Our Sick Love Affair with Ethnic Slurs

The Golden Rule says that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated. That being said, it’s also true that we should treat ourselves the way we want others to treat us. A few years ago, I was hanging out with some friends at another’s house. We had just eaten our fill of excellent curried duck and paratha roti courtesy our host. A few of us were enjoying the cool night breeze on the front porch. One of my friends turned to another who was rubbing his belly and said, “Ni**eritis, brother. You have ni**eritis!” A fight almost broke out despite the fact both men were of African descent. My friend never used that word to describe himself and was highly offended by the other’s poor attempt at humour. Some backpedalling and apologising took place but it had gotten very ugly, very quickly. Nobody likes to be insulted and at its core that’s what an ethnic slur is, even in jest.

50th Annual Grammy Awards - Arrivals

Nas and Kelis at the 2008 Grammys

The words: c**lie, ni**er, k*ke, h*nky etc. are what they are. They were designed to humiliate and denigrate people; to rip away their humanity and self-worth. Our masters cursed us with these words because they sought to dehumanize us, making it easier to treat us like animals and playthings. Such language was born from evil minds and should be treated as such. We should make every effort not to use them so that they will fade from our lexicon forever. However, their continued frequent use indicates our familiarity and comfort with these terms. Others take that as permission to use them in our presence or address us in that manner. How can we lose our cool and curse people out when they call us bad names considering we use them to describe ourselves on public domains like Facebook and Twitter?

Nelson Mandela (South African)

Nelson Mandela (South African)

We’ve all read or heard about people ‘claiming ownership’ of their ethnic slurs but it seems illogical to take pride in and define ourselves by such words. If someone sarcastically says, “You should be in charge because you’re smart” your response could be, “Thank you, I am smart!” The tone in which “smart” was used, has changed from pejorative to complimentary thus your attacker immediately lost the upper-hand. That is truly taking ownership of an insult because the word “smart” has an inherently positive meaning. However, all the tonal finessing in the world cannot make a negative word into a positive one.

Mahatma Ghandi (Indian)

Mahatma Ghandi (Indian)

Some prisoners are beyond rehabilitation. Similarly there’s no way of retooling, rebooting, reinventing or reimagining words that embody centuries of misery, oppression and hate. What a joke we’ve become. Now we eagerly define ourselves according to archaic, poisonous expressions? We certainly can’t accuse someone of defaming our character when we’ve made a show of doing it ourselves. We’re supposed to be progressive and modern but still cling to the way things were before August 1, 1833.

March for Civil Rights and Equality led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

March for Civil Rights and Equality led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.