instead of letting the conversation be derailed, acknowledge the use of stereotypes/slurs, educate the person on why they are wrong and move on.
Words hurt but only to the extent you allow them to. My mother is white and my father is black. Growing up I heard Oreo, zebra, high yellow, mulatto and the occasional “he got that good hair.” This didn’t bother me until I was old enough to understand what they meant.
I did well in school, was into science, devoured books, and was an English geek with a habit of correcting my siblings and peers‘ grammar. For this I was called out for acting and talking white. As I slipped into my teen years my tastes turned from R&B to Marilyn Mason and Metallica. For this my younger brother started calling me white boy.
Yeah those comments hurt until I grew a thicker skin and stopped letting those them hold power over me. As a lover of words I spent countless hours reading the dictionary camped out in the bathroom and else where. My reverence for words is only matched by my abhorrence to censorship in all its forms.
As a writer my job is to evoke your emotions and thoughts. All of them. Sometimes you have to be shocked into paying attention. I don’t go out of my way to offend people unless there is a good reason. This why I chose to spell out nigger. When people begin dictating what words I can use, without respect to their context or historical usage, now that’s offensive.