Negotiating A Slur

'My name is 
not NIGGER' photo (c) 2009, Quinn Dombrowski - license:

If you are marginalized person, there is a slur that is specifically designed to humiliate you and challenge your humanity directly.  When I hear a slur that is not directly targeted at me, it is easy for me empathize, because in that moment I know first hand the searing pain the second the slur is uttered. Nigger, faggot, spic, cunt, kike, slant eye, wet back, carpet muncher, wop, chink, sand nigger, rag head, retard, etc., (note: cracker and honkey were excluded because they are not slurs)  all exist to construct someone as ‘other,’ and there can be no doubt that their usage is anything but benign.

Everyone reacts to slurs differently.  I tend to see an instant vision of red, as my body becomes filled with rage.  My ability to think rationally is completely shut off, as I attempt to find a way to defend myself and attack back. My BFF, who is a Black male, completely shuts down and becomes instantly cold and withdrawn. Make no mistake about it, there is never a context when saying a slur is acceptable.  I know some feel that they can get away with saying a slur ironically, but trust me when I say that this is not the case.  It only makes the speaker seem that much more ignorant and hateful.

Time and time again, I have heard the argument that context of a slur matters, and the only time when this is true, is if it applies to someone who is a part of the marginalization that the slur is aimed at.  You cannot use a slur as an attempt to fight bigotry, as Louis C.K. does in the following video.

warning the video and transcript are filled with gay slurs


Hello. Alright, hey faggot how you doin? Sorry, I called him a [email protected] Ummm, I miss that word you know. I grew up saying that it word and it never meant gay.  When I was a kid, I didn’t know what gay was. You know I hadn’t been told that people do that, I had no fucking idea.  [email protected] didn’t mean gay, when I was kid, you called somebody a [email protected] because they were being a [email protected] You know?  Someone’s just being a faggot. (He scrunches his face and makes and odd sound) Shut up [email protected] “You’re not supposed to use those for that.” Shut up [email protected] I would never call a gay guy a [email protected], unless he’s being a [email protected], but not because he’s gay.  Like if I saw two guys blowing each other – I don’t know why I’m watching them do it, but if I just happen to stumble across a bunch of fellas blowing one another on their respective penisia; it’s a plural for penis that I invented today, penisia, I would be respectful to them. I would you know, hello gentleman – yeah whatever.  But if one of them took the dick out of his mouth and started acting all [email protected], saying annoying [email protected] things, “You know people from phoenix are phoenisians,” or something [email protected] like that, I’d be like hey, shut up [email protected] [email protected]! Quit being a [email protected] and suck that dick, that’s what I’d to them.   [email protected]

This btw is the same man who decided to use a gay slur to defend same sex marriage.  It’s clear that he thinks of himself as progressive, because he has said repeatedly that he does not understand homophobia, but he still cannot comprehend that saying a slur repeatedly is wrong.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be gay and sit in the audience as he did that bit. I know that there are people who would defend his continual use of gay slurs, simply because he says repeatedly that he has no problem with gay people.

Slurs hurt because they amount to verbal violence.  As a WOC, I know this first hand, because I have had the word nigger aimed at me repeatedly over the years.  In my writing, I don’t use the N word, I use the word nigger.  Each time I write it, it is because I want it to shock you and startle you, in the hopes that you can feel even 1/10 of the way that I feel when this word is causally used by White person regardless of context.  This is my way of negotiating this slur.  I am not one to attempt to reclaim the word nigger because to me, there is no word that is more vile in the English language. However, I do not judge those that choose to attempt reclamation, because when a slur is aimed at you, you have to find a way to survive the assault and still retain some sense of who you are and your value.

If Louis C.K. had been a gay man, I would have found his bit problematic, but as a straight man, it reads as just everyday homophobia masked as progressiveness.  Only the marginalized group that is attached to a specific slur has the right to utter the word.  It is up to the group to decide whether this word should remain in usage through the process of reclaiming, or simply disappear from the popular vernacular altogether.   When we think of context, this is the only context that should be worth any kind of value. It is not a freedom of speech issue, it is a matter of basic human decency. 

Louis C.K. said that he missed being able to say the gay slur and I have to wonder how this is the case, when he used it so liberally in that bit?  It reminds me of the White people who complain about not being able to say the word nigger without being attacked.  The truth of the matter is that it does not cost a dominant body a damn thing to remove a slur from their language, it is the marginalized who pay the cost for its continued usage.  No matter how many times we say that it is not appropriate to utter a slur, privileged people can and will find a way to negotiate it, and twist the issue until they can justify it to themselves. You cannot be ironic or use a slur in solidarity, and if this is your version of activism, please stop attempting to help marginalized people, because you are causing more harm than good.

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