When is a word just a word?

680_4827004I’ve noticed something more and more lately; and I’m wondering if it’s a sign of the times.  I look on the Facebook sites of my daughter and her peers, and sites like Twitter and Tumblr, and I find that certain words that I grew up with have been embraced by some rather than reviled.  Words like “fag*ot”, “nig*a” and others are used without any regard for the offense factor.  Depending on the context, those words don’t seem to offend anyone.  With the rise in popularity of artists like Lil’ Wayne, Jay Z, and Kanye West, the words I always thought were meant to demean, belittle, and isolate a certain portion of the population from others are said without batting an eye.  When I was young, calling someone a “fag” or a “n” word was tantamount to a declaration of war.  It’s amazing how pervasive the words have become in certain venues. Stand up comics, cutting edge cartoons, and popular music seem to have made these words less taboo than ever.  The words cross all racial, socioeconomic, and gender lines…as being permissible, even mainstream.

I’m not honestly sure how I feel about it.  On the one hand, giving those words power, power to hurt, power to demean, and power to belittle seems like giving them too much credit.  The word “faggot” is hundreds of years old.  It, in dictionary terms, is a bundle of sticks or iron bars, usually used by a blacksmith to forge things.  Not until the word came across the pond from England to the good old USA did it morph into the more recognizable word that is so hurtful to homosexuals.

The other word, that “BIG” bad word…has never had any other meaning in our lexicon.  However, it did morph from the Spanish word for black, or Negro.  It literally meant a color..but once again, once it swam across the Atlantic across the backs of slaves…it changed into the reprehensible word that makes most people, regardless of race, cringe.

But go on Itunes and download hip hop albums….watch movies…and there the word is..in all it’s glory.  Before, it was just limited to “thuggish” black folk and those who were seen as ignorant.  Now, I see kids as white as wonder bread using it without any thought about what the word means, where it came from, and why it was used as a tool for hatred.

Look at the recent backlash against the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at Oklahoma University.  Now, the derogatory video that surfaced of them using the “N” word on a bus wasn’t just using that word, it was also filled with references to lynching.  The backlash over this video resulted in the entire fraternity being kicked off of campus and two students expelled from the university.  A few days later, a video of the house mother of that same fraternity was posted with her chanting the “N” word over and over.  However in this case, she was singing along to a popular song by artist Trinidad James, called “All Gold Everything”.   Was she wrong for singing along to the lyrics of a song?  Does that make her a bad person?  Should everyone who listens to those lyrics and enjoys the song be branded a racist?

Why does it seem okay for one group of people to use a word as almost a term of endearment, yet another group using it is seen as hateful, racist, bigoted, and cruel.  Shouldn’t using the word have the same consequences for everyone?

When will we be able to have a discussion about such divisiveness in our lexicon without it turning into a firestorm?  Will there ever come a time where these words have no power? Or will these words always be used to divide, to separate, to hurt, to belittle, to demean and to shame.

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Melissa McAtee

Melissa McAtee

I'm a single mom of 2 originally from the Midwest. How many people can you say that you know from the Town of Normal? I have one son, age 14 and one daughter, age 17. I'm also engaged to be married in June, 2015. We also have 2 furbabies, Tinkerbella Pixiedust, a 9 pound Chin-Tzu, and Jack Sparrow, our rescue Boxer. I have quite a few nicknames; including Mama Mack, Wonder Woman and Chocolate Mary Poppins (all of which are totally true....).