Mar 152009

Why the FUCK can’t I just let things slide and not get involved?

My most recent response to this thread on why can’t certain words (nigger) be used in conversations around racism. Why? ‘Cause focusing on the word is NOT focusing on the CONCEPT under discussion! Excuse me while I silently judge. While I’m doing so , feel free to read on what I posted…

If there is an HONEST discussion about the use of a word, yes, by all means use it. Like the doctor who referred to my “down there” (HELL-O! It’s a vagina and you are a professional and we are talking about my HEALTH!) use of words to promote clarity is an important thing to do. I agree.

In a perfect world we would all have the talent, skill and displayed ability to manage such a discussion. The reality is that a lot of folks don’t, don’t realize it, and wade in anyway, and emotional upsets occur.

Something I find interesting is how a conversation about the word nigger (or other words with loaded meanings to particular people in particular places at particular times) inevitably winds up with participants feeling like they are being called racists. Or with participants leveling the loaded term racist (which, I would argue is as much a hot button for Non-PoCs as the word nigger is for Black people).

And then it becomes a teaching session with a lot of 101 (often) theory being tossed about. No one cares about the handful of (Poc) friends/lovers, employers, co-workers, neighbours, family members, patronized businesses, countries, experiences, dreams, fantasies, etc you have had. The experience of a few does NOT translate to the whole and immersion with the “other” does not make you “of” or grant license. These things are important and can be additive, but only if they are used as reference points rather than positions.

Rarely is there analysis. Rarely do people hold themselves accountable or or listen when someone else is trying to hold them accountable for what they bring to the conversation. I get it that emotions have a high likelihood of running hot and derailing the conversation. To that I say… if you can’t keep it together, step away until your rational faculties return, and then rejoin when you can be CIVIL.

So… to the OP, yeah. The word can be used in discussion. But be clear about WHY it is being used and aware of the effect of those around. And if yer called on it, and find yerself taking that call personally, check in with yerself about WHY the topic came up in the first place and what yer trying to accomplish. ‘Cause being in vested in a word because you think it’s yer RIGHT to do so probably sacrifices the (presumably) worthwhile conversation in favour of a hit of adrenaline racing DRAMA.

And that ain’t CIVIL.


If I (as a Black woman) have a social contract with a specific person/s that allow them to call me nigger… that does NOT entitle anyone else.

Hear that? NO. ONE. ELSE.

What that means is that someone who overhears or participates in my conversation with that person/s does not have overflow rights. And, that person does not have the right to call the woman on the bus or the man in the postal line nigger.

It’s non-consensual. Remember that word? It’s not safe. And it’s not sane. You may be risk aware, but you probably don’t have consent.

It means that you can’t really go around saying “well I have this friend X, who lets me call call them nigger, so you should be OK with it too.”

There are people who get off or are OK with being called slut or shit-eater, but the percentage of people who can get away with calling them that are few. And, if one approaches people who might fit the monkier and uses the word in a casual, probing, exploitative, voyeuristic, goading, diminutive, etc way… my guess is that a reputation will be earned by that person in VERY short order. Why? That person ain’t being civil and is in fact telling those around them some very key information about themselves.

Now. If you want to talk about niggers in Africa, I’m gonna have a problem with that. Why? Cause I don’t know what you REALLY want to talk about, and are choosing to use a word that I have difficulty with. So I’m going to say: Why are you using that word? I’m wondering: Are we talking about the continent, or the people and cultures of that continent? Or are you just being sloppy in your word usage? And I am silently (or not so silently) judging you on your response. Sorry. Fact.

And if I say to that straight guy: I would rather you didn’t call me dyke, my suggestion is that he ask what I prefer and carry on. You can ask me why I don’t like it, but if I don’t respond positively to the demand to educate you on the spot, don’t be surprised. Don’t be offended. MOVE ON to the smart part of the conversation. Go home and do some work. Read a book, watch a documentary, google the internet, talk to a friend… whatever. Do your work and don’t ask me to do it for you.

See how none of these examples are ABOUT the word? They are about USING the word. There is a distinction. And it may be subtle to some, but it’s key and it’s important to understand. So I encourage effort at doing so.

There are lots of ways to have conversations ABOUT RACISM without alienating others or being uncivil. LOTS. And if one is invested in using a particular word/s to talk about the CONCEPT, then the real loss is the potential for understanding and exchange.

Remember, where one begins does NOT have to define where one winds up, and there is a lot to be gained by being willing to listen, learn and to shift tactics/tools/language along the way.

  One Response to “FetLife’s Racism Rant II”

  1. Wow… really great, intelligent post.

    I have certain extended family members that call me by a family nickname. No one else may do so. I’ve had other people overhear that and try and call me by my nickname and I’ve jerked them up in a NY second. In their shock and surprise they say, but so-and-so calls you that. I give them the same answer you state above.

    It’s just inappropriate. Short and sweet. At the very least they are taking liberties with what you’ve allow another to use.

    “No, I’m not calling you racist, I’m calling you inappropriate”. I wonder if they would be any less surprised or offended that you called them on “inappropriate”. 🙂

    I agree that non-POC have just as strong a reaction to the word racist, and that was an interesting observation.

    Hell, I could say more, but it’s just an overall excellent post. See you at IMsL!

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>