Posted by: Ophelia | April 5, 2008

It doesn’t hurt unless I meant it to

This post on livejournal got me riled up. Today I’ve seen the defense of the word coon and retarded both and it’s just so goddamned frustrating. Ignorance is not an excuse, when someone says that a word is offensive or a slur why is it so damned hard to trust them? I think I’m perfectly familiar with the slurs for blacks and I can interpret code just fine thanks–trust me. What’s most disturbing is how people will cling to their right to be offensive, and that well it just doesn’t hurt if the person meant well.

A person can have mental retardation, they cannot be retarded. This is just a slackening of language rules which happens with all words eventually. Too bad society has attributed nothing but negative values to this particular word and it has been conflated with the word stupidity. “Gay” got the same treatment, it’s used in causal speech to denote something stupid because apparently homosexuality is stupid. Perhaps if these words weren’t associated with negative qualities, they wouldn’t be slurs. Too bad they are. We don’t need to use words like retarded or gay to indicate stupidity. We have a word for that. It’s called stupidity. So I don’t exactly believe that the use of these words in this manner have spread because of a lack of descriptive words. They’ve just become part of the vernacular, and I wish that they would go away. I wish people would recognize the power of words, and realize that casual use of words that perpetuate prejudicial thoughts about particular groups can only be harmful. How can we reach equality when casual language displays palpable bias (“You play like a girl” anyone?). Furthermore, why do people persist in finding excuses to use harmful prejudiced language. As if they’d be completely unable to express themselves without being able to say retarded.

You can pick out these people a mile away and it never fails. The people who have never known what it’s like to have hate speech directed at them never see the problem. Sure, they have a friend or cousin who’s abnormal, but they don’t mind those words and are somehow better than the other weirdos who mind. Oh no call the PC police. I mean seriously, is it so bad to live in a world where we respect others and leave our bullshit presumptions at home? I guess it must be. Boo hoo I can’t make someone feel bad about themselves, woe is me and damn you PC Police.

But after all, someone who has never experienced the coded language of prejudice has every right to tell me how to feel about it and to excuse the actions of the perpetrator. After all, unless they mean it to hurt–it doesn’t hurt. Right? Casual indifference to one’s use of slurs is in no way an indication of prejudice, right? I mean, people who are prejudiced burn crosses and beat up people–clearly it isn’t possible to participate in a biased system without physically harming others. Nope, no room for the power of linguistics.

While they defend their use of these words, we all know there’s no reason for it all. Even they know it. But the internet edgy thing is to proclaim that everyone needs to develop a thicker skin, especially those who everyone else shits on. These privileged fuckers are going to tell you how you should feel about your oppression while they continue to oppress you–how’s that for efficiency? Clearly, I should be saluting them.

It takes a special breed to revel in removing the humanity of others, boiling them down into little labeled boxes, then making fun of the labels. Hee hee, ha ha a good time is had by all, and by all, I mean those who are doing the laughing.

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Responses

  1. Great post. I wish some of my readers would visit your blog and read this, but I feel as if they are too busy arguing me to leave the Female Impersonator blog. ha…
    Anyway, this really is an important note to make because it is so obvious that how words come to be used in a vernacular helps describe the values of the society they are used in. I try very hard to not use the words “gay” or “retarded” or really, anything offensive when I talk and when I write because I think it’s wrong to associate those words with what they have come to mean: Stupid. Because I know a lot of gay people who are wonderfully intelligent, and I do not know enough about mental retardation to say something like that.

    I think that in order to get these words unassociated with stupidity, or what have you, it has to start with individuals who believe that it is wrong. But perhaps people need to be made aware of it first, since the use of those words is so common.

  2. People need to start owning their words, and not in the “I’m internet edgy and I’m going to say this because I’m behind a computer screen” way, but in the manner of knowing more than the dictionary definition, but its social definiton. I’m sick of the belief that what the dictionary says goes and words have no prevailing social context. No one wants to be responsible for perpetuating inequality through language so they just claim that the words don’t mean what they do, that as long as you mean well that it’s different, and more. Words have meanings, if they didn’t we wouldn’t use them to communicate various intangible concepts. It just wigs me out to see it so often. They want to cling to the very words they claim don’t have any importance. Pah.

  3. I agree, great post! I especially like the attention you pay to the important distinction between the intentions of words and their effects. People who use such words often defend themselves by saying they meant no harm, failing to see, or care to see, the harm that their words do.


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