By Eliana Barbosa
CONTENT WARNING: Discussion of racism, ableism, and offensive language
There are a multitude of derogatory words that have been used by people to oppress and harm others throughout history. These words have been passed down and are still heavily prevalent in today’s society.
Throughout my life, I have frequently heard many derogatory words casually thrown around by the people around me and in the media. For a bit of time, I used to think some of those words were alright to say. I thought to myself that they were simply ‘just words’. However, after continually seeing the hurt it has caused to the people around me and doing my research, it became more apparent that these were not just words, but words with a harmful history behind them. From seeing such words being used in a negative connotation, I recognized how the continual aggression towards targeted groups is caused by many factors, one being derogatory words. Through this blog post, I wish to convey the message of why these words should not be included in your vocabulary, and the importance of educating yourself and keeping an open mind when it comes to your language.
What Are Derogatory Words?
Derogatory words (aka slurs) are words with a negative connotation used to put down marginalized groups, and fall under many categories such as ethnic slurs, religious slurs, homophobic slurs, biphobic slurs, transphobic slurs and ablelist slurs. These words are used to disparage people both on an individual level or a group as a whole.
Words matter. Derogatory words do not only hurt others, but hold the possibility of creating violence and persecution. These words produce discrimination and hatred and should not be in our everyday vocabulary.
What If I’m Not Saying It To Intentionally Hurt Others?
Image by Eliana Barbosa
While the words spoken may not have malicious intent behind them, it is important to recognize the historical context of these words, and why they are harmful to say. For example, the n-word has been used in America during the days of slavery to dehumanize Black folks. The fact that this word was used in such a way to Black folks is indescribably wrong. Knowing this, the n-word should never be used, even if casually spoken. That being said, the notion that these words should not be said at all does not apply to the affected groups themselves. For example, the reclamation of the n-word in the Black community is a means to take back what was used against them. Similarly, the f-slur is used in the LGBTQ+ community and those affected by it have taken back the word to reclaim the power it had over them. The fact of the matter is, it is never okay to use a slur to describe an affected group that you do not belong to.
Some Words Are Not So Obvious
Many are desensitized to some words and do not acknowledge the effects that saying them bring, or do not even realize that they do. Derogatory words have been normalized in our everyday life, which is why it is important to research and understand why they should not be said. For example, the r-word has been used by many people, and can even be commonly heard in the media. However, the usage of this word as an insult to others is extremely detrimental and harmful to disabled folks. By calling someone by this word, you are demeaning the lives of the people with intellectual disabilities, which is not okay since their lives are no less than those who are not part of that group. I have people close to me who are on the spectrum, and knowing that word is casually used to describe anything negative is hurtful. It is wrong to harm someone with your language.
Denormalization of Derogatory Words
To contribute to a socially just world, it is a great step to eliminate the use of derogatory words. Hate speech is not something to be taken lightly, as words truly affect the well-being of people’s lives. Due to the fact that these words are ingrained within our society, many people often neglect the harmful effects they have on particular groups. Consequently, when a derogatory word is said and there is no confrontation, we are allowing targeted groups to continue being affected, which only allows hatred to grow.
As such, by being conscious of our words and understanding the negative impacts they may bring to others, we can stop hurting the people in affected groups. The next time you hear someone say a word they should not speak of, whether it be a friend, family member or classmate, tell them they should not say that word and the reasons why. I understand how it can be difficult confronting those close to you. However, as we continue to do our research and understand why these words should not be said, the easier it can be to relay this message to others. As language continues to evolve, it is important to always keep an open mind, and listen to what others have to say. Through actively being mindful of our words and the effects they have, we can help build a more positive and safe community.
Compton, C. (2011, December 14). The power behind derogatory terms. > U.S. Air Force > Display. https://www.af.mil/News/Commentaries/Display/Article/141374/the-power-behind-derogatory-terms/.
Mauro, T. (2021, May 16). Why the R-Word Needs to Be Removed From Our Vocabulary. Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/what-is-the-r-word-3105651.
Weele, C. V. (2019, December 9). Reclaiming slurs is a form of resisting oppression. The Daily Aztec. https://thedailyaztec.com/91951/opinion/reclaiming-slurs-is-a-form-of-resisting-oppression/.
Wheeler, A. (2020, March 9). Why I’m reclaiming the homophobic slur I used to fear | André Wheeler. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/09/lgbt-gay-men-slur-homophobia.
Wilson, C. (2020, October 4). N-word: The troubled history of the racial slur. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-53749800.