Desensitization of Slurs

Pictures from the "You Don't Say Campaign," a collaboration between Think Before You Talk and Blue Devils United at Duke University.

Rihan Ali, Staff Writer

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Many people in society are desensitized to slurs and derogatory comments, forming the false impression that the offensive words are justified to use. This offensive language has progressed to being socially acceptable for certain social groups. Part of the reason for this desensitization is ignorance, and a lack of social justice education. The origins, the negative stigmas and the history of such slurs are unknown to many.

Crass and offensive slurs are now frequent in everyday dialogue. We are incognizant, surrounded by malicious prejudice against every possible person. It is subconscious and has adapted into our language. Many would argue that this type of hateful language is endearing, and it does not make them a racist, sexist, classist etc… For example, the N-word is casually thrown around constantly in media that we find it acceptable to use it ourselves. Rappers use it in their songs unnecessarily too often, so it is totally okay if we do it, right? Well, nothing against rap music lovers, but it seems that they are contributing to the problem. But this is not just their fault. There is not one group of people to blame for this behavior–it turns out the majority are guilty. No one should be letting out these kinds of words. But we witness these offensive slurs, in many forms, without giving it a second thought. We have become desensitized to hateful language.

There may be times when you hear people utter phrases such as, “That’s so gay,” and usually the reaction is laughter. As this happens, we must think about what exactly was said and question: “Why is someone’s sexuality parallel to stupidity?” Our ignorant desensitization deters us from the existence and prominence of racism, sexism and classism. When someone obliviously states, “That’s just how the world is,” they are unable to see their privilege and the lack for others.

There are, however, a large amount of people who have realized the magnitude of this horrid language and are taking action to prevent it. As of March 2014, the National Football League (NFL) espoused a rule for which players will be penalized fifteen yards if they utter the N-word on the playing field. The organization, obviously, wants this offensive racial slur to be eliminated. Once these players see the consequences for using the word on the field, they might discontinue it from their vocabulary. The Gay and Lesbian Education Network (GLSEN) has a campaign against blurting homophobic slurs called Thinkb4youspeak. They realize that people may not mean to be offensive when they say words such as gay, fag, and dyke, but they say that it is unacceptable and that people saying these words do not realize who they could be hurting. Although this does not cover everyone, every slur, or every person who has participated in expressing these negative words, it is a start. If we keep progressing, the media might not reflect this hateful culture as much. This is one solution.

People who use slurs or comments on people of their own race cannot be excluded either. Just because they are from whichever race does not make it right for them to say those words. For example, people from the African community still use the N-word today more commonly than it should be used. The daily usage of such words is evident as you can find it in songs, social media and even in the movies we watch. Whether or not variations of this slur have been “modernized” for amiable use, the undeniable fact persists that the context surrounding the N-word renders its usage completely inappropriate. Racial slurs are not solely finite to Africans–they occur in all ethnic and national groups: Hispanics, Caucasians, Middle Easterners, Europeans, and Asians.

It is certain that we have all met many people who use offensive slurs, knowingly or not. Do they really understand the words coming out of their mouths? Sometimes we do not know until we contemplate it later. This shows the much-needed progression for eradicating desensitization to hateful language. All it takes is thinking before speaking.

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