Crossposted On Musings From Hedon

So apparently, to the surprise of absolutely no one who's been paying attention for the last 20 years, Doctor Laura Schlessinger is a flaming racist.

She has of course, issued a half-assed non-apology since then for saying “Nigger nigger nigger” on her radio show, claiming she meant no racism but was only trying to illustrate the double standard of the word. The sad part is that, while her way of going about was indeed blatantly racist and boneheaded, she has a valid point.

There IS a very sad double-standard on Hate Words, one that only succeeds in perpetuating them.

So I'm going to take a look at some of the most “popular” hate words, and why the obvious problems of common usage are actually outweighed by the less obvious but more devastating problems caused by sanctioned use.

Nigger is, of course, the vile word most often used as a hate word by the white supremist crowd. It's derived from the word Negro and any white person stupid enough to say it, even in jest, around black folks ought not be surprised when he's shitting shoe polish the next day. Faggot, which was originally a word that meant the lighting end of a straw torch once it was lit, and eventually became, (and in the UK still is) British slang for a cigarette, is the most common and vulger slur against homosexual men. Tranny, which Aunty Kate Bornstein assures me began as a positive term used in Australia's trans community 40 years ago, has become the de facto porno term most people think of when dealing with a trans woman, and I can personally confirm most trans woman are offended when non-trans folk say it.

There are of course other hate words for every race. But these are the three I hear most often, so thanks to Doctor Laura's tirade, I'm going to examine the real destructive potential of each. Nigger is obviously the worst of the three. The malice behind the word nigger is the same malice behind Segregation, The Jim Crow Laws, Seperate But Equal, and Martin Luther King's assassination. Google any of those things and you'll see a plethora of horror stories about the brutal cowardly abuse black people in America have suffered at the hands of cowardly ignorant white folks.

But if you Google the word “Nigger” itself, you'll as likely get as many websites for song lyrics as White Supremist websites. Why? Because damn near every black rapper on earth uses it in their rap.

The obstensble reasoning behind this is, supposedly, “Reclaiming the word”. The concept behing reclaiming a hate word is that the group the word is meant to hurt, uses the word freely to disarm it, to nueter it's ability to hurt. And I suppose it's a well-meaning ideal.

Or would be if it came even CLOSE to working. But we all know it doesn't.

If it did, no black people would ever be offended when a non-black person says it. They'd shrug it off as if they'd said “Ice cream” or “Sunshine”. But they don't. The word, in the hands of any non-black person, still offends and hurts black people. And what makes it worse is the fact that a huge chunk of the hip-hop audience are middle to upper-class WHITE KIDS, too young to remember the civil rights struggles, who hear Nigga this and nigga that in their favorite music and think the word is cool.

How do I know this? By listening to the white teenagers I see every day at the bus loop greeting each other by saying “Wassap mah nigga?” with absolutely NO trace of irony or awareness.

The same goes for Faggot and Tranny. I know a lot of queer men who loudly call themselves proud faggots, but who get justifiably upset when they hear it from Fred Phelps and his inbred horde. And I've had more than one argument with Kate Bornstein over the use of the word Tranny in her work.

The common logic is that if you are PART of the group a particular work targets, it is perfectly okay for YOU to use it while anyone else is forbidden.

This is where Doctor Laura and I differ on the double standard. Where Doctor Laura's argument was that EVERYONE should be free to say nigger and not get any grief, I believe NO ONE should be perpetuating any of these words.

I myself am intersexed/trans AND part Japanese, so I have, technically, the right to say Tranny, hermy, and Jap all I like. But I don't for one moment believe I SHOULD.

Black people, gay people and Trans people self-applying these words make the words seem okay to those NOT in the affected group. And reclaiming these words is a bullshit excuse for self-applying them because reclaiming never works. When the word is used OUTSIDE the target group it will ALWAYS have a high likelihood of causing harm and offense.

And Doctor Laura proves the double standard. As long as rappers say Nigga every 5 words, idiots like Doctor Laura will be there to say “Well THEY say it so why can't I?” and be completely oblivious to the obvious answer.

17 years ago in high school, I lived in a small town called Vernon here in BC. There was LITERALLY only ONE black family in town, in a population of about 50'000. The elder child of the family was my friend, and because he thought I was one of the cool people being from big cities and not wrapped in small-town mentality, insisted it was okay for me to greet him and refer to him as “My nigga”. I had his permission to be racist for lack of a better term. He actually got angry with me for refusing to do so. He took OFFENSE that I wouldn't call him Nigga.

It actually ended up ruining our friendship, but I refused to perpetuate the word even with his approval, because I knew other kids would hear it and think “Well if she can say it then I can too” and things would've gotten ugly.

In the last few years I've asked black folks I've become friends with online about that incident. I asked if he was right to be angry at my refusal or if I was right to voice my discomfort and decline his “permission”. Some said “It's just a word, if it bothered him he wouldn't have asked you to”, but most have pretty much universally agreed that I was in the right to refuse, both because the word is bad itself, and because they think it was unfair of him to put me on the spot and not respecting my discomfort.

So while Doctor Laura did in fact have a point about the double-standard, she got it completely backwards.

NO ONE should flagrantly or flippantly use hatewords, LEAST OF ALL those they're directed at. It's destructive to make them seem okay when it's impossible to use them without causing harm. I didn't even like having to use them in this blog to illustrate my point, and this blog is the only time you're likely to see me ever use them, because they are destructive words. Some words simply CANNOT be disarmed or reclaimed. And self-perpetuation only aggrivates the problem. I would implore everyone to erase these words from the English language if it were possible.

Hate words will always BE hate words. No matter who is using them.

ShamanOfHedon

ShamanOfHedon

1 Comment

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