Language is powerful. So powerful, that I’d be willing to guess that even the title of this post makes you feel *something*. Language has the ability not only to indicate basic ideas, but to also to convey our emotional response to ideas. Taken out of context, some words can mean entirely different things:
Hmmm. Let’s talk about some words that seem to rely on context these days:
Funny that today’s attack words all pertain to women, gays, and black americans (minority groups
…), but let’s not go there right now. What I’m wondering is: is it really possible to “reclaim” words? Or should we leave oppressive language behind and replace it with new language?
In Favor of Reclaiming Language
South Park made a statement about the fluidity of offensive language in the episode “The F Word
” which commented on the new usage of “fag”. The female sexuality program I facilitate at the university has a reclamation of “cunt” and “queer” written right into the curriculum. And as for “nigger”, these days it’s hard to come across hip hop music that doesn’t spew the word vehemently. These movements suggest that it isn’t the history of the word that dictates the emotion behind it, but the emotion that we choose to invest; that reclaiming a word can rob it of its history. Reclaiming words can be empowering.
In Favor of Leaving Language Behind
Language can carry a lot of baggage. Let’s look at race here. To a new generation, using “nigger” may not have as much pain attached to it as a generation where the word was used to dehumanize them. In this context, words become a soul force that have the power to destroy, whether or not we like it. It’s basic conditioning.
This is why I myself do not use the words “nigger” or “fag”. In fact, just typing it brings me a little bit of discomfort. Going with the n-word example, I am white, and I don’t feel like “nigger” is mine to reclaim. However, I know people who reclaim words that have nothing to do with their identity (i.e. a white man who uses “nigger”). But what’s the difference between reclaiming the word and being a racist? An old partner of mine used the n-word and he argued that it depends on context. The problem is, when I visit websites like 4chan (warning: NSFW), I realize that “context” is what you make it, so things that are actually racist can still pose as being race neutral.
So, here are some thinking points: Can oppressive language be reclaimed? If so, who can reclaim it? Anyone, or only the person the word refers to (i.e. cunt can only be reclaimed by people with a vagina)? Or, conversely, should oppressive language be abandoned and left to rot from its painful roots?
Have a tit-ilating Tuesday ;D