Today Obama said the word Nigger in a podcast interview. The overwhelming reaction has been one of support. Naturally I want to discus is bigotry.
In the 1200’s and just before, the Mongols under Genghis Khan created the greatest army the world had ever seen. In the fear campaign surrounding them, the Chinese they were up against talked of how they never bathed. These weren’t civilised people like the Chinese who were known for a structured society. The Chinese upper classes wore fine silks. The Mongols wore the skin of rats sown together. Mongolians as the enemy were dehumanised.
Perhaps this only worked to the disadvantage of the Chinese however as it in fact made the Mongols more frightening. However the Mongols looked down on the Chinese equally. Whenever any of the step societies (like the Mongols) came into regular contact with the Chinese, they became soft. To prevent this from happening, people were sent back to the step to train, as only on the step could people really be strong.
Lynching ended in the 1930’s. It doesn’t seem so long ago. Postcards can still be found depicting burnt men with titles like “We had a great barbecue here today.” The Americans at this time tried to use Darwin’s ideas of evolution out of context. Social Darwinism was used as a theory, not unlike phrenology, that was looked at “scientifically” to show why the great advanced societies were all made up of white people. This was then believed not to be opinion, or belief, but “scientific” proof that white people were superior to other societies.
Most people will have seen propaganda expressing that Jews are Rats and Vermin from the Nazi’s.
In the 1990’s during the Gulf War and the Invasion of Kuwait a term was used by the American forces to describe the enemy. Sand Nigger was a powerful sentiment, that remains in keeping with the soldiers training that they shouldn’t feel connected to their killing. At what point were we going to learn from these disgusting views?
These instances were using language to take humanity away from people. There’s another reason to use harmful words though. And over the past few years other terms are under fire, not derived from war dividing people, but closer to home.
There was a recent controversy over Family Guy using a down syndrome actress for example. The actress and the creators didn’t see there being any issue with it, but Sarah Palin came out in an interview to then try to defend the actress. The actress made a statement saying she didn’t need defending. There’s a great interview with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane on the subject. What he and Bill Maher really address is the term “retarded”, in saying that nobody with sense would use it to describe a mentally handicapped person (the term was formerly a technical definition for various handicaps, as was idiot), but it is used instead to describe and insult others, which in this instance they point at Bush and Palin.
Odd Future (OFWGKTA) are prolific in this same argument generally around the term nigger in particular.
There use of language attempts to take away power from the word. We shouldn’t be focusing on language they argue, but on real societal discrimination.
Recently a newer term has emerged. Replacing the friendly term Refugee with a crass one, Boat People. The actions that have followed in Australia have been condemned, but continue. This isn’t a situation where people are at war, but it is again a new way to take the humanity away from people.
When you hear the word Boat People next, add it to the section of your lexicon that contains,
Ching-chong, Gook, and Nip,
Sand Nigger, and Rag-head,
Rat, and Vermin,
Yank, Hillbilly, and Cracker,
Nigger, Abbo, Curry-muncher, and Wetback,
Faggot, Cocksucker, and Slut,
Retard, Lunatic, and Downer.
In part I agree with the power of satirists in using these words. They don’t use them to discriminate against the groups the words were intended to harm, but to take power away from the words. The term Idiot equally was a description of the mentally handicapped at one time. By using it daily as an insult, the power has been taken away from those it was intended to attack. Admittedly we can all see the risks involved.