The problem with racial slurs is that speaking them gives them both presence and existence, while not speaking of them seems to be some kind of negligence. So which one is better? Is there a solution to this conundrum? Or is there a lesser evil?
And what about racist jokes? While self-deprecating humour provides an immunity of some kind, what about people outside of that circle of immunity? While it is safe for you to make a coloured joke as long as you yourself can be identified as the respective colour, are you really just generating humour? Or are you contributing to the flux of ideas about race and separation?
If you’re just making a racist joke or using a racial slur between an intimate group of friends, and for the sole purpose of laughter, are you still being racist? You probably don’t have any intention to be malignantly racist, but do you subject yourself to insensitivity and ignorance through using those racial terms for fun?
But once you decidedly classify those racial terms as racist and avoid using them–aren’t you empowering them as racist terms by recognizing the fact that they are racist–and you are simply avoiding the problem?
So what are we to do, then? We aren’t able to decontextualize ourselves form culture and history, and therefore we cannot simply choose to detach our conversations from the universal definitions that everybody recognize. Words have meaning, and because of this they have power–this is why I am having a headache because I believe we should be responsible for what we say.
But meanings shift and change throughout time. Apparently, “picnic” was a racist term referring to lynching black people, and “gyp” refers to a filthy Eastern European immigrant. And, the phrase used as a celebratory outcry “hip hip hooray” actually had everything to do with hunting down and killing Jewish people.
The racist associations for those words and phrases are obviously obsolete. Nobody would deem you insensitive or racist if you propose to go to a picnic, or if you cry “hip hip hooray” at the end of your son’s soccer game.
Does this mean that we simply have to “go with the times” and just adapt to whatever culture and trends that ensue, or do we simply “wait it out” until words like nigger, chink, white trash die out or transform to something unoffensive? Are we ever going to live in a society where most derogatory terms have everything to do with our differences?
Unless you’re talking about fuck, shit, and variations of fuck and shit–those are quite universal, no? In the kingdom of fucks and shits we are all equal. Funny how that works, huh?
It seems that discussions about derogatory terms and swear words always end up here: like many things, they simply reflect our culture. If anything, those racial slurs are effective because racism exists. What empowers them is the fact that racism exists, and what makes the attempt to address them awkward is because people who want to put an end to racism also exist.
And I think it’s okay to be awkward once in a while. I think we all need to be challenged from time to time in order to expand the boundaries of what we know–so that we can learn and grow together as people. I think the more we face that awkwardness, that means we are getting closer and closer to the problem. Feelings of awkwardness means we are confronting those awkward spaces around us, and that can only mean that we are making the distances between us smaller and smaller.
I suppose there is no absolute solution to this problem (then again, nothing does). So let us continue to be awkward, let us be pushed out of our comfort zones, and never stop questioning the things around us.
(Stares at blog title. Wink.)