I do not tolerate negative language meant to denigrate a person because of their race, gender, orientation, or ability. So when I see someone using this sort of language flippantly or carelessly, I usually tend to avoid that person. If they’re a friend though, I’ll try to convince them not to use that language before I cut them off.

Last night I was forced to do just that. Someone I’m acquainted with at school was responding to people lamenting about Facebook buying some app or another. He thought it was hypocritical that they were complaining about it on Facebook and said they should reevaluate their lives (though he didn’t phrase it in such nice terms). Where I got upset was when he used the word “retard”. I’ve mentioned before that I have an autism spectrum disorder and I’d been called “retard” or “retarded” more than once by bullies because I didn’t understand certain social boundaries or conventions when I was younger. Not to mention that mental retardation (or intellectual disabilities, which seems to be the preferred term among medical professionals these days) is an actual medical condition, so using it as an insult hurts the people with actual mental retardation worse than it hurts the people having the insult hurled at them.

I asked my friend if he would not use that word because it has the potential to hurt people. He responded that he was using the word without negative connotations and that people should realize that (as if we’re mind-readers!). He also said he uses racial and other denigrating terms, including the N-word, and said he uses them without the negative connotations and that it’s my problem if I was insulted by it.

At that moment another friend of his, whom I’m acquainted with as well, joined the thread and started using the very same terms we’d just been discussing. At that point I decided to leave the conversation, unfriend the both of them, and go to bed (though not before coming up with an idea for a short story based on this experience). And it’s still on my mind, as this blog post makes evident.

The thing is, even if they think they’re not using the words with their negative connotations, it’s not so easy to disassociate a word or symbol from its negative meanings. Otherwise the swastika would still mean good luck and auspiciousness rather than Nazi Germany and the Holocaust as it does for many Westerners. And these sort of microaggressions can have terrible effects on the people being denigrated. If you’ve never heard the term “microaggression” before, there’s a great blog post on microaggressions that explains them in depth. If you don’t have the time to read it though, a microaggression is basically the everyday little forms of discrimination that minorities experience throughout their lives. An example is the continued use of saying “that’s so gay” as a way of saying something’s stupid. It is not only bringing down whatever is being called gay, but it is saying that there is something wrong with being gay in the first place. And while the basic definition of microaggressions means they are small, especially when compared to gay-bashings or other forms of assault and more obvious forms of discrimination, over time they can build up and cause stress, depression, or suicidal thoughts in the person being denigrated.

Personally I only ever use these sort of terms in stories in order to portray a character the way I want him or her to come across to an audience. Even then I hesitate to do it and seriously consider whether I should really use such negative terms and if there is another way to get across the full impression of the character. That’s why within all of Reborn City, a novel about gangs divided mostly on racial lines and with a white supremacist gang, you’ll only see one instance where I use the N-word and other racial terms (though I do have several characters call Zahara a “terrorist” in order to illustrate how ignorant and prejudiced the world of RC is against Muslims).

So when I see people using these sort of terms so flippantly, uncaring about the negative consequences of these words, I get pretty upset. These terms are attacks on people because they’re minorities, and because my former friends are white or deeply tanned and don’t receive discrimination for their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or level of ability, they don’t necessarily realize the damage they’re doing by using these terms. And by calling the rest of us oversensitive for being upset that they’re using these words, they’re proving that they’re insensitive to the problems of others, not that we’re oversensitive.

So I finish this post urging people to really think about the terms they use. You’re not being cool or rebellious by using terms that bring down minorities. What you’re doing is hurting people and causing people to think you’re ignorant or bigoted. If you’re going to use them, use them in a way that won’t hurt anyone, such as using the N-word in Huckleberry Finn is used to illustrate the beliefs of that age towards African-Americans. Or these words can be used to fight discrimination: there is a growing body of literature, music and other media that uses these words to show how hurtful they are and possibly change the way people think. Slowly but surely, some people are changing the way that they think.

That is all for now. I hope my former friends learn that using these words has negative consequences. Especially the guy who actually happens to own an up-and-coming business. How many businesses have failed because of something the owner has done? I hope that doesn’t happen to him someday.

  1. One of your best posts ever nephew.

  2. Wow, these friends sounds like real hypocrites, not to mention dumb as dirt. How do you NOT use a hateful term in a negative connotation, especially when you are clearly doing it to insult someone? And saying its someone else fault for taking offense is reprehensibly stupid! Ugh… but since this is all about taking the high ground, I’ll just say that you’re better off without these people. They sound like dead weight.

  3. Abba says:

    Yay. I did something right in raising my son. Very proud of you.

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