Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Words I prefer people not use

I'd like to preface this list with a few clarifications and disclaimers:
  1. I am not claiming a false moral equivalence. For example, "WASP" is on my list, but I am not saying that it "is just as bad as the N-word." It's not; the N-word is much, much worse.
  2. I realize and acknowledge that the words on this list reflect my own class, gender, race, sexuality, etc., and that for the most part they reflect that I am not, in most senses of the term, "marginalized" whereas other words (e.g., the N-word) are most commonly directed at other marginalized people and function as a way to further marginalize others. In most of the senses of the word, I am not marginalized, and I do not claim to be. I am, in fact, quite privileged.
  3. As a corollary to number 2, I realize that most or all of these words are sometimes used by marginalized people as a defense mechanism or as a way to strike back at an oppressor class--a strategy/tactic that Robin D. G. Kelley refers to as "infrapolitics." I personally have doubts about the utility and advisability of such "infrapolitics," but I also acknowledge the issue is much more complicated than "I don't like these words and people shouldn't use them," even though I don't like these words and would prefer that people not use them.
  4. I am not arguing for censorship (other than self-censorship). I am not even arguing that companies or employers ought to enforce rules against using these words, although I would posit in the abstract that in some employment situations it might be wise for management to encourage a degree of mutual respect, and that might entail forbidding the use of such words (even so, I suspect that simply devising an "index of prohibited words" is not, by itself, a wise management tactic). I am not arguing for political correctness; if anything, I am arguing for politic correctness: we all have to live on this earth with other people, and I am letting others know that certain words or terms they may not have thought of might function as a way to impede civility and understanding than as a way to foster it.
  5. I have in the past, and maybe even now, sometimes used the words on this list unironically. I say this for the sake of disclosure, not to defend my use of the words or even to claim that I don't sometimes use these words.
  6. There are other words that deserve to be on the list, but that I am omitting. Some of them are not necessarily widely accepted as offensive or derogatory (e.g., the word "gay" as a pejorative, a word that I have sometimes used myself in that way, even though I ought to know better). Others are so offensive (like the c-word or the n-word), that I would hope that anyone would have them on their list. I am including only the words that affect me personally.
  7. (I don't like the number 6, so I wanted to end with "7")

Here's the list of words:
  • Breeder: I realize that this word comes as a counterpart to "queer" or the "fag" and as with a lot of words, is descriptively accurate (some people "breed" and some don't). Still, maybe there's a better way to say "straight person" or "person who decides not to have children." Also, this term assumes that all straight people want to "breed," although I have encountered at least one straight person who used it to describe herself.
  • The d-word: my sexual anatomy doesn't define me to any greater or lesser degree than it defines any one else (with all necessary qualifications about our "phallocentric" society, etc., etc., which, even if true, assume a lot that is contestable.)
  • (The faux "southern" accented word: e.g., "guvmint," "Jebus," "librul," "terruh"): these words are used to accuse other people (without actually accusing them, so it's hard even to answer the accusation) of being ignorant or uneducated simply because they are religious or challenge certain prevalent assumptions (most of which I share) about the power of the state or the threat that terrorism might pose. These terms also smear a large portion of the U.S. population by implication, drawing on the stereotype that southerners are uneducated and stupid while also assuming that all southerners speak with one voice on matters of state power, religion, and the "war on terror."
  • Sausage Fest: see "d-word." I encountered this word in grad school, used (mostly but not exclusively) by my lesbian friends [see update below], and its very hard to tell them how offensive I find it.
  • WASP: Not all "White Anglo-Saxon Protestants" are part of the power elite, and even if they were, it's not right to a priori assume that they are all like some vicious insect that "stings" the weak and powerless.
  • White boy / white girl: the use of this term, as a term, is probably the most defensible on the list, because it functions as a way to underscore that the racially "unmarked" person--i.e., the white person--does indeed belong to a "race" (socially constructed or otherwise...I won't enter into the Walter Benn Michaels debate now). Still, it would be nice for people (including white people, like me, and especially me, as I tend to think in these categories) to at least think twice before identifying people first, primarily, and only by their race. On a more personal note I can recall from middle school and high school non-white people who used it on me as a bullying word.
Again, I want to stress my qualifications and disclaimers at the front of this post.

UPDATE 12-28-10: The spirit of this post is to argue for restoring civility. By stating, above, that "my lesbian friends" tend to use a certain term, I have just resorted to the sort of labeling that most of the rest of this post decries. Therefore, I offer my apologies. I am leaving my original phrasing above because I believe that once I post something, I should take responsibility for having posted it. I haven't always followed that policy on this blog, but I have been trying to do so of late.


James Hanley said...

I mostly agree, but do I really need to stop using "Jebus?" It just sounds funny, and isn't that it's own defense? ;)

(By the way, I've also heard "sausage fest" used by straight guys, either just jokingly or as a way of bemoaning the lack of females in the present company. But since it's an ugly sounding phrase, I'm all for condemning (except in the case of a true sausage fest; i.e., a breakfast with loads of delicious pork sausages on my plate).)

Pierre Corneille said...

I'm not a big fan of pork--although I do love bacon--so I won't be going to a sausage fest anytime soon.