So tonight at the now world-famous Creek and Cave I got into an argument with a comic who talked about the n-word in his set.
What he essentially said was that he had a black friend who believes that words only have the power we give them and thus wants everyone, black and white, to use the n-word to, I assume desensitize people and thus, take away it's power and the stigma it has.
The comic disagreed stating as his reason that the first time he had heard the word it was not in a rap song, but it was from his racist grandma, and it was used in a deplorable way; thus he knew what that word REALLY meant.
He then went on to make the following joke to demonstrate that words have meaning. If he goes to order a hamburger and they give him a hot dog, he won't be happy because he ordered a hamburger and a hot dog is not what hamburger means.
Now, anyone who really knows me can attest that I strongly agree with his black friend.
In my show They're Just Words I made a point of this. More specifically I said that if someone can completely change your emotional state by saying a single word, then, that person has power over you; you are not in control of your emotions, they are. Further to that I said, and this applies to any word that upsets any person, that when a black person can hear the word nigger/nigga from any other person and not be phased, not give a shit, MAYBE even laugh at that person and feel sorry for them because they don't know better, then that's when they are truly free from the oppression associated with that word.
I believe that.
Anyone who really knows me will ALSO attest that I like to have heated discussions, so after the show I went and talked to this comic.
I started by telling him that words may have meaning but that meaning changes. I offered the word ignorant as an example.
Me: Today people use the word in a negative way to call someone stupid, but the actual meaning of ignorant means uninformed with no connotation either way. It's just a neutral word.
Him: I'm pretty sure it still means uninformed.
We moved on.
I mentioned how in his set he said he knew what the n-word really meant, but in truth the n-word originally just meant black.
Me: It’s a mispronunciation of the negro, the latin word for the colour black
Negro ignorantly became neger, which more ignorantly became negar, which then even more ignorantly became nigger. The formula's clear: Words + Ignorance = Shit we can't say. It's not the word's fault; it's the ignorance's yet we keep ignorantly blaming the word.
Him: I'm not 100% sure on it, but I always thought the word was specifically designed as a word meant to dehumanize black people. There are people out there still using it that way!
Later on the train home, I thought about how his black friend felt that if we all used the word, it would change the potency of the word and I had an epiphany.
Me to myself on the train: By not devaluing the word, all we are doing is preserving its hate.
Back to the story.
Him: I understand that some people use it in the hip-hop sense to mean homie or brother and that's ok but to use it in the other way is horrible.
Me: When I was growing up in Australia we didn't really use the word, cause we didn't have black people like that, we had aborigines but we didn't call them niggers - at least to my knowledge - and that the first time I heard the word was in hip hop, as a positive or neutral word for dudes.
Also, when I was growing up in Australia I wasn’t considered white.
Him: In America you're white.
Me: I know. In Australia I am white too, but during my growing up experience white meant anglo and the anglo kids made me feel like I wasn’t white.
Him: Well you're white here.
Me: I know, but that doesn’t negate my experience growing up feeling not-white and make it invalid.
Him: Whether your experience growing up is valid or not, you're white here.
Me: But people can identify how they want. If I was to identify as a black person, who's to say I don't? In fact, there ARE white people who identify as black; they’re called wiggers.
People may not like them for whatever reason, but when they say the n-word people seem less upset about it. I imagine it’s because in the context of how they’re dressed and how they talk, they’re obviously only using it in the hip-hop sense. I guess there’s no confusion.
Him: It's funny how we can say the word wigger and no one gets upset.
Me: Right, cause it's stands for white nigger which would be offensive to say on it's own.
Me: My problem is that people are so scared of the word. Like I read a Louis CK interview and he was quoting Tracy Morgan saying that if his son were to tell him he was gay he'd better tell him like a man and not in a gay voice or he'd stab that little nigga to death. Now, Louis said the word but he was quoting Tracy, which makes it contextually ok, yet in the article they replaced the word with "n-word" and in the video they bleeped it out.
There is no reason for that. It was in context. It was ok.
Him: Yea, that IS dumb when they do that. People take things too far.
Me: It's like that Huck Finn book where they changed the word to mean slave. Calling a black person a slave is way more offensive than calling them a nigger.
Him: Yea, they shouldn't have done that either. It's part of history.
He then told me a joke someone had about that whole thing.
I told him what I mentioned earlier about people being responsible for their emotional states yada-yada-yada.
Him: While what you said may be true, as a white person, it's not your place to tell black people how to feel.
Me: But I don't identify as a white person. I just identify as a person – we’re all just people - and I feel that its things like this that keep us divided.
I feel I should be able to say these things because it's important to try to break down as many barriers as you can. I'm just trying to help unite people by illustrating that you can let go of the emotional divisive bullshit you hold onto but blame others for.
In retrospect I realized that I wasn’t even telling black people how to feel. What I was doing was suggesting that people take responsibility for how they react to negativity in order to free and empower themselves; I was just using the n-word and black people as an example.
Him: I stopped saying a joke with the word fag in it because my best friend, who's gay, told me that it hurt his feelings, because people used that word when they'd beat him up, and every time he hears that word it brings back the traumatic memories of being beaten up.
I assume his gay friend meant when he hears it in a negative way. In my experience, gay people call each other fags all the time, but they trust each other to know they don't hate gays cause they are gays.
Me: It's not the word but the person who hit him that had the hate, and yes it's courteous that you stopped saying the joke, but the reality is that your friend needs to realize he's associated the trauma of violence with the negative use of the word fag and instead of working out the trauma he's decided be all "no, I don't want to hear this word any more." That's not going to heal the trauma.
Him: So he should just get over it?
He said it with an aire of disbelief as if what I was proposing was ridiculous.
Now, I know that what I said is insensitive and harsh, and while it may be harsh, it is a truth - a harsh truth if you will - because the truth is that we can’t control what words we hear. We can only control how we react to words we hear.
When we hear these words we can either choose to get cut up about it or we can be like "eh, whatever". Yes, sometimes it might be very hard to choose to not care, especially in the case of traumatic conditioning, but the choice is still there.
This is why I suggest that it'd be better for people who have been in traumatic situations like that to get some therapy and work towards overcoming the trauma, especially if traumatic feelings are conjured back up anytime they hear a word - even if it’s in a negative context.
It's sad - it really is - that his friend went through that, and my heart genuinely feels for people who have felt violence like that, but once the trauma has happened the only way to stop those feelings of pain from eventually resurfacing is within you.
The crime is that someone physically hurt you, not that they used the word fag. That he used the word fag only shows you the motivation behind the crime, but the crime remains that he beat you up. That he called you a fag is only an attack on your ego, and as with most cases a hurt ego is often the last thing to heal.
People reflecting on these traumatic experiences often ask themselves questions like
Victim: Why me? Why did this happen to me?
This question, while normal, is frivolous.
Why a person attacked you is not your problem, it is theirs. They are the ones who acted out in such a way. They need to come to terms with that. You can ask and ask, and even if you find out, it isn’t going to help you get any real closure.
Perpetrator: Because I hate gay people and you are gay and you were there.
Does that help you? No. Sure it gives them some insight into their problem and now they need to now delve into why they hate gay people, but does that help you heal?
The harder question is
Victim: Even after I have healed physically, why do I remain so traumatized emotionally? Why can’t I get over this? Why can’t I let go?
The reason is the ego. Your ego can’t believe that you allowed yourself to be violated in such a way. It can’t comprehend that you allowed your power to be taken away from you. It tells you that you let this happen. But guess what? It’s all bullshit.
First you need to forgive yourself for allowing yourself to believe that you let yourself be in such a vulnerable position. IT’s NOT YOUR FAULT. Like I said earlier, you can only take responsibility for what is in your control and another person’s physically violent behavior does not always fall into this category. How you feel about what happened? THAT you can work on.
NOTE: If you’re gay, be secure in being gay! What do you care what other people think? There’s nothing wrong with you. You don’t have to defend your sexuality so fiercely any more. Being gay is perfectly acceptable. Do you know who needs to defend their views on sexuality? Homophobes! They’re the ones acting questionably.
I should add that in hindsight, I defend suggesting that the comic shouldn’t stop saying the joke cause his friend got upset. He should stop saying the joke because if it’s saying negative things about gay people in general it must be a stupid joke anyway.
Boy have I digressed.
So after I told him why I thought his friend should get over it, things heated up.
Him: If I was to beat you up right now and tell you that everything you said was stupid and that you are an idiot as I did it, you'd stop saying this stuff, and you'd believe that you're an idiot.
Me: I'd think you were an idiot and I'd still say these things, cause I believe them.
I'd blame him for hitting me, not my ideas.
Me: traumatic experiences like your friend’s have an operant conditioning effect and your friend has been conditioned to feel that way when he hears that word and if he has been conditioned he can be unconditioned.
Then I laughed and said "we should beat up fags" – AND I WAS GOING TO SAY - "using a different word so they'd be conditioned to not like that word instead and wouldn't get so upset about fag."
Now, I concede that what I said was stupid. Even more stupid is that I called gay people "fags" instead of "gay people", but even if I had said “gay people” the idea was still stupid, and I apologize.
Why did I say it? To me the idea of reconditioning victims by traumatizing them while using a different word in order to help them get over the trauma associated with another word was ironic and thus slightly funny; my comedy mind couldn’t help but insist that my physical mouth stupidly blurt it out.
Having said that, the guy got very angry when I said "we should beat up fags" and stormed off insisting that there is no way I have any point worth hearing, stopping only to turn around in a doorway to a room where all the other comics still there were hanging out in. He looked at me angrily and in a loud voice he proclaimed, "you're SO ignorant!"
He was wrong though; I wasn't ignorant, I was stupid.