Can I be blunt for a minute? One of the biggest things about me that people just don’t get is my absolute disgust of slurs, racial or any other kind. I flat out don’t use them and cringe when others do. If you know me personally, than you’ve probably already heard a handful of remarks on this topic. Some may think I’m being a bit of a fanatic, but slurs are on my list of commandments that I won’t break. Why do I hate slurs so much? I hope you’re ready for a lecture!
A slur is any type of remark that degrades another individual. Often we’re talking about racial or ethnic slurs because they are the most commonly used and a surprising and unfortunate part of our daily vocabulary. Most folks don’t even realize when they are using them because they have become such a normal part of the fabric of American society.
Let me share a story with you that demonstrates this point a bit:
I was walking around with my husband, book hunting at a local yard sale this past summer and inquiring about the price of some books. The woman in charge looks at me and casually answers, “Oh, my friend is selling those, but you can try to ‘Jew’ her down on the price,” she smiles politely and continues with the conversation. Really? I thought…doesn’t she see me standing her with my Latino hubby and daughter? She can’t tell I’m race conscious? My heart was beating pretty fast, but I just stood there in shock, not knowing how to reply. This woman had absolutely no idea that what she said was completely offensive! When someone comes at you with an all-out attack you feel justified to shove it back in their face, but how do you handle a person that thinks they’re being polite? When we got home and I told my husband what she said, he was adamant that I should have told her off…and I agree. But I was like a deer in headlights at that moment. I was nervous about which way to go with this. On one hand, I wanted to give her a piece of my mind…on the other I didn’t want promote hate by attacking a little old White lady with my tall Mexican hubby as back-up. What would she think about “foreign” races then? Obviously, I should have said something though…been polite and told her that I don’t appreciate her statement toward Jewish Americans or that it was offensive…that would have made her at least think about what she was saying.
But, beyond my own failing and regrettable hesitation in addressing this woman, I just have to ask…where is our empathy America? Don’t we think about anything before we just blurt it out in public, or do we not even care that people can become victims of our words? Without meaning to, this woman was perpetuating a negative stereotype about Jewish Americans. Every time these ideas are externalized, it allows a little chime to take hold in our heads that claims, “Jews are stingy people who try to rip you off. Good luck getting your money’s worth.” I just can’t wrap my head around this. Why are we still repeating these destructive words in 2011? Not just from White folks, but from each other too. We call each other “N” word (can’t even type that one) or “Whey” or the dreaded “B” (frijoleros) or “WB” (mojados). Even in Spanish it makes me cringe. I hate hearing them and I hate knowing that each time they’re used, a visual stereotype is passed from one individual to another…allowing us to continue on with this degrading cycle of systematic put-downs that many of us mysteriously don’t even realize we subscribe to.
As a mother, I am further upset by this practice because my daughter is “brown”. You can say, “Yeah, but she’s White too…that counts”. But really, when people look at her…most of them will only see “Mexican”. Right now people have been somewhat overthrown by her slightly lighter complexion and accompanying White parent that help to demonstrate her claim to American heritage. But how about when she’s 20? What about her walking around without any Whites by her side to demonstrate that she’s really an American and not just “an illegal from across the border”? We’re all so quick to categorize each other, and what category will she fall into? How will they stereotype her when they hear her speak in Spanish?
Thinking about how we treat Latinos without a legal claim to their lives in this nation is another topic that offends me deeply. The term “illegal” has become one of the most accepted slurs these days. It seems anyone with brown skin must be scrutinized as a potential “illegal”. Being carded in Arizona for for “looking like an illegal” no problem! Americans say “no biggie”, it’s just part of getting things done in the name of “protecting our nation”. 9/11 anyone? Excuse me, but singling out an entire race of people, using their skin color or language as an identifier for determining whether they are “illegal” is a big problem…a very big “biggie”! Please, let’s not trivialize this issue!
Now, I know some may think this is a bit off topic…”Hey, what’s this got to do with slurs?” right??? Well, I hate slurs and this one makes me mad! I hate it when people tell my 5th generation husband to go back to Mexico (duh…that’s insightful *rolling eyes*) and I HATE it when people treat Latinos like the dirt off their shoes just because they don’t have “documentation”! Terms like “illegal” and “alien” work in the same way as slurs. They draw pictures in our minds that tell us who that person is “supposed” to be before we even know them! We stereotype people based on our misguided beliefs that are based on sensationalism and prejudice. Illegal? It might as well be synonymous with thief, criminal, terrorist according to our definition of the word! Supporters paint a picture as if there is an infestation of individuals who are plotting to destroy America and drain our economy. They’ve got this one completely backward!
Slurs need to stop. There’s no reason why they should be part of our vocabulary. They only serve to sustain the very stereotypes that keep us living in ignorance and degrading people who are just as human as you and me. Even worse, they create opportunities for us to enact Jim Crow laws that treat others as if they are as inhuman as our words accuse them of being. Whether these actions are purposeful or not…whether they are realized or not…they play into a game that discriminates against and demoralizes ethnic groups, women (“dumb blonde” jokes), the poor (“welfare” complaints) and other minorities and disempowered groups. I have no tolerance for any of it. Now, I bet there are some thinking “Jim Crow? Immigration? It’s hardly the same!” Remember the “White Only” signs? Well, now they’re “English Only“. I’m really not joking…what’s the difference? They both equal one group treating another as if they are less than human and undeserving of equal rights. ”Legal” or not, everyone should still be afforded basic human rights!
When you know your history, it really is eye opening to realize just how damaging these simple words and mental pictures can be. For a good example, check out Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia and learn more at the Jim Crow Museum blog. I had the opportunity to attend and I can tell you, Dr. Pilgrim’s collection makes an amazing statement about the hate and ignorance that overtook this country during the Jim Crow era. He also has some modern pieces that are still being reproduced to mock and dehumanize various racial groups today. And it doesn’t end there. New companies form every year, with the expressed purpose of creating and selling racist memorabilia and catchy slur-filled phrases to meet the demand. If we remove the demand, maybe life could be a bit different for our children. Just saying…
If you’re interested in helping the Jim Crow Museum to expand, they are looking for donors. Pleasedonate to this great cause that educates future generations on the horrors of racism. BICULTURAL MOM APPROVED!
[Image courtesy Wordle]