Saturday, March 17, 2012

No, you shouldn't say that even if you are one of those.

I find myself cringing more often while at the park.  I knew this day was inevitable.  I knew a long long time ago that one day the language coming out of young people's mouths was going to make me groan uncomfortably, roll my eyes, and take a big sigh.  This will happen to all of us, as it happened to my mother, my mother's mother, and my mother's mother's mother.  The only memory I have of my maternal maternal great grandmother while she was alive was going to see her and being told that I was, under no circumstances to say, "Golly" "Ge" "Gosh" "Holy Cow" or "Darn" or any other similar words or sounds because those were just short for swears.  That is when I knew.  I knew this would happen.  Even now the unmentionables of my mother's generation, "Damn it", "Jesus Christ", "Oh my God", "I got screwed over" and various other things I wasn't supposed to say, have been normalized to the point of being pretty tame.  I'm not going to mention the unmentionables of my generation because they are - well - unmentionable.

Oddly, derogatory words referring to groups of people tend to normalize backward and seldom are entirely reclaimed.  Many of the terms that were once preferred (at least by the dominant class) are now considered extremely rude at best and a palpable facet of oppression at worst.  I'm not qualified to go into the linguistics of these terms, but it's pretty clear that using such words is rude and if you've been living under a rock long enough to not understand which words are incredibly insulting, you should only have to be told once.  It is simple as that.

Also, it doesn't matter how much YOU don't understand why a word or phrase used to describe someone is rude or how many other people (even if they are part of that group) are not offended - it is not your place to label and identify someone else.  They have the right to self-identify.  This isn't that difficult a concept.  You don't need to study various sects, various-isms, social psychology, history, political science or comparative religion to get that - and if you DO study all those things, whatever you do don't say, "Actually since you are from blah-de-blah-de-blah region or blah blah and since the who-its settled in blah-de-blah-de-blah in the long long ago in the before time of lala, and I noticed that you put your what's-it to the left instead of the right when doing your thingy....well, TECHNICALLY you're actually a duck."  Just look confused and say, "There is another group called the ducks, have you ever heard of them?" but only if you really have to.

So, simple - right?

For example:

If you refer to someone as a "Laplander" and her eyes get all wide, she tenses up and she says, "I am Sami"...just don't call that person a Laplander again. 

This isn't rocket-science.

The scheme of self-identification gets a bit tricky though with terms that are offensive to, well, almost everyone in the universe but are being used or reclaimed by those they refer to.  This is a great example that isn't remotely work-safe:

Now, I shared that video with all my friends.  I think it is an absolutely awesome video.  What I didn't do was play it for my children, however peppy and danceable the tune was.  Why?  Because my children are very young and are just learning to speak.  They have no concept of social context and appropriateness of word use.  To teach them incendiary charged words with painful levels of meaning and a sordid history of shame, abuse and oppression and allow them to use it without the capacity to remotely understand this, isn't fair to them.

So this is a request.  If you want to call yourself an n-word, an f-word, a c-word, an r-word, a b-word or anything else you wouldn't want a random person calling you, could you refrain from doing so loudly and repeatedly in a park full of small children?  That would be spiffy.

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