Ever since the presidential election in 2016, there has been an upsurge in the usage of and controversy surrounding offensive slurs. Although 2017 was a year of activism– in part a reaction against the American political system and the result of the dynamic social climate –disrespectful labels are still used on the daily by many people. We are now well along into the new year, and the habit of mindlessly spitting out slurs needs to stop.
Mental retardation is a developmental disability. However, people tend to use this term as an insult, its meaning synonymous to “moron” or “stupid.” Let me make something very clear: Someone doing something dumb is not equivalent to living a life with a mental disability. The fact that the constant struggle and pain that this community feels is being used as the butt of someone else’s joke is blatantly wrong. John Franklin Stephens, a global representative of the Special Olympics writes, “The hardest thing about having an intellectual disability is the loneliness… You mean no harm, but you have no idea how alone we feel even when we are with you… It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like [the rest of you] and something that none of you would ever want to be.” In no case is using degrading terms such as “retard” as casual insults acceptable; nothing is worth the irreparable pain that is inflicted onto another human being.
Another slur used commonly is the word “faggot,” which literally means “pile of sticks.” It primarily refers to a gay male but may also be used to insult other members of the LGBTQ+ community. People also toss around this term casually, and tend to defend themselves by saying it was a joke if someone takes offense. Maybe it wasn’t used maliciously, but the fact that the word in itself is demeaning and insulting provides absolutely no excuse for its being used “as a joke.” Oftentimes, it’s not even used in a way that makes sense, especially amongst youth. If someone has a differing opinion, it is not uncommon to hear, “You’re so gay,” as a response. What does the word “gay” even mean in that context? There are hundreds of other adjectives that could have been used in its place, yet many insist on debasing homosexuality by converting the word “gay” into a derogatory label synonymous with “weird” or “bad.” Using it in these contexts is both illogical and ignorant. Many gay men can testify that they’ve heard this insult numerous times in conjunction with physical beatings, exclusion, and other forms of oppression. Even though there may be no ill intent when saying it, the word is still heavily insulting. So, simply enough, don’t use it. It’s not funny.
Of all the vulgar slang and tabooed words in the English language, the term “cunt” is generally agreed upon as the most insulting swear. Many people don’t completely understand why it is so offensive, and have been using it more frequently as of recent. It refers to a woman’s genitals and is considered very offensive primarily due to its misogynistic implications. For centuries, women were considered inferior to men and treated as baby-making machines. So to refer to a female as a “cunt” is like regressing back to when women were only considered important for the ability to bear children instead of being respected for simply being human. A popular defense is that people in England use it. However, frequency of use in a certain area doesn’t mean it’s any less misogynistic and certainly doesn’t mean women take less offense because people of a certain region use the term more. Again, it’s very straightforward. If you don’t mean to insult a woman, don’t say it.
Other commonly used slurs that should not be used include: the n-word, “chink,” “kike,” “dyke,” “beaner.” There are numerous other examples of derogatory terms that are thoughtlessly spewed without consideration of what the words actually mean and the wound they inflict onto other people. Free speech is not an excuse to be vulgar and discriminatory. Unless you’re part of a community trying to reclaim usage of a specific term, you really don’t have any business saying it. It’s not cool, and it’s not funny. As we head on further into this new year, let us all be more inclusive instead of exclusive. Let’s all be more mindful of what we say and be more responsible for our words and the effects that they have.