My brother had an exchange on Facebook the other day that made me think about racism and oppression in America. It all started when my brother posted this meme (the caption is the text he included with it):
This elicited the following response from one of his friends:
“God forbid we live in a world where people recognize the disparities that exist between race, gender, and sexual identity, and attempt to foster dialogue that doesn’t intentionally or unintentionally solidify the social hierarchies that exist today…I’m just tired of the joke and the overall backlash around “PC police” and “social justice warriors”.”
Fuck this guy and people like him.
If you think making people more sensitive or aware of language does anything to tear down the very real and physical structures and systems that keep minorities oppressed and powerless, then you’re a fucking twat. I’m pretty sure that at this point in history literally everyone is aware that disparity and inequality exist, captain obvious. Can language hurt someone’s feelings? Sure. Can it remind people of their shitty situation within a system where they have no power? Absolutely. But will forcing people to change the language they use change that power dynamic?
No, it fucking won’t, so get off your damned high horse and actually do something.
It’s one thing to sit around and correct people’s language and lecture them about how it reflects or reinforces a system that oppresses minorities or those that are different. But at the end of the day, once these people stop patting themselves on the back for getting another word or joke banned, if they stopped kissing each other’s PC asses they’d see that that had ZERO EFFECT ON THE PROBLEM.
Because the problem isn’t language, and it isn’t off-color jokes.
50 years ago it was pretty common for white people to use the word “nigger” when referring to black people. Then that word became unacceptable. Fine. But preventing white people from calling black folks niggers didn’t somehow magically stop racism. It didn’t even slow it down. The words just changed.
Because racism isn’t just about what jokes people tell or what words they use. Those are symptoms. It’s more about their actions, and actions and words are not mutually exclusive. Can I be a feminist and laugh at jokes about women? I’d argue yes, because the fact that I laughed at a joke doesn’t mean that I take the joke to heart, and it doesn’t mean I don’t support equal opportunities for women. And that’s the point that’s completely lost on idiots like the guy who deigned to lecture my brother about his meme.
Quite frankly I don’t think it really matters if people occasionally tell an insensitive joke or use an offensive word because it’s how they treat the actual people that are oppressed that matters. It’s the things they do to affect change–voting, using their money to support organizations and businesses within a broken system– that matter. Did exposing the racism behind the term “nigger” help black people advance in society? Maybe. But you know what really helped? The fucking Civil Rights Act.
If someone votes people who are pro-equality into office and uses their dollars to support businesses that are pro-equality, that’s what matters. If someone raises their kids to believe that everyone is equal and everyone deserves a fair shake at life, that’s what matters. But that doesn’t mean you have to tell your children that they can’t laugh at a joke. Humor, culture, and human beings are nuanced, and the “war on language” that a lot of self-appointed heroes are waging doesn’t take that into consideration.
So my advice to everyone, especially those who think microaggressions or lack of trigger warnings are the problem, is to stop being an adjective; if the only thing you can do to stop oppression is to label people and language, then congratulations, you’re officially doing absolutely nothing to end oppression. Instead, I would encourage you to be a verb and actually get out there and change the goddamned system.