I stopped using the term “faggot or gay” to describe someone or something I didn’t like.
I stopped using the term “ghetto” to describe something that I thought was lesser in quality.
I stopped using the term “retard” to describe someone who I didn’t agree with.
The only times I’ve ever used these words in my regrettable youth was to harm and to degrade.
Do you remember a time when you or your friend said one of these words and you all thought it was okay? Looking at it now, knowing all of the different people you’ve met and come to love, do you believe it’s still okay?
These words are loaded with negative connotations. The ways in which we choose to use them are often charged with hate and venom. We have culturally normalized these words without ever taking a moment to critically think about these words in a historical and social context; thinking about how they have been used to tear down a person or an entire community.
“That’s gay!” = Anti-LGBTQ+
“That’s ghetto!” = Anti-Black
“That’s retarded!” = Anti-Disabled
It seems so trivial on the surface, doesn’t it? We want to believe that these are just empty words that can be thrown around liberally and interchangeably to express our discontent and/or for humorous purposes, but when we put real faces and lives to these words, it’s not so funny anymore. If you are reading this and you don’t see how problematic this behavior is, then you must be privileged. The privilege to be comfortable with your own identity, the privilege to live within the safe confines of a homogeneous and gentrified neighborhood, and the privilege to be able to speak without consequences.
I have confronted my own hypocrisy and I have come to recognize my own privilege. I was born as a straight, cis-gendered Asian American male in a traditional and conservative Christian household. I have never been stopped by the police for looking suspicious. I have never been able to not land a job due to my physical or mental capabilities. My sexuality has never been questioned. I have lived a good life thanks in part to the sacrifices of my immigrant parents, and a path paved by hard work and ample opportunity. Not many folks are able to say that as much as I wish we all could. This is why I never want my privilege to get in the way of my ability to empathize. It’s not to pity, but to understand that we’re not all cut from the same cloth. If we want to solve our problems as a collective, we have to examine them in a nuanced, pragmatic, and sensitive manner.
It begins with the way we talk to and about each other.
In a perfect world, we all would have the equal opportunity to interact with all of the communities that surrounds us even if they are completely different from our own. I attended my first same sex wedding last April. Never in my life have I been so inspired to witness two human beings display their love and devotion to each other in the most truthful and tender way. How could any person with a beating heart look at that and not be moved? But the truth is I shouldn’t have to have a Black, a gay, or a disabled friend to show basic human decency. Political correctness is just correctness. It’s about respect for your fellow human beings more so than an argument about semantics. For the abled, re-learning the way we use our words is, at worse, an inconvenience. For the unabled, these words can help build bridges to understanding and help us all become closer. The power of words represents a chance to reclaim a lost identity and to no longer feel invisible.
Never underestimate the power of words. Words can destroy as much as they can uplift. Just like any tool we use to navigate life, let’s choose to use our words to uplift.
Let’s choose to see each other.