You Can’t Say That! (Part 1)

Shhhh

In today’s knee jerk politically correct society, one where context is considered superfluous, certain words have been thrown in the linguistic equivalent of incarceration.  The words are referred to by the letter they start with, part of the process of debasing them like a prisoner’s inmate number.  They also have to sit in the corner and think long and hard about what they’ve done.

Does one have true freedom of speech if one feels external pressure from society to never say these words, regardless of semantics?  To me it’s a rhetorical question.  One of the unique, irrevocable features of humans is the freedom to choose the words to express him or herself.  Even in prison one can still choose to communicate, or not communicate, in any manner one chooses.  The placement of some words in an area where the effect of their use is predetermined regardless of the user’s nuance undermines every individual’s right to autonomous self expression.

There is no word that is too vile to ever utter or write because that excludes the possibility of the discussion of why.  If every word is inherently unnatural, the man made high fructose syrup of human communication (as opposed to laughter, the sugar which is found everywhere and in everything), then these words don’t simply exist, they became.  Knowing how something became is commonly known as… oh yeah right, history, something kind of important I guess.  The following is my thoughts on some of these words.

Gay/Faggot/Fag

As is commonly known the word gay is accepted appropriate vernacular to refer to homosexuality, particularly male homosexuality.  As your grandparents and drunk uncles on Christmas will tell you though, gay once referenced happiness.  How or why the transition occurred, I don’t know.

In addition to the “legitimate” use of the word gay there exists a second definition considered a slur, which is gay referencing things/people which lack appeal or things/people which act in a variety of disapproving ways including but not limited to underhandedness, lamness and a lack of fortitude.

In my opinion the word gay can be used in the negative respect for numerous reasons.  First and most direct to the point, it has already made a nonsensical evolution from happy to homosexual.  That’s what is commonly referred to as a precedent.  This precedent aside, I use it to make comparisons in a simultaneously literal and satirical sense.  Allow me to explain.

I have no issue at all with homosexuality.  I consider it a valid, healthy lifestyle and am appreciative of the discrimination gays face.  I believe they should be able to marry and do anything else that a heterosexual person can do.

That said however, the sight of male homosexual acts, even relatively benign ones, makes me uncomfortable.  It’s visceral.  Seeing two men kissing provokes an uneasiness in me.  I would consider it an act of torture if I were forced to watch gay porn, no exaggeration.  Torture.  I can assure you I would throw up.  If this makes me defective in some way, well that quality will have some company along with my other deficiencies.

Consequently when I use the word gay negatively, I am meaning something is so far from what I would accept or enjoy as to be absurd.  It makes reference to something I reject by way of its association with gay acts, not the abstract gay existence; the act of sodomy not two men falling in love.

In this regard it lacks any hateful qualities to make it a full fledged slur.  I’m not saying it belongs in most areas of the public sphere, however it has it’s place and that place has a right to exist as my intent is not to denigrate gays, but the gay acts.  Faggot on the other hand is an entirely different story, depending on who you ask.

I acknowledge faggot/fag is deeply offensive to many and it’s casual use is anathema to them, however it’s utterance in the negative light is not necessarily a blanket determiner of bigotry.  In a very simple way faggot is a derogatory slang reference to a man who commits homosexual acts, but like “gay”, not necessarily a bigoted, hateful exposition of the homosexual lifestyle.

What any individual attempting to use these words in their disputed or disavowed definitions needs to keep in mind is that regardless of one’s intent, these words set many people off.  An individual will meet deserved scorn in society for attempting to use these words in that way without a substantial amount of discretion.  In other words, what you say for whatever reason with your friends is in a private cache of words and discourse, similar to how you really feel about your boss.  In a public arena or among strangers your personal nomenclature doesn’t apply anymore than any random word you assign a new meaning to.  Keep this usage for those you know will understand the context of your meaning, straight or gay, don’t assume or face the consequences.

 Nigger/Nigga

In contrast to the above words, nigger does not refer to a set of actions, it is a direct insult to the inherent nature of a person.  It is entirely existential.  It strikes a person’s constitution, not their actions or decisions.

There are no uncontroversial uses of nigger or nigga and many believe there is no real distinction between the two words.  Without parsing this subject, I’ll paraphrase 2Pac and say niggers are black people with ropes around their neck hanging from trees while niggas are blacks with gold ropes around their neck hanging out in clubs.  Pronouncing niggER is seen as having universal connection to its original racist intent, while niggA is commonly seen as the co-opted version of the word with the potential for positive or neutral connotations.

No person of any race can refer to another as a niggER in a positive light, as that word in that pronunciation has no accepted positive inferences.

The usage of nigger by any individual in a non hateful way is limited to academic discussion and well designed/executed satire.  The purpose of satire is criticism, whether that is good-natured or not depends on the implementation.  Every word considered to be at the extreme of bad taste has an application in academic discussion and in ironic use.  You are either discussing why it is what it is or using it’s influence to affect a different point.  Let me make clear this is definitely not fodder for a public display of using nigger ironically or academically by anyone.

Nigga has a more convoluted existence.  To some groups, primarily blacks, but to lesser extents other minorities and to a further lesser extent whites, nigga is not only acceptable, but indispensable.  I once tasked a teenager I knew to go the rest of our discussion without saying nigga and the concerted effort necessary was easily apparent.  Just like some people can not speak without saying words such as “like” or “you know” nigga as filler material is as much stuck to some.

In order to use nigga in the public sphere in a non-ironic acceptable way (to the extent it can be and to those who will accept) is first to be either black, mixed with black or generally all other ethnic minorities to a lesser extent.  Other than that, there really isn’t any other limitations to being confused as being racist other than saying something else racist in tangent e.g. “I hate black niggas, they never work” or “Gay niggas should die.”  I’ve never seen a white person say nigga with no irony and it be completely accepted, if only because I didn’t accept it.

In my opinion the word nigga today is more related to ghettos and the social/economic retardation there than to African American vernacular.  Educated blacks, older blacks and middle/upper class blacks use it in nowhere near the same frequency as most segments of ghetto populations.  Neil Degrasse Tyson is from the Bronx, but it’s hard to see him greet his friends with a “my nigga!”

Part of it’s popularity stems from entertainment depicting a predominantly narrow, unflattering segment of the black experience.  Perhaps hip hop embraced it as they did in part due to the Blaxploitation movies of the 70’s they grew up watching.  It didn’t introduce the word to them, but it provided a glamorous reference point.  Whereas the real pimps and gangsters of the neighborhood were using it much like others, these characters have the benefit of being characters, living however their writers imagined them, not bound by reality.

These characters functioned as essentially realistic superheroes for these kids, people able to overcome the ghetto through subversive methods, get filthy rich at the same time yet remain in the ghetto and be an integral part of it, all in a conspicuous flashy manner and ending happily or gloriously.  The rapper archetype is a natural progression, though the rapper unlike the pimp before him had the benefit of being in a legitimate industry and having a product that eventually became as mainstream as any other commodity.  They also reaped the benefits of newer media, allowing them to travel further faster than a locomotive.

My final thought on this is I encourage everyone to see 12 Years a Slave to get a loud and clear depiction of nigger/nigga’s intended vulgarity.  “My nigga” meant MY nigga.  Ownership.  Property.  It’s use in subjugating the slaves and denying them humanity was instrumental.  They weren’t people, they were niggers; subhuman forms of life that need a word created for them because they are an abomination in a perfect white world.  Rather poignant stuff.

Check back soon as I continue this dissection of society’s most taboo words such as bitch, retard and tranny.

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