Dear B. Scott,
I am an old school love muffin from way back and from getting to know your personality on YouTube and different media, I would consider you as a trusted friend if we knew each other in person. My concern is a little different from most of your Ebony columns, and it is about offensive terms. Whether it comes to racial slang such as the N-word, or pejorative words to describe women, transgendered people, or lesbian and gay people I am a little confused on whether it is acceptable to use these terms. I would never in any circumstance use the words that come to mind in a negative or hateful context, but I also know that some people can take offense to these words. Lately, I have decided never to use the word tr***y because I believe it is offensive to transgendered people, especially transgendered women. However, I have other voices in my life such as Rupaul from Rupaul’s Drag Race that use it and defend the usage of the word tr***y. What is your personal take on reclaiming offensive terms and using them in a different context? Just to be clear, I identify as a White bisexual male so obviously some of these words coming from my mouth would be different than a person who identifies as transgender or a person of color. I’d love to hear your take on this!
Dear Love Muffin,
At the end of the day, words hurt. Words are so deeply rooted in our society that it’s going to take more than an attempt by a few to truly take away their power and make them less hurtful.
It’s difficult to alter the meaning of a word on a large enough scale to truly “reclaim” it. At the end of the day, if a derogatory word is used with enough malicious intent behind it, it still hurts. Just because one person or a small group of people can accept being called a pejorative term doesn’t undo the damage being caused by the term in other situations.
Words like the N-word have such a strong historical context, it’s almost silly for a current generation to attempt to strongly embrace the word…especially if they’ve never been linked to it the same way as previous generations.
It’s impossible for a single group to lay claim over a word that’s directly accessible to every single person. It would take a change in connotation, both historically and definitively, in order for a group to truly reclaim ownership of a word…and that’s nearly impossible. Derogatory words are always going to hurt someone.
We should all try our best to be conscious of our words and the intentions behind them.
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