Dear White People,
I’d like to talk with you about some shit today.
Now, don’t back out the door. No need to switch tabs back to Salon, or Free Republic, or White People Monthly or whatever, this isn’t going to be one of those conversations.
I’m not gonna beat you over the head with your own whiteness, like some shitty ultra-libby liberals might try, or that you think people of color might do (they won’t… see below). I’m not going to employ guilt, as some folks throughout the political spectrum might (seriously, I was raised Catholic, I just don’t respect playing around with guilt after that). And I’m not gonna call you a racist, because I don’t know that you are.
But I am gonna talk about some words that need to go away. And I’m gonna do it in the most straightforward way possible without hitting the record books for fastest blog banned by the Internet.
Today we’re gonna talk about the N-words. Both of them. And from here on out, I’m going to refer to them as Six-Letter Word, and Five-Letter Word.
This distinction matters. If you’re still with me, I appreciate it. Because words mean things, and in the English language of 2017 we’re uniquely capable of dealing with ALL THE THINGS. See, there are more than 1,000,000 (one million) words in the English language. We’ve stolen words from other languages just because they fuckin’ worked perfectly. See: Kindergarten. A child’s introduction into school. Brilliant. Way to go, Germans!
Back to the topic. First things first, as they say. You’re not allowed to say either word. Stop whimpering and snuffeling about. You have history, the present and the future. You don’t get to bitch about two words.
About just two words out of 1,000,000.
The distinction will become clear by the end of this description. My hope is that through the use of certain words, the responsibilities with those words – and the two in particular – will be made clear. And there are responsibilities.
Six Letter Word was used to dehumanize an entire segment of humanity.
It only works if we jump right into it.
Six Letter Word was a bastardization of the Spanish word for black, made specifically harsher through quick, slangy pronunciations. It found greater utility through its previously-unknown usefulness to white society. As it turned out, even shitty Southern High Society types felt some measure of guilt over treating human beings like cattle.
So, did they stop treating people like cattle, or did they instead try and change how they thought about these people? Guess what…
Six Letter Word became the word, the only word and the worst, to ever actively seek to dehumanize people.
Other slurs may try and point out stereotypical behavior, or diminish an aspect of ethnic, cultural, or religious identity. But Six Letter Word took it a step further. Six Letter Word was applied to make black folks seem less than human. Naturally, because these individuals were now less than human – mongrels, even – they could feel better about enslaving them. Hell, it almost became appropriate for Southerners (and yes, some Northerners for a time) to keep them in chains.
The difference between that, and Five Letter Word, is the difference between night and day. Where Six Letter Word sought to diminish, dehumanize and enslave, Five Letter Word seeks to establish equal footing.
Calling someone “My [Six Letter Word]” versus calling them “My [Five Letter Word]” therefore has distinct and completely separate meanings. To the former: property. To the latter: equality.
Five Letter Word is, to this radical, a clear and true representation of what I’ve come to view Black Culture as being: A celebration of life even in the face of systemic oppression. Or, to paraphrase Michelle O.: “When they go down, we go up.”
Five Letter Word is used in the employ of someone who is actively recognizing a peer, a colleague, an equal, or even a rival on equitable footing. Six Letter Word is strictly used to tear down. Five Letter Word is used to build up.
Since white folks used a few hundred years utilizing Six Letter Word to tear down, that’s why you don’t get to try to now use Five Letter Word to build up. It’s just not your fucking place.
Now I know, you’re butthurt about that. “But why do they get to say it!?!”
Because, motherfucker, it’s bringing a slang term out of a horrific origin story to be better than the sum (and history) of its parts.
And because maybe, after hundreds of years of slavery, it’s not too much to ask to ditch that word – or any desire to employ it – right out of your lexicon. After all, you’ve got 1,000,000 other words you could be using. Yes, yes, you didn’t own any slaves. But, you also didn’t do anything to stop it, and you wouldn’t have either. Know how I know that? Because you’re fucking crying about not being able to say one. goddamn. word.
You’re not as smart as you think you are. But you’re not necessarily racist, either.
See, that’s another distinction that needs to be made. The topic of race as it relates to modern society doesn’t get brought up a lot because people (read: White People) immediately get defensive about anything they perceive themselves to be on the hostile racial side of.
It’s not about you being racist. It’s about you acting ignorant. Here’s the best part: Ignorant doesn’t mean dumb, or stupid. It’s not used as a pejorative (Except by jerks and stupid idiots, but I repeat myself).
Ignorance is the passive lack of knowledge. Because the Universe is literally expanding faster than we can comprehend and new knowledge is being created every day, every single human being is more ignorant than they are knowledgeable. For instance, I’m ignorant of why mosquitoes exist. I’m ignorant of speaking most other languages (WOOT AMERICAN PRIVILEGE! ). And I’m ignorant of performing brain surgery. Doesn’t make me necessarily dumb, just defines a lack of knowledge.
And since most white folks haven’t had to live under the systemic oppression targeted toward people of color since the founding (Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the fight for Civil Rights, the resurgence of Nazis, Neo-Confederates and the KKK), then it would naturally go to follow that you wouldn’t know how to address it. In that ignorance, fear can be born. Fear of the other, which was masterfully capitalized on by modern day Republicans since the Southern Strategy was enacted.
It’s the reason why racist attitudes exist today. Why there’s “good” and “bad” individual welfare. “I’ve paid into this program, I’m entitled to it” versus “They’re welfare queens abusing the system.”
Here’s a fun example, where Trump supporters were okay with housing assistance… when it was given to white folks.
That’s the takeaway from a new study by researchers Matthew Luttig, Christopher Federico, and Howard Lavine, set to be published in Research & Politics. In a randomized survey experiment, the trio of researchers exposed respondents to images of either a white or black man. They found that when exposed to the image of a black man, white Trump supporters were less likely to back a federal mortgage aid program. Favorability toward Trump was a key measure for how strong this effect was.
I’ll give you a minute or two to promptly ignore the facts in an effort to substitute the reality we inhabit with your own interpretation of it.
Because at the end of the day, you’ll only really get it if you put away your ego, your feelings, and begin to act like you care about equality, and decency, and human rights.
Until then, the rest of us will just shake our damn heads as we wonder how in God’s name a person in 2017 could vocally oppose an American using their freedom of expression to take a knee during a sporting event, yet remain silent in the face of those openly displaying symbols of hate, genocide and oppression.