WARNING: RATED R (LANGUAGE)
Words can hurt. They can inflame, they can wound, they can lead to violence. Often we use words intended to do all of those things. It makes us feel that we have power over those we speak or write the words against. A legal definition of hate speech, according to online US Legal, is a communication that carries no meaning other than the expression of hatred for some group, especially in circumstances in which the communication is likely to provoke violence. It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women.
At the risk of being offensive myself, let’s look at some of the offensive words used by middle class white men to describe the Other:
Women: chick, broad, babe, c-nt, pussy, piece of ass, c-ckteaser, ditz, squaw, bossy, hormonal, bird, bitch, witch, drama queen, hysterical, ball buster, doll, diva, high maintenance, amazon, arm candy, hooker, bimbo, girlie, MILF, skank, whore…the list goes on.
African Americans: N—–r, coon, spade, darkie, mammy, boy, jungle bunny, black bastard, ape, blood, boogie, buck, poontang, monkey, jigaboo, sambo, mud people, pickaninny, nappy, spear chucker, tarbaby, wool head, jig, you people…and this is only a partial list.
Hispanics: spic, wetback, illegal, beaner, border jumper, marine tiger, chili-shitter, chico, nacho, tacohead, greaser, brownie, you people…and more.
Asians: chink, dink, slope, gook, rice-eater, celestial, Chinaman, jap, nip, yellowman, buddhahead, dog-eater, coolie, wog, you people…and yet more.
LGBTQ: fag, faggot, queer, dyke, butt-f—ker, c—ksucker, muffdiver, pansy, sissy, butch, rug-muncher, lezzie, ass bandit, bum boy, fairy, fruit, fudge packer, limp wrist, nancy, poofter, queen, tranny, etc. etc.
Native Americans: injuns, redskins, bushn—-r, featherhead, chief, redman, savage, squaw, Tonto, brave, Indian-giver, BFI, blanket-ass, cowboy-killer, maize muncher, tee-pee creeper, scalper, Pocahontas…and so on.
Poor Whites: trailer trash, white trash, retard, pig-dog-cow-f—ker, hick, hillbilly, redneck, shit-kicker, night-rider, cracker, bumpkin, peckerwood….the lists get shorter now.
Rich People: crony capitalist, plutocrat, snob, Mister Charlie…not much to work with here.
Middle Class White Men: honkie, whitey, gringo, massa…this is the short list. There’s a reason for that.
These words, and those in the same vein, are not like getting mad at someone and calling them an “ignoranus,” a stupid a–hole. An ignoranus can be of any race, gender or nationality. They target what the person did, or said, not what they and their ancestors are as human beings. These offensive words assert the power and superiority of those who say or write them over the person or persons being demeaned. They are power words meant to tell the Other that they are inferior, unworthy, less than, beneath us. They are hate speech, not free speech, because they have a cost, they take a toll.
Now it is true that among those races, genders and nationalities many of those same words are being used regularly among themselves. Part of that is to de-stigmatize the words, taking the sting out so they don’t hurt so much. And part is that the dominant culture, which seems to be represented in large part by white middle class males, has told them that they are inferior for so long that some have come to believe it. But their using those words does not make it okay for others to join in.
My father’s parents came from Italy, my mother’s from Finland. The Italian side of the family was close by when I was a kid, they were warm and loving, and the food was far superior to the Finnish boiled fish and potatoes I had heard about. So I identified as of Italian descent as a teenager, and among others of Italian descent we freely called each other dago, wop and guinea. But if some non-Italian, some outsider, used those words, it was a street fight on the spot.
So why is it this way? I think that white middle class men have been bamboozled into believing that they are the dominant culture in America, superior to all those Others. I think that this has been a deliberate move going back to the Industrial Revolution by the real power structure to keep people apart. By teaching us that some are better than others pay inequity on the job is justified, and supported. The Queen Mine in Bisbee had 35 nationalities with differing rates of pay. Women today are still paid less than men for identical work.
Keeping people apart served, and continues to serve, the crony capitalist class’s profit interests. Unions were harder to organize. If one group protested another would be elevated to take their place. Irish immigrants, for instance, went from being “n—-rs turned inside out” facing “No Irish Need Apply” signs at factory gates to becoming the dominant law enforcement group in many cities.
Giving white middle class males the illusion of power blinds them to their own real powerlessness in so many things that matter. The Poor People’s Campaign launched by Martin Luther King just before his assassination was in large part to show different groups that they had more in common than they have in real differences. It’s the same with white middle class males and those they denigrate. Instead of competing for jobs with those told they are worth less and will be paid less, wouldn’t it be better to have a level playing field where jobs and pay depended on a person’s work and not the color of their skin or the language that they spoke?
It’s not about stoking some sense of “white guilt” for the possible crimes of our ancestors. We’re not them. It’s about confronting those attitudes, and the words that express them, that tell the Others that we are somehow superior, that they are less than fully human, less than us – attitudes that have been instilled and perpetuated to the degree that we do not even see them as harmful.
In some states Green Tea Coalitions have formed joining Tea Party activists, the African American community, and environmentalists to counter the political strength of large power companies. That is a model that should be looked at. Let us look for and find that which we have in common. The old watchword of a now-beat-down labor movement had real meaning: In Unity There is Strength.
We can start with a simple New Year’s Resolution. While we are not responsible for the thought that comes into our heads, we are responsible for what we do with it. Let us, going forward into 2018, resolve to banish hate speech, those words so offensive to women, people of color, gays, immigrants, etc. from our lips and writings. We can still insult each other in ADI’s comments section if we must, but let us do it based on honest differences of opinion among equals. Let’s try arguing with facts instead of venom.
NOTE: Comments from the Chemo Couch will now appear in the Arizona Daily Independent monthly on second Sundays. Thank you, ADI.