Language, Insults, Slurs

In online communication, whether it’s on a forum or in a video game, it isn’t uncommon to see some strong insults (racist, sexist, etc.) being thrown about, and the ubiquity of such language has created a lot of debate on the subject among fans and others concerned. What I see from those arguing, however, is a tendency to take a rather extreme stance in one direction or the other, which ends up avoiding much of the nuance of such a complicated topic which goes well beyond video games and technology and into the deep recesses of human history. I’m no expert on the matter myself, and I’m bound to have my own oversights, but I wanted to lay out my own thoughts, as well as my own personal philosophy on the matter.

One of the stereotypes of being on the internet is that, in order to successfully participate, one must have or develop a thick skin. Behind the safety of a computer screen and at least a few hundred miles, it’s easy to say what you want, when you want. People will take anything they can to put you down, whether it’s because they want to seem tough, or they want to psych you out, or because they actually feel that way, and race, gender, and sexuality factor into that equation as well. However, while it’s true that listening to what every single random person has to say about you online and taking it to heart is a bad idea and that having an impermeable hide can help deflect the insults away, there’s still the problem of the very fact that words such as “nigger,” “faggot,” and “slut,” are considered viable as insults.

How often do you see someone try to put down another person by calling them white, heterosexual, or masculine? We take these values to be in may ways a societal default on practically a subconscious level. When you call someone a nigger online to try and get under their skin, even if you don’t really mean it seriously, even if they’re not actually black, you’re implying that being black is in itself a terrible thing. It’s one thing to trash talk to get a mental edge, and it’s another to even unknowingly reinforce the idea that some people are perpetually inferior on some inaccessible level simply because of the color of their skin or whom they find attractive.

That said, I am very much against censoring or removing slurs from the English language.

While I do not believe that words are necessarily innocent in and of themselves, as they may have elaborate backgrounds rooted in hatred and intolerance, I am a firm believer in freedom of expression, whether that’s artistic or verbal or any other form, and that includes the nastier side of how we speak. If the writer of a story wants to convey hatred through strong language, then that option should be available to them, just as the option to deride them for doing so is available to everyone who chooses to read (or not read) their work. If people feel the desire to express themselves using that language, then I do not think it’s right to deny them their own feeling. To simply say that we need to erase these words is like layering bricks over a massive sinkhole.

The problem with “faggot” isn’t that it originally meant “twig” or whatever and that we polluted its meaning, but rather that we allowed ourselves to believe that homosexuality is a quality worth insulting in the first place. This is also why I think people using words like nigger and faggot in a positive fashion, or at least trying to do so, is not necessarily reinforcing the negativity associated with these words, but that is a topic I will leave for another time.

One thing I am well aware of is the way such language can be so commonplace that those who are exposed to it frequently while growing up can wind up having it as a part of their subconscious mind and not realize the potential strength of these words. Using them becomes habit, as simple as saying “good morning.” I’ll admit it myself: when I was younger, I would use the word “gay” to mean “awful,” as in “You got a 50 on a test? That’s so gay!” If you had stopped me and asked whether or not I actually thought homosexual were inherently worse as human beings or that I actually hated them, I would’ve said of course not, but still, “gay” was in my vocabulary as an adjective to describe mundane areas of life. Eventually, I stopped using the word in that fashion altogether, but it didn’t come from me declaring that “from this day forward, I will no longer use the word ‘gay’ in a way which implies negativity!” It simply happened gradually and almost unconsciously, and if I had to attribute it to anything, it would be to meeting and becoming friends with people who are gay, the act of which likely educated me into thinking of them not as some distant idea or label, but as fellow human beings. Just as easy as it was to start using the word “gay” in that particular meaning, it became just as easy to stop after the fact.

In contrast, when I was even younger, I made the active decision to stop cursing, and while I’ve gotten somewhat more lax since, I still try to avoid such words as much as possible. I never mind if others use them and use them often, but I have knowingly limited my own regular vocabulary because I think it serves me better, and I will still use them when I’m quoting another person who’s used a word like “fuck,” or if I’m discussing it as a topic and feel that ideas get too obfuscated through the use of euphemisms.

The fact that I’ve consciously removed some insults from my language and unconsciously removed others can seem rather contradictory I realize, because it might seem as if I’m saying that people should consciously remove certain words from their vocabulary while also claiming that it happens naturally and we should just let nature take its course. The difference here, however, is that I am not claiming a solution wherein everyone eliminates offensive language from their vocabulary or society deems it fit to consider the use of those words a crime in and of themselves. Nor am I claiming that people should use only the words that I use. Rather, I think the key to addressing the use of slurs, whether the user did not consider the weight of those words, is simply education, and not on a didactic level.

If we can show people about how words can and do have power, or encourage people to realize that those they see as “others” are not some nebulous concept but as a group of individual human beings, then we can give them the power to shape their own language usage from an informed position, instead of an ignorant one. This way, when someone unconsciously uses a word that encourages intolerance, they can be shown the potential problems of doing so without forcing upon them a false paradigm of “right and wrong,” or trying to instill shame into them. Thus, if they stop using a word, it isn’t because the word never existed or that it has some vaguely defined negativity, but because they felt that, on some level, whether conscious or unconscious, that it isn’t how they would like to express themselves. Vocabulary is avoided but it isn’t removed.

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10 thoughts on “Language, Insults, Slurs

  1. “How often do you see someone try to put down another person by calling them white, heterosexual, or masculine?”

    Those are the default insults on tumblr!

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  2. There are sometimes flippant remarks made towards whites on twitter that I find very hurtful. Like whites are privileged or hold down other races, which isn’t true nowadays at all with such things as Affirmative Action, having special scholarships for minorities, welcoming lots of different races into white countries, offering free welfare to poor minorities, donating to other non-White countries like Africa and Brazil, etc. Also there is especially a type of superiority that some American whites feel over Southerners who may don’t have their exact same values. Overall I’d say words that insult whites are words like cracker, hick, etc. Sometimes words like “fundie” also.

    Male heterosexual moe fans are frequently made fun of. Being called manchildren, basement dwellers, etc. It seems any anime journalist that gets paid actual money for their content have a negative view of heterosexual moe fans but have gone on the record of saying they support homosexual marriage (and have homosexual friends). So there is this kind of weird morality they have where heterosexual moe fans are sexist and misogynistic (or at least of supporting such content), so their is a disapproval of moe fans for adhering to traditional sex roles, while the same person who disapproves of moe fans for that embraces homosexual relationships (either actually or by way of approval for their friends and others to do so).

    So certainly whites and heterosexuals are also put down.

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    • Like you, I’m against people being written off as basement dwellers or manchildren, of being boxed in those categories just because they like a certain thing. I even wrote a post in response to something like that, which you can find at https://ogiuemaniax.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/a-response-to-geordie-tait-from-an-otaku/

      That said, there is a key difference in the examples you gave and the what I was talking about that makes it another beast entirely.

      Your comment is that white heterosexual men get called things like fundie or hick or that they’re given this negative view of being a moe fan, but consider that in all of those cases, aside from perhaps cracker, it is necessary to add those additional terms. The insult is about them being backwards, or being ignorant, or being developmentally stunted, but those things have to be added to being white, like socioeconomic status, in order to have it be an insult. “Whiteness” itself isn’t the insult, and has to be made inferior by additional descriptors.

      Of course, things might be different in other languages and cultures (I know Chinese is one), but that’s another topic for another day.

      Anyway, I recommend you watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpvBVWNeehA

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      • I don’t think there is a direct negative term like nigger = black, faggot = homosexual, ?????? = white. Why? Well, probably because White isn’t a race in and of itself. It’s a combination of races. So if we break Whites down into further categories we will start seeing insults. Jew = kike, the Irish used to be insulted in the 19th century America, Italian = wop (20th century American insult). Also I believe whitey, white-boy, white trash or it’s U.K. equivalent “chav”.

        Another thing to add is that, as the video you linked to points out, whites have been the dominant race throughout history. They have been the driving force in many advances throughout the last few thousand years. Whites as a whole haven’t shown much historical weakness, so the only way to try to insult them is calling them racist, or say that they’ve got something coming for them in the future (for their supposed sins of the past, never mind the historical and current violence of other races).

        So basically, being called white can’t really be an insult in an English speaking, white dominated society with a successful white history. It’s like insulting a jock because he’s strong, fast, always wins and dates the prom queen. So you can try to find a way to undermine his moral character like calling him bigoted, racist or sexist. And those three things are the main attacks used to insult whites nowadays.

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    • There’s nothing weird or immoral about supporting marriage between consenting *adults* (including homosexual consenting adult couples and heterosexual consenting adult couples) and looking down on adults who lust after *children* (including men who lust after girls, women who lust after boys, men who lust after boys, and women who lust after girls, no matter how many Japanese words they use to talk about it when the rest of their sentences are in English).

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  3. Pingback: The Virtue of a Good “Fuck You”: Anime Fandom Needs Assholes, But Whiners Isn’t One of Them « Those Damn Cartoons!

  4. Pingback: lulz of interest « Requires Only That You Hate

  5. Um, here are some inventions by blacks. Maybe you’ll recognize a few of them?
    air conditioning unit: Frederick M. Jones; July 12, 1949
    almanac: Benjamin Banneker; Approx 1791
    auto cut-off switch: Granville T. Woods; January 1,1839
    auto fishing devise: G. Cook; May 30, 1899
    automatic gear shift: Richard Spikes; February 28, 1932
    baby buggy: W.H. Richardson; June 18, 1899
    bicycle frame: L.R. Johnson; Octber 10, 1899
    biscuit cutter: A.P. Ashbourne; November 30, 1875
    blood plasma bag: Charles Drew; Approx. 1945
    cellular phone: Henry T. Sampson; July 6, 1971
    chamber commode: T. Elkins; January 3, 1897
    clothes dryer: G. T. Sampson; June 6, 1862
    curtain rod: S. R. Scratton; November 30, 1889
    curtain rod support: William S. Grant; August 4, 1896
    door knob: O. Dorsey; December 10, 1878
    door stop: O. Dorsey; December 10, 1878
    dust pan: Lawrence P. Ray; August 3, 1897
    egg beater: Willie Johnson; February 5, 1884
    electric lampbulb: Lewis Latimer; March 21, 1882
    elevator: Alexander Miles; October 11, 1867
    eye protector: P. Johnson; November 2, 1880
    fire escape ladder: J. W. Winters; May 7, 1878
    fire extinguisher: T. Marshall; October 26, 1872
    folding bed: L. C. Bailey; July 18, 1899
    folding chair: Brody & Surgwar; June 11, 1889
    fountain pen: W. B. Purvis; January 7, 1890
    furniture caster: O. A. Fisher; 1878
    gas mask: Garrett Morgan; October 13, 1914
    golf tee: T. Grant; December 12, 1899
    guitar: Robert F. Flemming, Jr. March 3, 1886
    hair brush: Lydia O. Newman; November 15,18–
    hand stamp: Walter B. Purvis; February 27, 1883
    horse shoe: J. Ricks; March 30, 1885
    ice cream scooper: A. L. Cralle; February 2, 1897
    improv. sugar making: Norbet Rillieux; December 10, 1846
    insect-destroyer gun: A. C. Richard; February 28, 1899
    ironing board: Sarah Boone; December 30, 1887
    key chain: F. J. Loudin; January 9, 1894
    lantern: Michael C. Harvey; August 19, 1884
    lawn mower: L. A. Burr; May 19, 1889
    lawn sprinkler: J. W. Smith; May 4, 1897
    lemon squeezer: J. Thomas White; December 8, 1893
    lock: W. A. Martin; July 23, 18–
    lubricating cup: Ellijah McCoy; November 15, 1895
    lunch pail: James Robinson; 1887
    mail box: Paul L. Downing; October 27, 1891
    mop: Thomas W. Stewart; June 11, 1893
    motor: Frederick M. Jones; June 27, 1939
    peanut butter: George Washington Carver; 1896
    pencil sharpener: J. L. Love; November 23, 1897
    record player arm: Joseph Hunger Dickenson January 8, 1819
    refrigerator: J. Standard; June 14, 1891
    riding saddles: W. D. Davis; October 6, 1895
    rolling pin: John W. Reed; 1864
    shampoo headrest: C. O. Bailiff; October 11, 1898
    spark plug: Edmond Berger; February 2, 1839
    stethoscope: Imhotep; Ancient Egypt
    stove: T. A. Carrington; July 25, 1876
    straightening comb: Madam C. J. Walker; Approx 1905
    street sweeper: Charles B. Brooks; March 17, 1890
    phone transmitter: Granville T. Woods; December 2, 1884
    thermostat control: Frederick M. Jones; February 23, 1960
    traffic light: Garrett Morgan; November 20, 1923
    tricycle: M. A. Cherry; May 6, 1886
    typewriter: Burridge & Marshman; April 7, 1885

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